by John Heilig
SEE ALSO: Honda Buyer's Guide
SPECIFICATIONS ENGINE: 2.2-liter DOHC VTEC four cylinder HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 195hp @ 7000 rpm/156lb-ft @ 5250 rpm TRANSMISSION: Four-speed Sequential SportShift FUEL ECONOMY: mpg city, mpg highway, mpg test WHEELBASE: 101.8 in. OVERALL LENGTH: 178.0 in. OVERALL HEIGHT: 51.8 in. OVERALL WIDTH: 69.0 in. CURB WEIGHT: 3042 lbs FUEL CAPACITY: 15.9 gal gal. LUGGAGE CAPACITY: 8.7 cu. ft. TIRES: P205/50R16 INSTRUMENTS: Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, water temperature, digital clock. EQUIPMENT: Power windows, power door locks, power mirrors, cruise control, air conditioner, AM-FM stereo radio with cassette, anti-lock braking, dual air bags. STICKER PRICE: $23,000 (est.)
Honda has redesigned the Prelude sports coupe for 1997, and the changes are an improvement on a vehicle that really didn't need many improvements to begin with.
For one, the Prelude has always been the Honda technology leader. Sure, the Acura Division of Honda has the NSX and Acura sport coupes to showcase new goodies, but it seems that the Prelude has always had new stuff a year or two ahead of everyone else.
Take four-wheel steering, for example. The Prelude was among the first with this innovation that made parking a bit easier and aided general maneuverability. But it was innovative--maybe too innovative for the majority of Prelude buyers--and it's no longer available.
What has replaced four-wheel steering is a technology advance, Active Torque Transfer System, or ATTS, available on the Type SH. ATTS takes effect in turns, and through internal gearing, redistributes power to the front drive wheels, thereby altering the Prelude's yaw, or turning, rate. The result is more responsive, neutral handling characteristics when cornering.
We first drove the 1997 Prelude at the press introduction at New Jersey's Meadowlands Sports Complex, home of the New York Football Giants (yeah!). When the then hapless Giants were practicing, we were taking the new car through its paces on a dogbone-shaped course laid out in the parking lot.
Where ATTS showed its benefits was on high-speed turns where you're almost at the limit. In a 1996 Prelude--obviously without ATTS--we weren't able to complete the turn successfully and "killed" a couple of traffic pylons when we went off course. At an even higher speed in the new Prelude, we negotiated the turn handily. As our instructors told us, in normal driving we'll probably never subject the Prelude to the kind of trials we did on the parking lot, but it was nice to know ATTS was helping us through the turns.
ATTS acts to actually change the revolutions of the outside wheel in a turn, making the wheel turn faster. A faster-turning wheel will go through the corner quicker than a slower-turning one--like the one at the inside of the corner--and the car will pull you through the corner with less difficulty.
Also aiding driving is a new Sequential SportShift four-speed automatic transmission. With this option, similar to the Porsche and Chrysler systems we have used, you can either drive the car in full automatic or tap the lever to shift up or down the gears. The Honda version was a nice one, that allowed up- or down-shifts by slight taps on the lever. The engine is also smart enough to say "no" when you try to down-shift and the engine is going too fast.
Styling has been changed for the positive. Gone are those tall triangular taillights that I personally didn't like. In there place are lower, wider lights that tend to make the Prelude look more like an Accord from the back, but they are more handsome. Front styling has also been changed subtly.
On the highway, we found the VTEC four-cylinder engine to be noisy, and surprisingly under- responsive when we asked it for more power. If we wanted to pass, just tramping down on the accelerator didn't do the job--all we got was noise. So we had to push the lever to the left into "Shift" mode, then tap it back to downshift to third (or second) and the engine responded the way I wanted it to respond.
Except for that small problem, they can let me keep the Prelude any time.