Underrated Used Cars: The Honda Prelude

electron blue 2001 honda prelude

A couple of months ago, I regaled you with my thoughts about the Infinti G series.  Well now I’m back with another used car you might want to spend some time looking at, the 5th Generation Honda Prelude.  Like the G, I owned one of these.  Take a look at my WheelWell garage for more.  And if you read my rambling musings about Honda needing to bring back the fun, you’ll see how much I really enjoyed my Prelude.  It is literally the car that got me into the enthusiast world, and for that I am eternally grateful.  So if you only have a pittance to buy something used, you can get a Toyota Previa, or you could go and look at the ‘lude.


Everyone is familiar with the Prelude, and while you don’t see a ton of them on the road anymore, they sold in pretty high numbers over the years.  Honda unloaded 826,082 over the course of it’s 1978–2001 production run.  That’s almost 36,000 cars a year which is pretty impressive, although the final generation didn’t sell as well.  More so if you read my thoughts on how poorly sports, and sporty, cars are selling these days.  That average is more than the Corvette sells per-year currently, and more than twice as much as VW’s GTI, which, along with the Eclipse, Celica, and 240SX, was one of main competitors of the Prelude here in the States.  But enough about sales, what about the lineage?  Well Toyota actually trademarked the name initially, but “amicably” gave it to Honda to use.  Thanks Wikipedia, that was super interesting!  The 1st generation, like many small, sporty cars of its era, was very light.  Like under 2000 lbs. light.  And it had fender mounted mirrors, love it.

1st Generation Honda Prelude

Image: Japanesesportscars.com

Featuring a mild 72 hp 94 lb·ft of torque from a 1.8L inline 4, the 1st generation wasn’t all that powerful.   The second generation gained some weight (still only weighed around 2200 lbs.) but got a larger engine, a 2.0L 4 with 110hp and some aerodynamic improvements thanks to sweet pop up headlights.  The third generation continued the evolution with even better aerodynamics and introduced the  world’s first mechanical four wheel steering (4WS) system available in a mass-production passenger car, a feature that would continue to be prominent throughout most of the Prelude’s history.  A 1990 update included the new Si model with the B21A1 engine and 4WS.  Here is a nicely modified 1991.

1991 Honda Prelude Si

Image: S3mag.com

The 4th generation Prelude was a fairly radical redesign and remains an enthusiast favorite.  Although the weight continued to swell, it would still be considered light on its feet by today’s standards at 2840 lbs.  The 4WS was changed to an electronic version and engine size and power continued to increase in the S and Si VTEC engines.  The H22A under the hood carried over to the 5th generation Prelude which was introduced on November 7, 1996 and returned to a more square body style reminiscent of the 3rd gen.  With 200hp and a curb weight around 3000 lbs. it was a hoot to drive.  Front wheel drive meant for less than ideal understeer situations on the track at times, but the car always felt more balanced than its 63/37 weight distribution belied.  Keep an eye out for the Type-SH which was manual-only and had the Active Torque Transfer System (ATTS) and featured a different front suspension geometry designed to help reduce torque steer.  It’s a great autocross car and sends more power to the outside wheel when cornering making it spin 15% faster than the inside wheel.   Fun bit of kit.

The Used Market

Mine was electron blue, a color only found on the late 90s Civic Si until it debuted on the Prelude and remains one of my favorite all-time colors.  Inside, it wasn’t necessarily luxurious, but was quite comfortable and surprisingly roomy.   This was my first truly fun car after moving to DC and getting a real job, replacing the ’99 Civic coupe I had bought just before college ended.  Which is why I can’t help but recommend it for someone with a small used car budget looking for something interesting.

Here are some real cars for sale right now that I found on cars.com.

2000 Honda Prelude
$3,969 | 152,095 mi.
Milano Red, 5 spd. manual

2000 Honda Prelude 2000 Honda Prelude interior






2001 Honda Prelude Type SH
$5,700 | 120,150 mi
Satin Silver Metallic, 5 spd. manual

2001 Honda Prelude Type-SH2001 Honda Prelude interior







1995 Honda Prelude Si
$4,500 OBO | 172,000 mi.

1995 Honda Prelude 1995 Honda Prelude






What To Look For

(These primarily apply to the 5th Generation)
Avoid the automatic transmission at all costs.  Beyond the obvious reason, they are known to have issues.  Some say that 5th gear will start to grind over time, particularly in 1997-1999 models.  Look for rust around the wheel wells, sunroof, and wherever you can inspect.  Hondas of this era are known to have some rust issues.  Plus it’s a 15 year old car, and depending on where it lived, it can be a better or worse situation when it comes to rust.  Check for timing belt and O2 sensor replacement, should have been done prior to, and every, 100K miles.   Overall though, It’s a Honda, so unless it has been modified poorly (and many have, although not as poorly as the average Integra) it should be pretty damn reliable with basic maintenance through several hundred thousands miles.  There are tons of great FAQs and information on the Prelude forms.  The examples above are mid-life and for $5000 or so, you could end up with a kickass used car.  Shop smart, go drive something fun.



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