This sporty coupé fuses style with dependability. We take a look back at the Honda Prelude...

We are limiting discussion on the Honda Prelude to the final two versions: the fourth and fifth generations. Earlier models were available from 1984 to ‘91 using 1,8-litre and 2,0-litre engines. Rivals to the Prelude in the 1990s included the Mazda MX-6 and Saab 900 three-door.

Packaging

Both Prelude models feature big bodies without much benefit to interior room. Front seating in grippy cloth provided good side support while the rear seats were moulded for two without offering a wealth of leg- or headroom, so they were not suitable for adult transport. The boot can accept 192 litres of luggage for the earlier version and 264 litres for the newer. A ski hatch was added for longer items and a sunroof was fitted as standard on the last model. Double wishbone suspension was used both front and rear.

Powertrain

The first Prelude, tested in 1995, had to forego the brand’s VTEC engine due to fuel-quality concerns. It nevertheless had 98 kW with 186 N.m delivered at 4 000 r/min.

The 1998 model introduced VTEC in its transverse four with d-o-h-c replacing s-o-h-c, plus variable valve timing and lift. This boosted power to 143 kW at 7 000 r/min alongside 212 N.m at 5 300 r/min. The cars were all front-wheel drive and the manual gearbox proved slick.

Which one to get

Some may prefer the styling of the older model but the additional power of the later VTi-R will no doubt be the preferred choice for most. I spotted more of the older models on Gumtree and CAR’s own classifieds, which makes sense considering about a thousand examples of the fourth and 300 of the fifth generation were sold. Prices vary from R20 000 to R80 000. We would avoid the automatic model as it merely detracts from the Prelude’s sporty bent.

What to watch out for

With complex valve equipment, clean and good-quality oil is essential. Any sign of sludge under the oil filler cap should be treated with suspicion. To ensure the high lift and duration camshaft is still doing its job, take the revs past 5 000 r/min. You should feel the extra power kick in and the exhaust note gain some decibels. Then it continues to the limiter at 8 000 r/min, although maximum power is produced at 7 000 r/min.

Ensure the synchromesh works without grating especially between fourth and fifth gears. There have been complaints about auto transmission failures, too. Electrical gremlins tend to creep in with older vehicles so make sure all is okay, including the instrumentation lights.

Fuel consumption for both will be in the region of 11,0 L/100 km but with a light foot in everyday driving situations, this should reduce to around 9,0 L/100 km.

Availability and prices

They tend to be well cared for – unlike some other Hondas that are treated like road-racers – so you should be able to locate a few decent examples.  

Interesting facts

The Prelude name was originally owned and trademarked by Toyota, which allowed Honda to take it over. Honda has used other names linked to music such as Ballade, Jazz, Quintet and Accord. We might have expected Yamaha and not Honda would have appreciated this musical connection due to its triple tuning fork emblem and its origins of making pianos, other musical instruments and, more recently, audio equipment. One opportunity missed was the name Sonata. That went to Korean manufacturer Hyundai.

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