Honda’s CR-V is a staple of one of the most popular vehicle segments in America, the 1997 original having helped start the compact crossover craze back in the late 1990s alongside the Toyota RAV4. It’s familiar, even a little boring—a practical conveyance that might as well be wearing slacks and a dress shirt buttoned all the way up. Well, except for that one time in 1998 . . . when the CR-V really let it all hang out with a one-off convertible model.
That’s right, there was a Honda CR-V convertible. It’s not the craziest thing to conceive—at least not at the time. Remember, Toyota was gearing up to sell a two-door, convertible RAV4 around then. The CR-V was a bit weirder, being as it was built from a first-generation four-door CR-V. Only one appears to have been made, as a show car for the 1998 Geneva Motor Show by engineering house Valmet.
The topless Honda SUV was Valmet’s way of demonstrating its prowess at designing and building convertible top systems. Over the past forty years, the firm has been responsible for building both the Saab 900 convertible and the Porsche Boxster.
For a show car, the CR-V convertible’s top system seems to have been remarkably well-engineered. Top up, the roof keeps much of its original shape (save for the wraparound, triangular rear window, which apes that of a contemporary Mercedes-Benz A-class). But, at the touch of a button, the entire forward section of the fabric roof folds backwards, eventually settling atop what was the cargo area in a bustle-butt arrangement similar to the classic VW Beetle.
Yes, dropping the top would transform that vast expanse of space into a meager trunk, but with the top up, the CR-V convertible wouldn’t necessarily lose any practicality. By opening the tailgate and unzipping the upper window, the ‘vert offered just as much cargo room (and access) as its hard top siblings. Valmet added a padded roll bar over the rear seats and fitted a strange half-cover for the external spare tire that resembled a “Continental” kit on baroque malaise-era American luxury cars. It also found space for taillights on the Honda’s rear quarter panels. The regular CR-V, remember, located its taillights high up, on the roof pillars, leaving the bodywork around the tailgate empty—without a roof, however, those taillights needed a new home.
Sadly, it was an idea that never came to fruition. The market for convertible compact SUVs whose names didn’t rhyme with “Beep Tangler” tanked soon after (Toyota stopped selling its ragtop RAV4 in 2000, and Kia’s Sportage convertible lived a similarly brief life), and Honda expressed no interest furthering the concept. That’s a pity; for as engaging as early CR-Vs may have been, a convertible model could have been much more fun in the sun.
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