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SEE ALSO: Honda Buyer's Guide

New Car/Review

1997 HONDA PRELUDE TYPE SH

by Matt/Bob Hagin

SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 25,700
Price As Tested                                    $ 26,282
Engine Type                          2.2 Liter I4 w/PGM-FI*
Engine Size                                 132 cid/2157 cc
Horsepower                                   195 @ 7000 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               156 @ 5250 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                      101.8"/69"/178"
Transmission                              Five-speed manual
Curb Weight                                     3068 Pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  15.9 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                     P205/50R16
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                        Four-passenger/two-door
Domestic Content                               Five percent
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A

PERFORMANCE

EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            22/27/24
0-60 MPH                                        8.0 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                     16.1 seconds @ 90.5 mph
Top speed                                           140 mph
     * Programmed fuel injection                           

(The Prelude has been Honda's "sporting" car since its debut in '79. The latest version is very quick, according to Matt Hagin, but his father Bob thinks it should be made easier to get into the back seat.)

MATT - Dad, this Honda Prelude is a first-class pocket rocket. The four-banger engine is only 2.2 liters in size, but pumps out 195 horsepower, which can pull the 3000-pound car to 60 MPH in only eight seconds. There was some Honda scuttlebutt about putting a V6 in the Prelude, but I don't think it's needed. The Honda VTEC valve train is the heart of the twin-cam engine and alters the cam timing as the engine speed raises. When the engine reaches a predetermined RPM range, the valve timing changes and it's almost like a turbocharger kicking in. The top speed is given at 140 mph, but I never got anywhere near that speed.

BOB - A wise decision, Matt, but what I liked best about the new Prelude was the way it handled. The car comes in two trim levels, the "base" and the fancier SH, which is the car we got for the week. The SH only comes with a five-speed, but you can get the base with either a stick-shift or a four-speed automatic. The five-speed is lots more fun, and the balance of the car is outstanding. Also, the SH has an extra little "goodie" that acts like a traction control system, but is different in that it applies power to the outside wheel when the car is being powered through a turn. This device counters the front-drive tendency to understeer and it also works well to reduce the possibility of a spin-out if you get off the throttle suddenly in a turn. The new version of the car's ABS cycles more quickly than the old version, too, and it sports new low profile tires and variable-assist power steering. All this new technology adds up to a great-handling road car that is also simple to pilot around town.

MATT - The interior is pretty slick, too, Dad. It had as standard equipment a sliding sun roof, tilt steering, cruise control, and best of all, a driver's seat that's adjustable for height as well as the other more conventional positions. Being short, Suzanne found this to be an advantage and enjoyed a good view through the windshield. The one thing she didn't like was the fact that the shoulder harness seat belt system wasn't adjustable for height, too. When she had it hooked up, it caught her under the chin. She also found it difficult to mount little Sophie's baby seat in back because getting into the rear seat is tight. And now that we have added a new baby, we're out of the coupe class.

BOB - That's why they make four-door sedans and minivans, Matt. The Prelude is strictly a sportster and that's evident in its design. The nose is low and the hood sharply rakes into the laid-back windshield. The standard-equipment spoiler on the trunk is flashy and probably effective at holding down the tail end at high speed - but I'm glad we didn't try it. The trunk is high, which gives the Prelude a definite wedge shaped profile, and the wrap-around tail lights are mounted high in the trunk as well. This unfortunately gives the Prelude a rather high liftover when it's getting loaded with groceries.

MATT - The interior has changed this year too, Dad, and the vacuum-fluorescent (digital) instruments of last year have been replaced by analog gauges. There are dual airbags, of course, and I'm thankful for the cloth upholstery that helps hold driver and passenger in place when the car is being tossed around. I usually like leather upholstery, but in a sports car it sometimes allows the driver and passenger to slip and slide around. The sound system is fairly good but there's no upgraded version available for either the fancy SH model or the base version. Actually it's a misnomer to call the lower priced version "base" since in reality Honda has dropped the entry-level Prelude and stuck with the middle and top-of-the-line models.

BOB - Honda cars came into the U.S. in '71 with a 600 c.c. two- cylinder Model 600, and I never dreamed it would become what it is today. I should have gotten in on the ground floor.

MATT - That's 20/20 hindsight, Dad, and who would have thought all those British cars you used to work with would go belly-up?

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