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SEE ALSO: Honda Buyer's Guide

1996 HONDA DEL SOL VTEC

by Tom/Bob Hagin

SPECIFICATIONS

     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 19,600
     Price As Tested                                    $ 19 995
     Engine Type                             1.6 Liter I4 w/PFI*
     Engine Size                                  97 cid\1595 cc
     Horsepower                                   160 @ 7600 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               111 @ 7000 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                   93.3"/66.7"/157.3"
     Transmission                              Five-speed manual
     Curb Weight                                     2560 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  11.9 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)                                     P195/60R14
     Brakes (F/R)                              Disc-ABS/disc-ABS
     Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                         Two-passenger/two-door
     Domestic Content                                  5 percent
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A

PERFORMANCE

     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            26/30/28          
     0-60 MPH                                        7.5 seconds
     1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       16.1 seconds @ 89 mph
     Top Speed (Est.)                                    131 mph

     * Port fuel injection

(When the '96 Honda del Sol came around for testing, both Hagins - father Bob and son Tom - were ready for a week behind the wheel of the sporty "jelly-bean" coupe both were certain would be fun, but not particularly exciting. Their viewpoint changed when they discovered that they were getting the VTEC version, whose unique engine puts out 100 horsepower per-inch, more than any mass-produced engine on the road.)

TOM - Dad, I have to admit that when we got this Honda del Sol, I was expecting a slightly upgraded version of the Si model that we had in '94. I wasn't ready for this VTEC-enhanced pocket-rocket that produces 160 horsepower from only 97 cubic inches. And without a turbocharger, too. I'd driven the single-cam version of the VTEC engine in the Civic coupe but it wasn't even close to putting out this kind of power. This del Sol really hauls.

BOB - Honda always comes up with really "trick" hardware when you least expect it. The VTEC engine in the '96 del Sol uses dual overhead camshafts profiled to give good low engine-speed performance. But once it gets spinning, a second intake system kicks in and the engine screams all the way to 8000 rpms. It's like having a rocket in the trunk that explodes with power once the engine goes over 5000 RPM.

TOM - And in that trunk, I was amazed to find enough space to carry a disassembled mountain bike, plus enough luggage space for an extended tour. Also, I loved taking the top panel off to get some sunshine. To go topless, I just flipped two inside levers, then stowed the panel away in a rack built into the trunklid. The process became so easy, I was even taking it off when it was cold outside. And at speed, there was hardly any of the wind buffeting inherent in soft-top convertibles.

BOB - If I was going to buy a convertible, Tom, I'd prefer a cloth top that folded all the way down into the trunk. I've never been really happy with a removable hard top. And in the case of the del Sol, the top's not much more than a removable center section of the roof. That reminds me of the T-Tops retrofitted onto American coupes 20 years ago. And I have to admit that while the power sliding rear window is pretty slick, that idea was found on some American cars more than 30 years ago. Overall though, when the top's in place and the windows are up, the del Sol is a nice little sports coupe with plenty of interior room. I did think the seats were a bit low - but after climbing inside and stretching my legs, it felt like my favorite sports car position.

TOM - There's more than just seat position that makes this a true sports car, Dad. The suspension on the VTEC has been beefed up with stiffer anti-sway bars front and rear, and its geometry has slightly changed. In addition, the disc brakes are larger than the ones found on the 125-horse Si version. The VTEC only comes with a five-speed manual transmission, and the gear ratios are for performance rather than economy. There are other differences between the VTEC and milder del Sols as well. Besides having the twin-cam head, the compression ratio is a full point higher and the stroke of the cylinders is shorter so that it won't pitch itself apart at 8000 RPM. Unfortunately this means that the VTEC engine requires premium fuel and its fuel mileage is eight miles-per-gallon less than the entry-level del Sol.

BOB - I guess the days of Spartan sports cars are over, Tom. My old roadsters always had soft-tops, side curtains, and knock-off wire wheels, and we always froze during winter because the heaters rarely worked. But this VTEC del Sol carries air conditioning, power windows, steering, brakes and outside mirrors, along with polished alloy wheels. It has cruise control, too, but I've always felt a little uneasy using it. So when it comes down to it, I prefer sports cars that are less encumbered with fancy stuff.

TOM - Dad, I don't think you've found a sports car that really pleased you since the original Stutz Bearcat.

BOB - Tom, they took the "sport" out of sports cars when they put brakes on the front wheels and a windshield in front of the driver's seat.

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