Car reviews - Honda - Prelude - VTi-R
Offbeat looks, front-seat comfort, handling, ride, performance
Room for improvement
cramped rear seat, not as sporty looking as previous Prelude
26 Sep 2003
HONDA’S Prelude has been one of the mainstays of the sports coupe segment since it made its Australian debut in May, 1979.
Although the Prelude gained a reputation for offering more style than substance, the introduction of VTEC (variable valve timing) technology in 1994 laid to rest the car’s showpony image.
Generating 143kW at 7000rpm and 212Nm at 5250rpm, the 2.2-litre VTEC engine — as housed under the VTi-R’s bonnet — delivers brisk performance when worked hard.
Honda’s stylists gave the coupe a dramatic makeover in 1996, dropping the previous model’s svelte, curvaceous lines in favour of a sharper, more angular design.
Honda tried hard to make this model more affordable, better equipped, more practical and dynamically superior to its predecessor.
The VTi-R was priced in line with the previous generation Si despite the addition of dual airbags and climate control air-conditioning.
Practicality was also improved thanks to the provision of a bigger boot and more space for rear seat passengers.
Although still tight in the rear, it is adequate for short trips, provided the occupants are not too large.
Mechanically, the car is basically an upgrade of the old model with the double wishbone suspension and 2.2-litre VTEC engine at the heart of the VTi-R.
VTEC optimises the valve opening to boost torque at low speed and maximise power at high revs. All this translates into an engine that loves to rev and sounds brilliant on the way to the red line.
Performance is quick rather than startling but it is still good for the class.
A five-speed manual or new four-speed automatic are the transmission choices.
The manual is a nice gearbox although the clutch is a little light and the take-up is near the top of its travel, which makes smooth progress a little difficult at first.
The ride is impressive and the suspension soaks up bumps and sharp ridges with ease.
Handling is a step or two above the old car and this model is far more agile and predictable in its responses. Understeer is evident at the limit but not an issue at normal speeds.
Turn-in, despite four-wheel steering being dumped from this model, is far sharper.
Dynamically, the Prelude offers a far more satisfying drive than the old car. Yet Honda has managed to build in more refinement and a better ride, making this model far more pleasant to live with in town.
Given that it has no inherent weaknesses, the Prelude should deliver years of trouble-free motoring provided it has been well looked after.
Check the owner’s logbook to ensure the car has been serviced on schedule and also look out for excessive tyre or brake pad wear which may indicate the vehicle has been driven hard.
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