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SEE ALSO: Honda Buyer's Guide

New Car/Review

1997 HONDA PRELUDE

by Tom Hagin

SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 23,200
Price As Tested                                    $ 23,782
Engine Type                             2.2 Liter I4 w/MFI*
Engine Size                                 132 cid/2157 cc
Horsepower                                   195 @ 7000 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                               156 @ 5250 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                      101.8"/69"/178"
Transmission                              Five-speed manual
Curb Weight                                     3010 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  15.9 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                                      205/50R16
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                        Four-passenger/two-door
Domestic Content                               Five percent
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                               N/A

PERFORMANCE

EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            22/27/25
0-60 MPH                                        7.5 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       15.5 seconds @ 91 mph
Top speed                                           140 mph
   * Multi-port fuel injection

Starting with the original model in 1979, Honda's Prelude has always been somewhat eccentric. That model had a very unusual shape, and the back seat gave barely enough room for children. Later versions featured a four-wheel steering option, which was most noticeable while parking.

The fifth-generation 1997 Prelude and Prelude SH are all-new, and seem to have been styled for the masses. Prelude has always been Honda's top-line sport coupe, so as always, it carries a long list of standard features and a powerful engine.

OUTSIDE - Prelude's new look starts with its headlights. Stacked with a set of expensive-looking compound lamps, they are raked backward and are of an interesting rectangular shape. The roundness of the last generation Prelude is gone, replaced by large expanses of flat planes and a notchback shell that hasn't been used since the very successful Prelude model of two generations ago. The new shape is reminiscent of a sport-coupe model now being produced by a Japanese rival, but the new Prelude is now less likely to evoke a love-it-or-hate-it reaction to its looks. Technically there are no "base" model Preludes anymore (they came with small tires and hubcaps), so both 1997 models wear 16-inch alloy wheels and 50-series high-performance tires as standard equipment.

INSIDE - Prelude's interior has also gone mainstream, and it seems that Honda is using some of the sensible interior ideas of its Accord line in the new Prelude. On the old model, a huge expanse of dashboard and a thin strip of gauges swept across the dash from door to door, giving a closed-in feeling that was not bad, just not as good as the new version. And as with any all-new car, new upholstery patterns and colors are expected, but with the new Prelude, the significant change involves space. Things are more open inside now, which should be welcomed by large drivers of the old version, who has to squeeze tightly to climb inside. The stretch in wheelbase has allowed Honda to wring a few more cubic feet of space inside, which is noticeable. And where the back seat of the old version was tiny, the rear of the new model offers more leg and knee room. Both Prelude models come standard with too much to list, but some of the major items include a 160-watt CD system, anti-theft, power everything, a moonroof, air conditioning, and cruise control.

ON THE ROAD - Prior Preludes offered a variety of powertrain choices, culminating with the top-line model's 190-horse four cylinder engine. It used dual overhead camshafts with variable valve timing, a dual-stage intake manifold and twin counter-rotating balance shafts for smoothness. With the new car, both versions use this engine, but Honda has added five more horsepower by using a new camshaft profile and a free-flow exhaust system. As always, it likes to be revved, and its maximum power appears when the engine has been wound up past 5000 rpm, and then comes on with a rush. This makes it easy to sprint into freeway traffic, or to pass on long uphills. A five-speed manual transmission is the standard gearbox, and with its precise gear changes and close ratios, is perfectly suited to this car. It is also offered with a four-speed automatic, which now uses what Honda calls SportShift, a system that allows it to be operated somewhat like a stick-shift.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - Several modifications have improved the Prelude's chassis. A 40 percent increase in torsional rigidity and a 55 percent increase in bending stiffness are the result of strengthening in the cowl, the floor and bulkhead areas, and under the instrument panel. The double wishbone suspension remains underneath the new Prelude, but with the extra stiffness built into the chassis, there's less body roll and an even more light and agile feel. Its speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering is quick and accurate, and the new torque-sensing Active Torque Transfer System (SH models only) reduces oversteer and understeer. Braking is by four-wheel discs with anti-lock, which gives an impressive stopping distance of 135-feet from 60 mph.

SAFETY - Dual airbags, side-impact beams and ABS are standard.

OPTIONS - Floor mats added $87.

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