From the November 1996 difficulty of Automobile and Driver.
Honda’s Prelude has suffered from a contact of split-personality dysfunction these previous few years. Regardless of its undisputed enchantment—significantly the VTEC-engined mannequin—the Prelude has needed to endure styling higher suited to the twenty-something crowd mixed with a value extra applicable to boomers with belief funds.
Add the current gross sales pattern of shifting away from coupes to sport-utility automobiles and minivans, and you may see that the prognosis has not been nice—even for a automotive ok to garner three 10Best awards in a row. Final yr, Honda bought 12,517 Preludes, down from 15,467 the yr earlier than. Examine these figures with gross sales of 36,040 Preludes in 1992 and annual volumes of greater than double that from 1985 by 1987, and a precipitous gross sales slide is clear.
There is not a lot Honda can do to dissuade clients from crossing over to different sorts of automobiles, however the firm is aware of the right way to make an improved automotive. So for 1997, the brand new coupe shall be accessible as two fashions—the Prelude and the Prelude SH—and each shall be powered by the top-drawer 2.2-liter VTEC engine, which now musters one other 5 horsepower (due to a brand new exhaust header and revised valve timing) to peak at 195 horsepower at 7000 rpm. The extra pedestrian engine variants accessible on ’96 Preludes did not make the minimize.
In tailoring the look of the automotive to suit a extra upscale purchaser, this new Prelude has styling that evokes the very profitable third-generation Prelude (which outdated 52,541 items in ’88), however with distinctly trendy touches. Amongst them, uncommon double-decker headlights with compound reflectors, and flat-planed physique panels that remind you somewhat of Nissan’s 240SX at first sight. Quickly afterward, although, the automotive assumes its personal id and presents a crisp, well-proportioned if barely conservative facet to the surface world.
Inside is a brand new instrument panel as tidy and useful as in another Honda. The devices are grouped forward of the motive force, and the remainder of the panel is glossy and simple. It is a welcome alternative for the controversial large strip of devices discovered within the earlier mannequin. The general temper inside is quite darkish and somber besides in inexperienced automobiles, which get a two-tone black-over-ivory upholstery remedy. Inside room has been improved in order that the rear seats—not like these of the earlier mannequin—are genuinely usable by adults for brief journeys. We found this when our six-foot-two photographer occupied the rear seat for some down-the-road shot after which declined the chance to return to the entrance seat for the remainder of the journey.
The bottom automotive shall be priced at about $23,000 (in the identical ballpark as the previous mid-level Si mannequin), which is not unhealthy contemplating the now-standard VTEC energy and good tools ranges. Actually, the bottom automotive has nearly every little thing the SH mannequin has. What differentiates the $26,000 SH mannequin is a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift knob, racierwanting alloy wheels (of the identical 16-inch dimension), and a dealing with bundle that features firmer springs, dampers, and anti-roll bars in addition to a stability-enhancement yaw management system often called the Lively Torque Switch System (ATTS).
ATTS has a hydraulically managed planetary gearset mounted to the standard differential and a controller that screens pace, steering angle, lateral acceleration, and yaw price. There are different sensors that assist decide whether or not the car is following the motive force’s meant course. When extra yaw is required in a flip, ATTS directs extra torque to the outboard entrance wheel. This will increase the yaw price, enhances steering response, and places extra driving drive on the surface entrance wheel, the place it might probably finest be exploited. To cut back the feeling of torque steer on the wheel, the decrease management arm was changed by two ball-jointed hyperlinks, decreasing the kingpin offset from 43 millimeters to 25.
Honda has info and figures that display the virtues of ATTS in diminished steering enter, diminished understeer, diminished yaw on a trailing throttle, and so forth, however we actually could not detect the system’s operation. On the highway course at Seattle Worldwide Raceway, the SH mannequin dealt with extra responsively than the bottom automotive, resisted understeer higher, and customarily felt extra at house. However the upgraded suspension tuning of the SH mannequin had lots to do with it, so we nonetheless aren’t fully satisfied that ATTS is value its added price and 44-pound weight penalty.
We’re additionally disillusioned that the ATTS mechanism would not carry out the traction-control duties it would fairly be anticipated to do. Even with ATTS, the Prelude can nonetheless spin a wheel on ice and grow to be stranded, similar to an open-diff Chevrolet Caprice.
Aside from the aforementioned SH electrickery, each Prelude fashions share standard-equipment air con, an anti-theft immobilizer, an acoustic-feedback sound system (with a built-in microphone that compares the sound with the unique signature after which initiates digital corrections), and ABS. And each fashions benefit from the structural upgrades that inevitably attend new Hondas: on this case, thicker metallic at load-bearing areas, extra welds, strengthened flooring and rear bulkhead constructions, and a steering-column help that runs from one A-pillar to the opposite. The end result: bending- and torsional-rigidity enhancements of 55 and 24 %, respectively.
These contribute to diminished noise, vibration, and harshness, as do the double layer metal development of the rear wheel housings, the urethane foam and high-density sound-absorbing sheets utilized to varied factors within the physique, and the addition of a rubber-suspended dynamic damper behind the entrance bumper that considerably lowers low-frequency vibration at idle.
All these enhancements produce a peculiarly serene driving expertise, one which contrasts markedly with the uninhibited howl of the four-cylinder engine at 7500 rpm (which is most pleasurable with the home windows open). However one of the best factor in regards to the new automotive’s stage of refinement is that it has not dulled the communication you anticipate from the wheel and shifter of a Prelude. Certainly, this new Prelude makes the earlier automotive really feel somewhat squashy and imprecise by comparability, and we anticipate to see a dramatic enchancment over the past automotive’s back-of-the-pack 53.8-mph emergency-lane-change check end result (C/D, June 1994) the following time we evaluate members of the sports-coupe class.
For some motive, the brand new Prelude didn’t meet the earlier mannequin’s straight-line efficiency, working to 60 mph in 7.2 seconds and thru the quarter-mile in 15.6 seconds at 91 mph. That is down from 6.5 seconds and 15.1 at 93 mph in our June 1994 comparo. Maybe the engine on our prototype Prelude was nonetheless inexperienced, or maybe it is the brand new automotive’s extra 130 kilos that made the distinction. We’ll check a manufacturing automotive within the close to future.
For these drivers who will go on the Prelude’s celebrated gearshift mechanism, there’s an attractive comfort prize on ’97 automobiles with computerized transmissions. It is often called Sequential SportShift. Just like Porsche’s Tiptronic and Chrysler’s AutoStick, Honda’s manumatic permits handbook override of the four-speed computerized transmission when the selector is slid throughout from D into an adjoining gate, the place ahead actions immediate upshifts and tugs rearward produce downshifts. Not like another methods, SportShift robotically resets to first gear at a standstill and won’t robotically upshift earlier than the engine runs into the rev limiter. If you wish to run 200 miles in second gear with the tach bouncing off the limiter at 8000 rpm, it is your name. (Notice that peak output for SportShift Preludes is 190 horsepower, because the torque traits of the earlier VTEC engine have been deemed extra appropriate for the automated.)
All in all, the brand new Prelude continues to supply the engaging mix of virtues we have at all times appreciated: a screamer of an engine inside a nimble-handling, user-friendly coupe with a touch of Honda high quality added to the combination. Now, if we will simply pry all these broody boomers out of their minivans.
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