To a whole generation, sporty coupes from Asian automakers represented an automotive coming of age. It shaped their beliefs as to what makes a great set of wheels.

Having spent their automotive youth in small two-door cars, this same generation is flocking to trucks in a big way.

So where does that leave sales of small Japanese coupes? Stalled.

That's why such names as the 300ZX, MX-6 and Probe are gone. That's why the Celica will grow in size next year and other cars will disappear or morph into something altogether different.

So its refreshing to see Honda return to its roots with the all-new Honda Prelude.

It's still powered by Honda's familiar 2.2-liter 16-valve, four-cylinder aluminum alloy VTEC engine. VTEC stands for variable valve timing and lift electronic control. What it does is controls the intake and exhaust valve timing to provide more power.

And what power!

With 195 horsepower and 215 foot-pounds of torque in a 3,009-pound vehicle, this car's light feel and powerful drive train will allow you hours of motoring fun. It can also make you a big target for the boys in blue -- especially when decked out, as our car was, in screaming red.

Steering is quick and the handling neutral for a front-wheel driver. The ride is firm, but you expect that in a Prelude. The tail stays planted, despite the kicks of rippled road surfaces. The steering provides good road feel.

The anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes provide short, straight stops.

You have two transmission choices. A five-speed manual is standard. Optional is a four-speed automatic transmission featuring Sequential SportShift. This allows the driver to shift manually, without a clutch. Unlike some, this transmission will only upshift for you if you hit the rev limiter. Feel like running in second at 5,000 rpm? It lets you. If you forget to downshift, it will cover that too. No, it's not as much fun as a five-speed, but it's an interesting diversion, nonetheless.

The view from the driver's seat invites driving with gusto. You sit low, with feet straight out. The steering wheel is a comfortable reach. The bucket seats are firm and supportive over long drives.

The engine sings its sweet song as you drive. The problem is, so do the tires and the wind. If you like quiet solitude, you've come to the wrong place. In this car, the sensation of being directly connected to the road is always present. This feel is unique among autos costing less than a house.

The styling is, thankfully, a return to Honda's more conservative side. The interior is far superior to the previous generation's. It's simple, with large, circular gauges in front of the driver. Radio and climate controls are in the center console, easy to understand and operate. This is a big relief from the bizarre horizontal affairs that marred the previous version.

Outside, the styling has become much less trendy, with a tasteful deme anor that only tips its hat to fashion when it comes to the unique headlights. The hood's unusual shape shows itself to the driver, too, giving quite a view down the hood. But overall, this is a more mature suit of clothes, more in line with what a thirtysomething might buy than someone who wears his cap backwards.

Convenience is typical of small coupes. The rear seat is larger this year, but you'll still have to pay adults to ride back there. The trunk is a small 8.7 cubic feet, with a high liftover and small opening. Gooseneck hinges impede on trunk space. But if you want such convenience, you won't buy a Prelude.

You buy it for speed and great handling. With lots of power, decent gas mileage (23 mpg on premium only) and sporty manners, the latest Honda Prelude stays true to its identity while so many of its competitors drive down other roads.

Consider this car the answer to that mid-life crisis, a soothing tonic to remind you that you're only as old as yo feel.

But buy one now, before Honda gets wise to its ways.