I knew there was something different about Honda’s Prelude Type SH when I hustled it up my favorite piece of abandoned road faster than I have ever in another car.
There are two models of the all-new Prelude, but the Type SH is the most interesting from a technical perspective. It uses ATTS, or Active Torque Transfer System, to help take corners with more stability and control than would normally be found in a front-wheel-drive sports coupe. ATTS is not a traction control system, which limits the power sent to a spinning wheel, but a drive-torque distribution system that takes torque from the inside wheel and transfers it to the outside wheel so it actually rotates faster when the car is in a turn. The faster-turning outside wheel helps the vehicle turn with greater stability.
To understand how it works, imagine sitting in a wheelchair. When you hold the inside wheel still and push the outside wheel, the chair turns immediately. Conceptually, ATTS does the same thing.
In normal driving the system is nearly invisible. I noticed that the test car seemed to turn into corners a bit more enthusiastically than a regular car, but that is about it. However, in a controlled environment, it does allow you to go consistently faster through turns with less fuss.
Honda often uses the Prelude to showcase new technology, as it did with the VTEC engine and four-wheel steering, which is why ATTS has been used here. I would think this technology might have application to any passenger car, however, so it may see wider use.
The 1997 is the fifth generation Prelude, and it is designed to be “an aggressive sport coupe with superior handling,” according to Honda. The new body style, with flat, chiseled surfaces, is a significant departure from the last model. It has a bigger trunk and a bigger back seat, based on customer research, although the back seat is still fairly small. Tall, dual-stacked headlights give the front end a bright-eyed look.
The new body, however, is tighter and stiffer, and that translates into better ride and handling, not to mention reduced vibration and noise. The dual-wishbone suspension soaks up bumps well and gives the Prelude sports-car agility.
Aside from its handling prowess, the Prelude is defined by its powerful, 2.2-liter, VTEC engine. This gutsy four-cylinder powerplant is uncanny in its willingness to rev to more than 7,000 rpm. Coupled with the tight-shifting five-speed transmission, it feels like a motorcycle engine. Power output is 195 horsepower (190 with the automatic transmission). Because of the VTEC variable valve timing system, it has abundant power at both low and high speeds.
An automatic transmission with sequential shifting is available, although not with the ATTS system. This transmission can be left in automatic position or shifted manually. It’s too bad this unit won’t work with the torque transfer system.
Inside, the Prelude is typically Honda. That mean s logical, well-designed gauges and excellent outward visibility. The bucket seats are firm and have extra support on the sides, which is helpful when you test out the ATTS in a turn.
My only beef concerns the radio and its tiny buttons. I would also prefer rotary controls for heating and cooling, but that is fairly minor.
The base price of our test car was $25,700. The addition of floormats, freight and California emissions equipment brought the sticker price to $26,282.
The basic warranty is for three years or 36,000 miles.
Vehicles for The Star’s week-long test drives are supplied by the auto manufacturers.
Point: The torque transfer system seems to be a real breakthrough in cornering stability. Mate that to a great engine that winds up like a motorcycle and you get a very energetic, responsive sports coupe.
Counterpoint: The back seat remains very small, as do the radio buttons.
WHEELBASE: 101.8 inches
CURB WEIGHT: 3,042 lbs.
BASE PRICE: $25,700
PRICE AS DRIVEN: $26,282
MPG RATING: 22 city, 27 hwy.