The 1992 Honda Prelude Si 4WS came highly recommended, even in automatic

I never liked the fourth-gen Prelude’s styling. I remember thinking it looked like a squashed Oldsmobile, and that its profile was too far a deviation from the angular wedges of its predecessors. That belief was only confirmed when the fifth-gen Prelude returned to the previous design theme. Dynamically, however, the Prelude rocked. It was a showcase of Honda’s technology and suspension engineering. And as this 1992 Motorweek review shows, even an automatic transmission couldn’t kill the Prelude’s spirit.

Why anyone would order an automatic for the press fleet is beyond us, especially in an era when Honda had the best manual transmissions on the market. Nevertheless, that’s how Motorweek‘s 1992 Prelude Si test car came. Connected to the F22B 16-valve twin-cam making 160-horsepower and 156 lb-ft, even the slushbox managed to clock a 0-60 time of 7.8 seconds.

Other components were just as good. Motorweek called the brakes Honda’s best ever ABS. The four-wheel double wishbone suspension and new electronic four-wheel steering (replacing the mechanical system) hustled it around the cones with poise. All this while maintaining an EPA-rated 22 city, 26 highway mpg, though testing bested that with a 27 mpg combined. As good as the Si was, for the fourth-gen the best version would have been the Prelude 190-horsepower Prelude VTEC that came out a year later.

Honda seemed to be positioning the fourth-gen Prelude as a sportier option than its predecessors. The styling did not closely resemble other cars in the Honda lineup, and the curvy shape gave it dimensions that were wider, lower, and shorter than the previous generation. The rear seats, separated by a long console, were unusable by normal-legged humans. The roof section was so short that the Prelude’s signature feature, its electronic sunroof, no longer retracted into the rear half of the roof. Instead, it just slid up and over it.

The Prelude S started at $17,000 and the Si test car with automatic rang it at $20,000. The 4WS option was not cheap, adding $2,320 to the bottom line. Despite the best efforts of its inventors, cost and complexity meant that the technology would never truly catch on, but the Prelude will forever have the honor of being the first model to offer 4WS in the US. Captain Picard would have been proud.

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11 Responses to The 1992 Honda Prelude Si 4WS came highly recommended, even in automatic

  1. Streetspirit says:

    I think the prelude is one of the best examples of evolutionary design in JNC history, the 3rd to 4th gen is a big step but the prelude lineage was (until recently) very clearly visible in each new generation.

    loved my 2nd gen even if it broke down a lot and parts were pure unobtainium,it was great when it worked!

  2. Legacy-san says:

    It did share an appearance with the JDM Honda Ascot Inova

  3. steve says:

    I never would have thought, someone else thought not only the front, but the rear taillamps added to that Oldsmobile “aura”.

  4. Taylor C. says:

    I’m glad Honda is resurrecting the Prelude nameplate and continuing the line of its sporty FWD car. However, that might be the problem, it’s not THE Honda sports car now. That title obviously goes to the Civic Type R, but back in 1983-1999, it was all Prelude until the S2000 took over. Disregard the NSX as that’s clearly in it’s own category (as well as division).

    Today, I am not sure if I can come up with a direct competitor to the upcoming Prelude. Nothing from Mazda, Nissan, Toyota (maybe GR86), VW (maybe Golf TSI?) or any of the American nameplates. I am wary that, while the car might be great in execution, the American consumer will just not be interested because it’s not a truck / SUV or the hardcore sports car; rather it’s the “personal luxury sports coupe” that sits in a niche that’s more-or-less disappeared.

    • Franxou says:

      You are right that the Civic Type R is Honda’s street racer, but the Civic Si would be their sporty sedan? Without going as soft as a personal luxury sports coupe, they might be trying the market with a simple sport coupe? Something along the lines of the MX-6, the Celica, the Prelude…

      If you think about Toyota, price-wise, size-wise, economy-wise, the Prius serves next to no purpose when you compare it with the Corolla Hybrid, but for a different kind of car nut, the Prius sells because it is the cool choice. It surely is not a sports car, but it is a flagship for hybrids, and dang it looks good!

