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New Car Review

The Honda Story:

Honda Prelude Type SH

Acura NSX

SEE ALSO: Acura Buyer's Guide

by Nicholas Frankl

Speak softly - but carry a big stick. Now there is a quote for Honda Motor Co if I ever heard one. The company that brought us marvels like 4-wheel steering and a total domination of Formula One amongst other things seems to a have a serious personality disorder. On the one hand the Japanese giant is happy to play Mummy & Daddy - churning out respectable - but let's face it rather uninspirring grey cars, that loyal hat wearing (and we're not talking street rap side facing baseball caps here), customers buy year on year till death does them apart. Who can blame them as these gentle folk propelled the Accord to No1 best selling car in America.

BUT! on the other hand of this tortured sole is the fire breathing high revving technological wonder that drivers, not merely motorists, seek out and enjoy. If the letters VTEC and NSX make up part of your vocabulary then you might want to add some more abbreviations to your petrol-head dictionary - ATTS and Type SH. They belong to the new 220 Bhp, 150mph Prelude. That's the good news, in fact just the start of it. The bad news is that Honda UK have imported only two cars, and those aren't even for sale as the cars are not homologated for Europe or anywhere else outside Japan.

Enough, enough, ha! Actually it gets worse, because this little red rocket is actually a very good car indeed, the Automatic Torque Transfer System goes along way to helping the Bridgestone Expedia tyres to grip tirelessly into and through corners. Now, I am not one for all these hoe-cous poe-cous gadget thingymagigs but somewhere underneath, lurking in a black box microprocessor is a chip sending a diode all the right messages or something like that, but let's not get too technical.

The bottom line is that this yellow peril is just what the urban commuter needs, combining a great stereo, sorry that's a misprint, I meant to say unbelievably ridiculous hi-fi unit that packs a fifty - yes a five with a zero after it - CD player in the boot (they couldn't quite fit it into the glove box) with about 25 speakers, a mobile remote control and voice activation. Pioneer claim it's a must have- although I found it difficult enough to just turn on, eye catching looks, a good set of wheels matched with excellent Bridgestone rubber and a sexy third mid mounted brake light. These are the delays I love, of course it has enough space for four - although rear space is a cramp affair, a large boot with low, easy loading, sill and a rev counter that doesn't run out till somewhere around Pluto.

The beauty of this engine as with other lesser stimulated variants, is that below say 4500 revs the mother-in-law would never suspect that her daughter has run off with the local Andy Green impersonator (he who drove Thrust SSC to Mach 1 and above). However, one unrestrained gear change and whollop she's doing 70 mph in second and screaming for her daughters alimony. Basically this Type-R business is bloody quick, best of all, no-one - par aficionados - will ever know and that goes for smokey Bears too. Now Mr Kawamoto, oh Pleeeease can we have some?

Enough teasing of the delicacies we can't have how about the NSX you can buy?

1990 was the year Japan assaulted the sports car market. Toyota bombarded us with the Celica, Nissan marched in with the ZX300 and Honda (with the help of Ayrton Senna) serenaded the Tifosi with the ultra modern NSX. Seven years later and the shape has hardly changed a bit, still angular and low with the distinct long tail and fighter plane type glass cockpit.

Some of the original TACH readers might recall a fabulous journey I made last year ('96), down to the Monaco GP and back in convoy with my father in a 328, it's certainly a trip I won't forget, made all the more memorable by the gentle purring / screaming of the V6 motor ricocheting off the Southern Alps . At the time my complaints were few - the main one, that of a need for slightly more horses, I am pleased to say has been rectified.

The 1998 NSX comes with a modified version of the previous engine, this time we have 290bhp, not 270 and six gears rather than five. The real difference though is in the feel of the car. The gearbox is closer of ratio and shorter of throw, making two finger changes a joy, in fact my favourite was holding the handbrake with my left hand at the lights and gently sliding the thick black leather gear-nob into first with my thumb. Sounds silly but it felt so good. It's not the only thing. The engine is fantastic. It's appears to work in three stages, up to 3800 purring quietly, above, and until 5500 the note and the pull becomes stronger, but the real effort is reserved for the higher reaches - lift off, I'm talking cams not rockets, runs all the way to 8900. Into the red line the car feels it could reach into five digit territory - only the limiter spoiling the fun. I don't know how many times I went round my local "test" roundabout, most of the time it was sideways or drifting, the wet test being particularly memorable - and tricky! The TCS (traction control system) works well, but don't be fooled , it's not like the systems you find on Mercs and Beemers- the car can get sideways very easily and personally I find it crucial to be able to control the car with the throttle - something you can't do with TCS on. Although Honda claim that the system will actually open the throttle to prevent over correction or tank slapping. The steering is direct, but a little on the heavy side, masking slightly what's going on up front, the seats, electronically controlled, are simple and superb, although if you took away all the motors and gubbings it would cure the lack of headroom problem for 6 footers n' above.

Those inch's can be found by simply removing the targa top and slipping it into the specially designed engine cover - none of that ridiculous nonsense you get with the Diablo roadster, with half the roof slung out back like some half baked roof rack.

The problem for Honda is that in 1991, the NSX battled with the likes of the old Lotus Esprit, the Ferrari 348 (not a memorable car) and the 911 Carrera 2. Now, it's a different world out there. Hello 355, Esprit V8 and new 911, not to forget the young pretenders like Venturi, Spectre and TVR. The fact that this latest variant can still hack it with the best of them is a credit to it's makers engineering excellence and brute stubbornness For, truth be told, if any other manufacturer had spent the billions of Dollars Honda invested, only to sell so few in each market (less than 50 in '97 in the UK compared with 400 Ferrari's) and worst of all not have gained the publics acknowledgement of this great super car, it would surely have died long ago.

For this we must thank the Japanese spirit of commitment.