SEE ALSO: Honda Buyer's Guide
Throughout most of its nearly twenty year history, the Prelude has highlighted interesting new technological features from Honda. The fifth-generation 1997 models are no different in that respect. The base-model Prelude now has an optional sequential-shift auto-manual gearbox, similar to the one that has been available on the Acura NSX sports car. The top-of-the-line Prelude Type SH introduces the Active Torque Transfer System - hereafter known by its ATTS acronym. ATTS is a completely new technology that uses electronics and hydraulics to transfer driven-wheel torque for maximum traction and optimal steering response. In development of the car, the changing demographics of the sports coupe market were taken into consideration. The 1997 Prelude is simultaneously more focused on performance and handling, and more useful as an everyday vehicle. It is slightly bigger inside and out, with special attention given to rear seat and trunk space. The new unibody chassis is more rigid, with additional soundproofing. The suspension has been revised. The Prelude is very well-equipped, with power windows, doorlocks, mirrors, and moonroof, air conditioning, cruise control, and CD sound system standard equipment on both models.
A week with a 1997 Honda Prelude Type SH was most enjoyable. It combined refined comfort with tenacious handling ability. The ATTS system was occasionally noticeable during hard cornering on deserted backroads, but a chance for several laps of the Sears Point race track really showed its impressive abilities.
APPEARANCE: The newest Prelude has a simple, elegant shape. It is cleaner and more angular than its immediate predecessor, with smooth, gently rounded panels enhanced by crisp character lines. Marginally larger, it looks more compact because of its uncomplicated notchback design. The front treatment is definitely Honda, with a small, unadorned air intake above the bumper and a larger opening in the fascia. The aerodynamic, rectangular "free-form reflector" headlights are the most distinctive styling feature. The 1997 Prelude is a classic wedge-shaped, long-hood/short rear deck sports coupe. It has a low beltline and large glass area. Sixteen-inch alloy wheels with low- profile tires are standard on both Prelude models. The Type SH has a small spoiler at the back, the only add-on piece to its otherwise well- integrated shape.
COMFORT: Like the exterior, the interior of the new Prelude is elegantly simple and functional. High-quality materials are used throughout, with precision fit and finish. There is more interior room than in previous models, with easier access to the rear seat. Supportive, multi-adjustable cloth-upholstered sport seats provide comfort for the driver and front passenger. The Prelude is a small 2+2 coupe, not a sedan, but rear seat room is good for its class. Four medium-sized people, or two large adults and two children fit easily. It's really a driver's car, with a near-perfect driving environment enhanced by first- rate control and instrument placement and a tilt-adjustable, leather- wrapped steering wheel. Although its emphasis is on performance, the Prelude SH is quiet enough to be a good distance machine. Good climate control and AM/FM/CD stereo, and a useful luggage capacity help make it practical.
SAFETY: The 1997 Honda Prelude meets or exceeds all frontal, side, and rear-impact standards. Dual airbags, 4-wheel antilock disc brakes, and an "Immobilizer" antitheft system are standard equipment. ROADABILITY: The '97 Prelude Type SH is one of the best-handling cars made today. Its fully-independent double wishbone suspension gives a firm but comfortable ride and extremely nimble cornering abilities. In the manner of its Acura NSX cousin, the Type SH is driver-friendly, with limits far in excess of what is required in normal use. Because of the ATTS, there is no torque steer and any mid-corner changes in speed or line are handled in stride. There are no nasty surprises when the throttle is lifted in the middle of a corner, the car just slows down and tucks in. The ATTS system is transparent in use; only an unobtrusive chirp signals its presence.
PERFORMANCE: The 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine used in all 1997 Preludes is another gem from Honda. Its maximum of 195 horsepower comes at a high 7000 rpm, but the VTEC variable valve timing and lift system gives useful power from 2000 to 8000 rpm. This means shifting-optional performance - two or three different gears will work perfectly well in any given situation. Shifting is no problem in the Type SH, anyway. Its 5-speed manual transmission is a joy to use. Acceleration is very good, with a 7 second range 0 to 60 time. Four- wheel antilock discs ensure short stops. The Prelude Type SH is very much a sports coupe, not merely a sporty coupe.
CONCLUSIONS: The 1997 Honda Prelude is leaner and more focused as a sports coupe, especially in the Type SH model. But it still has the comfort and usefulness to be primary transportation, not just a weekend toy.
SPECIFICATIONS Base Price $ 25,700 Price As Tested $ 26,282 Engine Type inline 4-cylinder, dual overhead cams, 16 valves Engine Size 2.15 liters / 132 cu. in. Horsepower 195 @ 7000 Torque (lb-ft) 156 @ 5250 Transmission 5-speed manual Wheelbase / Length 101.8 in. / 178.0 in. Curb Weight 3042 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 15.6 Fuel Capacity 15.9 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded premium Tires P205/50 VR16 Bridgestone Potenza RE92 Brakes, front/rear vented discs / solid discs Suspension, front/rear independent double wishbone with coil springs / independent double wishbone and trailing arm with coil springs Drivetrain Front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 22/27/24 0 to 60 mph 7.7 sec 1/4 mile (E.T.) 15.8 sec Coefficient of Drag (cd) not available OPTIONS AND CHARGES Floormats $ 87 CA/NY/MA emissions $ 100 Destination and Handling $ 395