Is This Progress? Prelude vs. Accord V6 (With Poll!)

This is another idea that sprang to mind when I was trying to come up with ways to get you, the CT reader, more involved. Everyone loves a poll, and everyone loves talking about the good old days, and how they don’t build ‘em like they used to. So here’s your chance to vote: with this series, we’ll be comparing a current production model from a brand to one of their past. You tell us if you think where we’re at now is “progress.” I’m willing to bet the answer is no, most of the time. Here we go, onto exercise 1.

Honda critics used to refer to the Prelude as the Quaalude, because… well, it was boring and slow. But when the bizarre-looking 4th generation Prelude came around in 1992, suddenly people who liked to go fast took notice. Not the base model or the Si, mind you, but the new top of the line: the Prelude VTEC. With an all-aluminum DOHC 16v 2.2L I4 (called the H22A) and Honda’s then-new VTEC system (variable timing and lift electronically controlled), the Prelude VTEC belted out 190 wailing horsepower at 6,800rpm, as well as having a powerband that was less car and more Jekyll & Hyde. Seriously. If you’ve never driven a valve-lift equipped Prelude, you’re missing out. It goes from commuter special below 5,000rpm to angry hyena chasing you above and up to the 7,000rpm redline.

Of course, the downside was the 4th generation Prelude was a bit outside of the mainstream. By which I mean, it was sort of ugly and a bit like a UFO on the inside, with a full-width dash panel housing some strange electronic gauges. When it was replaced with the 5th (and final) generation Prelude in 1997, Honda kept the things that were good – and got rid of the things that weren’t. Like the awkward, pudgy styling, weak base engines, and creepy digital dashboard.

The Prelude was a likeable car, if it was your sort of car. Not a lot of headroom, or trunk space, or luxury features. But it had a gem of an engine, an extremely well-balanced chassis, clearly evident build quality, and best of all it was truly a Honda in it’s personality. There wasn’t a big honking engine, or turbos, or four wheel drive with 3 diffs, or variable suspension or active aerodynamics. It was a lot like an old Alfa Romeo in it’s character: just a wailing twin-cam four cylinder, a well-balanced chassis, a compact interior, and a focus on driver involvement. While the Celica went off in search of the college sorority girl crowd, and competitors like the 240SX, Probe/MX-6, Impulse, and Starion went off to car heaven, the Prelude continued to offer hardcore driving thrills in an attractive package that wasn’t too heavy, too expensive, or too complicated. They’re still desirable today, if not quite at Integra R prices, then certainly holding more value than a 10 year old high-mileage 4 cylinder Honda really should.

What happened to the Prelude? Well, Honda says dwindling sales, but I say they crushed it from above and below. The 6th generation Accord started the separation in personality between the sedan and coupe, with the coupe taking on a more sporting role and the sedan a more family-hauling role. This split became even wider with the 2003 7th-generation Accord (which I’m quite familiar with), especially in V6 EX Manual form, which had a punch 240bhp 3.0L V6, a slick six-speed, and good looks. On the bottom end, the Integra mutated into the MacPherson-strut equipped RSX, which had a more upscale appearance and interior. Oh, and a spanking-new K20 four-cylinder that put out the smoothest 197bhp with no turbo that anyone had ever felt out of a 2.0L. It made the H22 feel a bit like a tractor engine, offering a wider powerband, more revs, more aftermarket potential, and much higher sophistication. That didn’t help either. The Prelude disappeared into the fold in 2001, never to be seen again. It did give us one thing at the end of it’s life, though: ATTS, the world’s first automatic torque-biasing differential in a road-going production car. Take that, Audi snobs.

Now, by the standards of the day, the Prelude was a pretty quick car. Test results of the time put the Prelude (base model, 5-speed manual) at 6.7 seconds to sixty mph, and 15.1s@93mph in the quarter-mile. If I told you that you could go into a Honda dealership today, and for about $30k get a car that runs 0-60 in 5.6 seconds and 14.2 in the quarter mile, your first thought would be an S2000, right?

Nope, it would be an Accord V6 Coupe – currently the fastest car that Honda sells. (yes, faster than the Civic Si – it takes about a second longer to sixty and through the quarter, putting it about even with the Prelude. Yes, it’s also one and two tenths faster to sixty and the quarter mile, respectively, than the S2000.) With a six-speed manual, an EX Accord V6 Coupe really will pull a low 14 second quarter mile. Kinda nuts! Why so fast? Well, the newest Accord shares its engine with the base-model Acura TL, which means a 3.5L iVTec equipped SOHC 24v V6 under the hood, with 268 horsepower and 247lb-ft of torque. Which is a solid 70bhp and 90lb-ft more than the 5G Prelude’s 197/161.

Of course, faster doesn’t mean better. First, let’s talk about size. The Prelude weighed in at 2,843lbs according to factory specs. The Accord? 3,459lbs. So that’s 600lbs heavier, give or take – the US spec Prelude was probably heavier, maybe closer to 3,000 lbs with all the standard equipment we got. Still – that’s a lot of extra mass. The 8th Gen Coupe has 8″ more wheelbase, almost 13″ additional length, about 4″ additional width, 4.5″ additional height… you get the picture. If you were looking for a good place to a hide a Prelude (which, by the way, a lot of Honda guys bemoan as being too big and heavy), an 8th-Gen Accord Coupe would be a great place to start. Of course, it’s got more luxury items – leather/heated seats, satnav, satellite radio, CD changer, steering wheel controls, booming stereo, etc etc. But, I ask you – is this progress? Did we ask for a Japanese Monte Carlo? And why is Honda, of all manufacturers, giving us one?

Honda Prelude 8th Gen Accord EX-V6 6M Coupe
Engine 2.2L DOHC 16v VTEC I4 (H22A4) 3.5L SOHC 24v iVTEC V6 (J35Z3)
Power 197bhp@6800rpm 268bhp@6200rpm
Torque 162bhp@5500rpm 248lb-ft@5000rpm
Transmission 5-speed manual 6-speed manual
Weight 2844lbs 3459lbs
0-60 6.7 seconds 5.6 seconds
¼ mile 15.1 seconds 14.2 seconds
Wheelbase 101.8” 107.9”
Length 178” 190.9”
Width 68.9” 72.8”
Height 51.8” 56.4”