      The good is that this new Prelude concept is very, very good looking, and if they can make it sporty first and frugal next instead of frugal first and sporty next (and if they find a way to make a low volume car not stupid expensive), they might bring us back a taste of the sports coupes wave of the early ’90s. Most were not fast, but they were more fun to drive, and better looking, and cooler than the usual sedan.

      The bad is that Honda tried the hybrid sports coupe multiple times, and they always went hard into the frugality but no sporty version with the first Insight, then the CR-Z.

      VW sold the mk3 Scirocco for almost a decade and offered a diesel alongside the 260+hp Scirocco R, there is a way to make it work. The first CRX too, was about frugality, but we remember it because of the sporty one.

  5. Franxou says:

    I really do not agree about the styling, but it might be because it was the Prelude of my youth, and nostalgia is a helluva drug. It is the traditional long and low, but wider looking than the Prelude of before and after.

    A bit of a stab to the last-gen Prelude: it went retro before retro was cool, mimicking the ’80s when the ’70s retro was not even common. And with headlights that looked like pop-up but weren’t, such a shame. It is the least Accord Coupe-like Prelude. It is a good looking car, but when compared to the sleek and futuristic Celica and Cougar, or the cheap and cheery Tiburon, the Prelude was closer to the beautiful and classically styled Volvo C70.
    I believe the Toyota Solara and the 2-doors Grand Am were more aimed at the 2-doors Accord.

    The fourth-gen Prelude looked the part in the Honda family, smallish headlights with no front grille, the start of curvy shapes comparable with the early ’90s Civic, an overall low-bonnet with a very high rear end reminiscent of the late CRX, and then the mid-90’s Accord came looking similar to this Prelude.

    I like the way the big rear and pointy nose made the car look like a bullet, how the dash went all around the cabin and met the doors without looking like a spaceship, and still keeping the traditional Honda-ness (and horn buttons).

    Even though I get the Oldsmobile reference, I always felt Olds tried to be the Buick for those shopping for imported vehicles, with designs looking more european or asian in origin. But yes, in 1998, GM came out with the 4-doors Prelude : the Olds Alero 😛 (available in 2-doors too)

  6. ra21benj says:

    My aunt owned this model Prelude Si with 2-wheel steering (BB2). After she passed away, I was loaned this car for a few days while visiting. The car was stock with manual transmission. I remember for stock suspension, this car handled really good. I would take 2nd/3rd gear corners fast and it didn’t pitch and roll a lot like stock civics. The owner of the shop I bought my rims at owned the VTEC model (BB1) with lowered suspension and Racing Hart ZR mesh wheels, which I drooled over every time I saw it. Prices for 4th gen. Preludes aren’t high, so I’d recommend getting one.

  7. Alan says:

    LJK Setright (the most literary, insightful, skilled, and perhaps strangest auto journo of the 70s-90s) was a huge Honda guy, and said the Prelude was his favorite car of all-time. There are some great pictures of him posing with his silver 4WS BB1—dude does NOT resemble a typical Honda boi.

    Anyway, he PREFERRED the automatic:

    “One other Honda passenger car would be essential. I would select the four-wheel steer Prelude, simply because no other car is as nice to drive. Wanting nothing but the very best, one would have to import the Japanese version of the VTEC, equipped with automatic transmission and limited-slip differential. Better wheels and tyres would be desirable and, since this is the car I would use most often, more money might sensibly be lavished on custom paint and an audio system.”

    He was also convinced that Honda designed the original Lamborghini V12, not Bizzarrini, and puts up quite a good argument for why.

  8. Fashion Victim says:

    I think this gen prelude has the best front lights and horrible rear lamps, but the final gen had better tail lamps but horrible front lamps. if there was only a way to combine the front lamp of the 4th gen with rear lamps of the 5th…

  9. speedie says:

    Not one of Honda’s best design efforts. Bit of a middle child between the iconic Gen 3 and “it went to boarding school” Gen 5.

  10. CycoPablo says:

    Australian motoring press were mostly dismayed at the radically redesigned, bigger Mk4 Lude. Wheels reported that this was Honda chasing US sales, so the car was designed accordingly.

    Toyota did similarly between the ST165 and ST182 Celicas. The older car was better to drive, even with the smaller engine.

    IMO, this pandering to any market — regardless of size, real or perceived importance — is the beginning of the end for any brand.

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