The Honda Prelude Si is like a jigsaw puzzle.

Just when you think all the pieces have slipped into place, you find a few edges that have to be shaved to smooth the rough spots.

Prelude is Honda`s small, but pricey sports model. The front-wheel-drive subcompact is built on a 101-inch wheelbase and is 175.6 inches long. The hood is long and low with lamps hidden when not in use. Neat and clean, no complaints.

Inside, Prelude is quiet and comfortable-providing you don`t fiddle with the driver`s seat buttons and dials to adjust lumbar and upper side bolster support or seat back memory function. Whatever happened to the good old days when a bucket seat slid forward or backward without a computer chip determining that you need a lump in your back, a corset around your waist or a 180-degree tilt to the upper torso?

Honda didn`t have to get cute with the seat controls, considering the attention to ride and handling. The four-wheel double wishbone suspension with front and rear stabilizer bars and the most responsive power-assisted rack- and-pinion steering in the industry mean the engineers didn`t have to play chiropractor.

Smooth ride. You see the tar marks, but certainly don`t feel them. The 14-inch Michelin radial tires and gas pressurized shock absorbers front and rear help. Handling is above average from the superb power steering and the fact that Prelude has a wide, road-hugging stance.

Only front seat occupants will appreciate ride and handling. The rear seat is no more than a decoration. Little tykes will fit, but any adult who isn`t into whips and chains wouldn`t want to venture back there.

The Prelude is offered in S and Si versions. The S is powered by a 2- liter, single overhead cam 4-cylinder engine that develops 104horsepower. The Si is powered by a twin cam version of that engine that develops 135 h.p. Both are teamed with 5-speed manual transmission as standard, 4-speed automatic as an option.

We drove the Si with 5-speed. Good power for a 2,700-pound car, but we would have enjoyed it even more if Honda squeezed about 15 more h.p. out of the engine or lightened the car by about 200 pounds. And it would help if the 5-speed had the light touch, fingertip action that`s a Honda trademark. This one violated the trademark. Slightly testy.

The Si speedometer reads 140 miles an hour. That makes for good reading, if you`re into fiction. Like the driver`s seat, the 140 m.p.h. speedometer was out of character with the Prelude.

We`ve always found the beauty of Prelude to be the ability to cruise for short or long distances in comfort and style without being pressured to redline the tachometer at every light. The enjoyment with Prelude has been to get from the light quickly, then sit back, relax and cruise.

Standard features include a power-operated tinted glass moonroof, quartz digital clock, dual power mirrors, AM-FM stereo casset te, power antenna, fold- down rear seat backs, remote trunk and fuel filler door release, fog lights, air conditioning and power windows.

The Si with manual starts at $16,965, with automatic it`s $17,690. The base S with the lower horsepower engine and fewer frills starts at $13,945, with automatic, $14,670. The Si also offers optional four-wheel steering with a base price of $18,450 with manual, $19,175 with automatic.

For a car that starts at $16,965, you`d expect a spring held hood, not a prop job.

>> 1989 Honda Prelude Wheelbase: 101.1 inches Length: 175.6 inches Engine: 2 liter, 135 h.p. four- cylinder Transmission: 5-speed manual; 4-speed automatic Base price: $16,965 manual; $17,690 automatic Strong point: Ride, handling Weak point: Price, tiny rear seat >>