Versus the competiton:
If the whole point of buying a sport coupe is to make your co-workers turn a nice shade of green, the 1995 Honda Prelude SE is probably not a bad choice. This particular package comes with ivory leather-trimmed upholstery, a rear spoiler, antilock brakes, alloy wheels, power everything and an adjustable driver’s seat.
Trouble is, what do you do when the person in the next parking space wheels in with a fresher, trendier competitor like the Chrysler Sebring or Eagle Talon?
She: You do get a little catch in your throat walking up to the Prelude. The one we drove had the most beautiful paint job I’ve seen in a long time. It was a dark green, but depending on the light it almost looked black with specs of bronze and verdigris. But my heart sank when I got in and started it up. Even with the seat all the way forward, I couldn’t press the clutch fully. And that made me mad because I’m on the high side of petite. The feeling you get is similar to riding a bike with a too-tall seat or swimming in a pool where you can’t touch the bottom.
He: That’s funny. I’m not a big fan of the Prelude’s styling. It looks almost too delicate and feminine for my taste. But it’s a terrific driver’s car. And even though the new Prelude Special Edition comes with lots of amenities, I would hardly call its cockpit warm and inviting.
She: The wraparound instrument panel looks like a narrow black slit. It looked like it could have been part of Darth Vader’s helmet. I found the combination of the clutch and the instrument panel very off-putting. And then there were little annoying cheap things, like the latches on the glove compartment and jack cover in the trunk. They are the kind you have to twist to close. I sat there for the longest time slamming the glove compartment and wondering why it wouldn’t shut on its own. Don’t get me wrong, I like simple designs and adore things like Shaker furniture. But this seemed cheap.
He: You didn’t think much of the vanity mirrors either, did you?
She: Sorry, when I’m spending $24,000 on a car I like to see large, lighted mirrors. But on the plus side, you do get a great engine in this edition of the Prelude. It’s the same twin-cam 160 horsepower four-cylinder that Honda puts in the mid-level Prelude Si. If you want to pretend you’re Jacques Villeneuve without spending a fortune, maybe this is your car. But I’m convinced you’d have to be a relatively tall male because I don’t think many women would feel at home here.
He: Hey, I’m a relatively tall male. In fact, I had lots of fun behind the wheel of the Prelude. This really is a good impression of a sports car. You get double wishbone suspension all around, plus front and rear stabilizer bars and variable assist steering, so the Prelude is extremely nimble and responds quickly and precisely to the slightest driver inputs. However, this would not be a car I’d choose to make a 200-mile trip in. Despite the gas-pressurized shocks, this is still a pretty harsh ride, especially compared to Chrysler’s new sporty coupes, the Avenger and the Sebring.
She: Another concern many drivers might have is that the thick pillars in the rear really block your vision as you try to back out. This seems to be a really common problem with sport coupes. Maybe people who buy them are naturally better drivers and can handle it, but I find it anxiety-provoking. The really tight-fisted part of me is reluctant to buy a vehicle that will only take premium fuel, even though the gas mileage in the Prelude is pretty decent.
He: I have a pet peeve with the Prelude and other so-called 2+2 coupes. That is, the lack of a usable rear seat. You can barely squeeze a couple of bags of groceries back there, yet it’s all tricked out like it could actually hold people. It can’t. So it seems to me like so much wasted space. On the other hand, the Prelude is a great two-seater for $24,000 not terribly practical for a family, but great for younger singles.
She: Well, some fun for younger singles. I still contend that there are better-looking sport coupes out there. And by that I mean ones that are immediately identifiable, not just relatively generic looking like the Prelude. Back in the days of the Bush White House, it might have been a head-turner, but this is a ferociously competitive segment and it’s easy to be chewed up by stunners like the Chrysler Sebring which looks breathtaking and more expensive.
He: Unfortunately, the Prelude isn’t due for a total redesign until the 1997 model year. Until then, guys, just close your eyes and drive the hell out of it.
She: And if you’re under 5 feet 4 inches, regardless of your sex, you’d better invest in a pair of platform shoes.
Anita’s rating: (average)
Paul’s rating: (above average)
What we liked: Antilock brakes, alloy wheels and other goodies standard; a driver’s dream; crisp handling; responsive engine
What we didn’t like: Trouble with clutch pedal (Anita); not exactly a fresh design on the market; some surprisingly cheap touches
1995 Honda Prelude SE
Type: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, 2+2 sport coupe.
Price: Base, $22,450; as tested, $24,030 (inc. $380 destination charge).
What’s new for ’95: Special Edition package.
Standard equipment: Variable-assist power steering, all-independent suspension, front and rear stabilizer bars, gas-pressurized shocks, four-wheel power disc brakes, air conditioning, cruise control, AM-FM stereo with cassette and six speakers, tilt steering column, center console with cupholder and storage bin, driver’s adjustable lumbar support, intermittent wipers, Michelin steel-belted radial tires, alloy wheels, power sunroof, rear defroster, tinted glass.
Safety features: Dual air bags, antilock brakes.
Options on test vehicle: Special Edition package, including leather-trimmed upholstery and rear spoiler ($1,200).
EPA fuel economy: 22 mpg city/26 mpg highway.
Engine: 2.3-liter I-4; 160-hp at 5800 rpm; 156 lb-ft torque at 4500 rpm.
Transmission: Five-speed manual.
Competitors: Acura Integra, Dodge Avenger, Chrysler Sebring, Eagle Talon, Mitsubishi Eclipse, Dodge Stealth, Mitsubishi 3000GT, Nissan 240SX, Toyota Celica, Mazda MX6.
Specifications: Wheelbase, 100.4 inches; overall length, 174.8 inches; curb weight, 2,908 pounds; legroom, 44.2 inches front/28.1 inches rear; headroom, 38.0 inches front/35.1 inches rear; shoulder room, 54.0 inches front/50.6 inches rear.
12-month insurance cost, according to AAA Michigan: $1,281.40. Rates based on an average family of four from the Livonia area whose primary driver is aged 40 with no tickets who drives 3-10 miles each way to work. Rates reflect multicar discount and, where appropriate, discounts for air bags and seat belts.
Where built: Sayama, Japan.