Car Review: 1997 Honda Prelude

By Jack Callahan

When it comes to buying a reliable sports car, finding an affordable option can be difficult. A car that is often forgotten when looking for an affordable sports car is the Honda Prelude. The Prelude offers a fun driving experience while still giving great Honda reliability and a good fuel economy. 

Honda began manufacturing the Prelude in 1978 and ended production in 2001. The 1997 Prelude is a part of the fifth and final generation of the car which lasted from 1997-2001. The base model ‘97 Prelude is equipped with a 2.2 Liter 4 cylinder VTEC (Variable Valve Timing & Lift Electronic Control) engine that offers 195 horsepower and 156 lb-ft of torque in a five speed manual transmission that can do 0-60mph in 7.0 seconds. VTEC allows the car to select between two camshaft profiles based on the car’s RPM, resulting in higher performance at high RPM, and lower fuel consumption at low RPM.  The camshaft is a part of the cars cylinders that is responsible for the combustion of the engine, at higher RPM the camshaft creates more combustion to get the most power possible and at low RPM it does not create as much power which optimizes fuel economy.

!997 Prelude engine

On the outside, the Prelude is a two-door coupe with a sleek looking body. On the inside, there are four seats and a variety of options for interior trim including leather and cloth with carbon fiber options as well. Seating wise, the front seats are very roomy and comfortable though taller passengers may lack legroom in the back.

Finding a Prelude for sale is not an easy task, because there are not many available on the market today. However, with some digging you can find them. A good condition Prelude will cost between $3,000-$4,000 which is cheap compared to other sports coupe options out there.

The Prelude really shines when it comes to its driving experience. Despite being a front-wheel drive car, it provides great self balanced handling, with each adjustment of the steering wheel feeling precise and punchy. The acceleration of the Prelude is quite impressive given it is only a 4-cylinder engine. When VTEC kicks in at 5000 RPM, it becomes a whole different experience. Acceleration picks up and the torque sends you back into your seat. When you reach the redline and it’s time to shift, the transition between gears feels powerful and the torque sends you farther back in your seat as you pick up speed. The clutch engages at the perfect point when shifting between gears allowing for quick gear changes.

A former owner of a fifth generation Prelude on a forum on edmunds.com said, “These cars have near go kart-like handling and are super fun to drive. No, it doesn’t have the rapid, crazy tire spinning acceleration of my past BMW M3’s but it makes up for that with a super responsive and quick VTEC engine that gets up and moves.”

Being able to compare a $4,000 car to a BMW is no easy feat. This is a testament to how enjoyable of an experience driving a Prelude is.

Picking up speed in the Prelude feels like you’re driving a racecar but it actually makes for a great daily driver, meaning you can get that feeling everytime you drive. Like all Hondas, the Prelude is very reliable. According to repairpal.com, Honda has a reliability rating of 4 out of 5 stars which ranks it first out of 32 for all car brands. Any repairs you will have to do will be cheap since replacement parts for it are abundant and made inexpensive.

Despite being a sports coupe, the Prelude manages to do very well on fuel economy, averaging 22mpg in the city and 26mpg on the highway.

Modifying the Prelude is easy and something the owner can do at home on their own.  Common upgrades such as a new intake, cat back exhaust or a short throw shifter are simple projects and can easily be completed all in one day thanks to the simplicity of the engineering behind the car. Not only is upgrading easy, but very rewarding for the Prelude. Simply adding a new exhaust and a cold air intake creates a noticeable difference in sound and performance.

The Prelude is an often forgotten gem in the abundance of 1990’s Japanese sports cars available to consumers. Its affordability, reliability and driving experience sets it apart from its competitors. If you are in the market for a budget sports coupe and can find a fifth generation Prelude, I highly recommend purchasing it.

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