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Reader test: Honda Prelude VTI-R

2008-06-13 07:27
Honda, Prelude

Michael Jones

"The world is not run by thought, nor by imagination, but by opinion" (Elizabeth Drew).

Emotionally charged motoring forums indicate people have unwavering personal opinions about what is a good or shoddy car.

A popular opinion is that Honda produces slow, boring cars.  There are some who disagree.  I am one.  Especially since driving my Honda Prelude VTI-R; certainly neither slow nor boring.

As it was made

Honda introduced the Prelude in 1978 with a lowly 51 kW 1.6-litre engine.  Their fifth and final generation of the sports coupe instead had a 2.2-litre DOHC VTEC, the local version supplying 143 kW at 6 800 r/min, promising 226 km/h and 0-100km/h in 7.7 seconds.

This car is long, wide and low with unique looks making it immediately recognisable.  Contrary to my pre-conceived ideas the interior is surprisingly sparse, belying its features.  Simple toggles operate the climate control, electric sun-roof, mirrors, wiper-speed and cruise control.  The blind spot is insignificant, however a large turning circle and long bonnet do not aid small-area manoeuvring. 

The semi-bucket driver's seat has a multitude of positions although none perfectly suit me, having legs or arms reaching just too far, or my head against the roof lining.  The passenger gets extensive leg room, but the back seat is just decorative. 

A short gear lever is placed at arms length beside the lengthy hand-brake.  The engine has ample low-rev pull, and besides the heavier feel of controls and the manual gearbox, it is easy to drive around town with comfort. 

The thrill comes when you take it out of "gentle mode".  Taking the roaring engine through 5 700 r/min brings a considerable forward-kick as the VTEC engages the high-rev cam lobes. 

The car surges ahead without a change in throttle position - it's like flicking a fun-switch. The gearbox and clutch action become wonderfully light and slick. Steering remains stable and precise as you fly along with glee. 

This low car handles in a way that protects the common driver and fear slows me long before lack of control does. 

The rev limiter intervenes at 8 000 r/min and the highly effective brakes bring reassurance as you seek safer speeds.

It holds its own in a sprint against the Golf V GTI and Cooper S, yet does not win.  However at the coast the differences between the normally-aspirated Prelude and contemporaries might be interesting.

As it is now

Honda put its name forward in recent quality opinion polls, but how does it hold up after 10 years?  My previous car, a Honda Ballade, did 375 000 km before I sadly let her go.  My Prelude is 10 years old now, displaying 130 000 km on the clock - and shows it. 

The sunroof shudders slightly when opening, the seat-belts don’t retract without help and there is an annoying intermittent rattle coming from the boot.  The steering wheel and seats are slightly worn. 

When playing VTEC-VTEC there is a hint of blue smoke from the exhaust, and 500ml 5W-40 oil is used per eight tanks. I’ve switched to thicker oil. 

Beyond that it behaves as I would expect a new one to.


This car is incredibly fun to drive, remaining comfortable for regular driving and especially comfortable on long distance cruises. It’s not suited for more than two passengers, but does have a large boot. 

The dealer maintenance is trustworthy yet expensive. And it’s heavy on fuel when using VTEC. 

Yet, my ten-year old car with unknown history remains very reliable, still having all the performance I want from its spec. 

Slow and boring? Certainly not.

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