Graded: Honda Prelude

Welcome to Graded. Here we discuss legendary marques, models, or trim packages and affix a letter grade to a selection of vehicles falling under that topic. The grades mean nothing and are completely arbitrary. I fully encourage you to tell me what I got wrong and how you would grade them instead. Have some fun with it.

Honda has made many iconic front-wheel drive performance vehicles during the brand’s history. It is sort of their forte. One such model was the Prelude that had a 20+ year run starting in the late 1970s and ending in the early 2000s.

Always a fun-to-drive car, by the end of the vehicle’s run it had become a legitimate alternative to a traditional rear-wheel drive sports coupe. In fact, some called it one of the first front-wheel drive sports cars. Below we have graded nine notable Prelude models that were available in the United States during the car’s existence.

And I say we because there is once again a guest judge, Tamerlaneblog. Tamerlaneblog tweets about oddball cars here and blogs about them here. He is a noted Honda fan who has driven many of the cars listed below.

1979 Honda Prelude

AutoLobotomy Grade: B-

The original Honda Prelude arrived in North America for the 1979 model year. Powered by 72 hp 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, the lightweight Prelude was a nimble, but not terribly quick machine. But the reason it received such a positive grade from me is the instrument cluster. It is one of the best to ever come out of the 1970s with it’s double inlayed dials for speed and rpms.

Tamerlaneblog Grade: D

The only Honda product I abhor. Maybe it’s the bugeye headlights and taillights. Maybe it’s because my mom’s second ex-husband’s second ex-wife owned one.

1983 Honda Prelude

AutoLobotomy Grade: C+

For 1983 the Prelude entered its second generation with sleek new body work including pop-up headlights. Sadly, for North America though we only received the 100 hp 1.8-liter engine and didn’t get access to the more potent 2.0-liter engine that made a hearty 158 hp. Still, the car was a well handling, attractive coupe.

Tamerlaneblog Grade: B+

What I think of when someone says “Prelude”. That low hood with the pop up headlights is *chef’s kiss*.

1986 Honda Prelude 2.0Si

AutoLobotomy Grade: B-

For the 1986 model year a new 2.0Si trim level was available with a more powerful 2.0-liter engine. Unfortunately, it was not the same engine offered in Japan and Europe. For us, it made a paltry 110 hp. Still, that was a 10% increase over the base engine and the car handled and due to its low weight.

Tamerlaneblog Grade: A-

I recently drove one with 271,000 miles and it felt solid (except for the brake pedal).

1988 Honda Prelude 2.0Si 4WS

AutoLobotomy Grade: B

For the 1988 model year the Prelude entered its third generation, although it was hard to tell it apart from the second-generation car at first glance. The big news with the new model was the available four-wheel steering that made an already great handling car even better. The 2.0-liter engine was now up to a respectable 135 hp.

Tamerlaneblog Grade: A+

The pinnacle.

1990 Honda Prelude Si 4WS

AutoLobotomy Grade: B+

The mid-cycle refresh of the third generation Prelude brought with it a slightly bigger engine for Si models with a bit more power as well as further improved handling. This would be the last of the pop-up headlight Preludes as styling would make a more dramatic change in a few years.

Tamerlaneblog Grade: A

The pinnacle (continued).

1992 Honda Prelude Si

AutoLobotomy Grade: A-

With the fourth generation, the Honda Prelude became a more serious performance coupe. The 2.2-liter engine made 160 hp and despite the car getting heavier, it continued to push the envelope on front-wheel drive handling. Unlike Tamerlaneblog, I like the crazy dashboard in these cars.  

Tamerlaneblog Grade: B-

Subjectively, I just don’t like the exterior of this generation Prelude. Also, that analog/digital dash was a disaster to look at.

1993 Honda Prelude VTEC

AutoLobotomy Grade: A

Just a year after introducing the fourth-generation Prelude in North America, Honda stepped up the performance even further with the introduction of the VTEC trim level. It came with a 190 hp four-cylinder featuring, you guessed it, VTEC. This for me is the pinnacle of the Prelude nameplate.

Tamerlaneblog Grade: B

I drove this one new from Santa Barbara to Orange County. It’s my sentimental favorite.

1997 Honda Prelude Type SH

AutoLobotomy Grade: A

For others, the pinnacle came with the introduction of the fifth-generation Prelude for the 1997 model year. All versions of the new car featured a 195 hp 2.2-liter engine, but the Type SH trim level was the one to have. During several comparison tests conducted around the time, the Prelude continued to out handle many more powerful and more expensive competitors.

Tamerlaneblog Grade: B+

For no reason, I just wasn’t into this generation Prelude.

2001 Honda Prelude Type SH

AutoLobotomy Grade: A-

The last hurrah for the Prelude, not much had changed since its introduction in 1997. Power was up by 5 hp, but that’s about it aside from small improvements. The Prelude would be discontinued after this year as Honda shifted focus for its coupes squarely on the Accord and Civic.

Tamerlaneblog Grade: B-

See above.

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