BY JONATHAN CROUCH
The early 1990s were glory days for Honda. On the Grand Prix circuits, their years of domination had sent rival manufacturers back to the drawing boards. Yet for all the money spent projecting a race-bred image for the company, buyers continued to think of Hondas only as common-sense cars. The Prelude coupe was supposed to change all that. It didn't and the result is that it makes a tempting proposition on the used market.
Models Covered: Fourth generation Prelude - March 1992 to 1997 (2.0 Coupe / 2.2 4ws VTEC Coupe / 2.3 4ws Coupe)Fifth generation Prelude - June 1997-2000 (2.0 Coupe / 2.2 VTi Coupe)
The Prelude that replaced a car of the same name in early 1992 was a case in point. Here was a car with avantgarde styling, four-wheel steering and state of the art 'VTEC' engine options, yet the buyers who were most drawn to it were only those trading their old Preludes in for more of the same. The BMW buyers that the marque coveted remained unconvinced. Nevertheless, when the time came for yet another all-new Prelude in mid-1997, Honda continued the formula. The base model satisfies those who want a no-nonsense personal coupe, while the 2.2 VTi appeals more to the enthusiast. For the 1999 model year, the VTi's output went up from 185bhp to 200bhp, gaining as it did the more potent 2.2-litre VTEC engine from the Accord Type R. Whichever model and whichever shape appeals to you, if image isn't an issue, a used example is a particularly clever used buy. Honda's reputation for quality, reliability and rock-solid resale values is richly deserved. The Prelude was eventually phased out in 2000.
What You Get
Whether you choose a fourth or fifth generation model, the same thing comes as standard - unusual styling. The latest design is, in fact, quite conservative, until your eyes reach the headlights. Some go so far as to call them ugly, but coupes are by nature a personal choice.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
You should have no problem with the latest-shape models but on newer cars, check for exhaust damage (replacement is expensive). Also look for bootlid rust, occasional problems with flaky paintwork and scuffed alloy wheels. Some examples may have malfunctioning air conditioning. A full service history is essential.
(Approx. based on a 1996 Prelude 2.0 - ex Vat) A clutch assembly is around £220, an exhaust system is about £300, front brake pads are about £52 whilst those at the rear are around £50. A front headlamp is about £210, an alternator about £295, a radiator about £160 and a starter motor about £245.
On the Road
On the move, the Prelude can very quickly shed its 'hairdressers car' image, particularly if you're in a VTEC or VTi version. These flagship versions feature Honda's variable valve timing engine and the noise it makes is great - particularly in the case of the earlier VTEC unit used on older cars. The 2.3-litre old-shape model is also a surprisingly popular fleet driver's companion, though the power steering is a little light. The 2.0-litre models are really for posing only.
An under-rated coupe. The VTEC and VTi models are among the finest sporting two-doors you can buy.