FWD Champions: The Honda Prelude
Honda really can work wonders with their front-wheel-drive architecture. Take the 5th-generation (’97-’01) Prelude—the example under consideration here—which Car and Driver declared in ’97, after a comparo, to be the best handling car available for under $30K. And even when, just for kicks, they pitted the car several months later against the $30K-and-up crop of cars, the Prelude, hampered by the inherent limitations of FWD and only 197 hp from its H22A 4-cylinder, posted a respectable mid-pack finish, garnering the same score as the brutally fast Viper GTS. It’s a remarkable achievement for a 3000 lb FWD car with 63/37 weight distribution.
What makes the difference? In a word, details. As mentioned above, the ’97-’01 Prelude was the 5th incarnation of Honda’s top-of-the-line sporty coupe, so they really had perfected the formula by the time of its release. The ideal suspension setup for handling—double wishbones all around—laid a strong foundation, and the steering feel’s perfection was matched by the action of the typically slick-shifting 5-speed. And the interior, liberated of the previous generation’s universally-decried weirdness, was a paragon of no-nonsense ergonomic efficiency.
All that said, as you might expect, the attribute that moves the car from “that’s nice” to “I’d seriously consider one as a daily driver” territory is the styling. Again eschewing the hunchbacked oddity of the ’92-’96 car’s design, Honda wisely chose to normalize the proportions, free the flanks of any chunky cladding, and inject a little Nissan R32 Skyline into the profile. It gives the car an aggressive, upscale look that has aged very well indeed. The only questionable element is the portrait-orientation headlight treatment, but even that isn’t a dealbreaker. It’s an exceedingly handsome car, and between that and the universal acclaim heaped on its handling prowess, I’d drive one in a New York minute. Even if the front wheels are doing all the work.
Editor’s note: This post is part of an ongoing series highlighting FWD cars I think highly of, in spite of my overwhelming RWD bias. Read the other installments here:
- Peugeot 205 GTI
- B4 Volkswagen Passat
- Lancia Fulvia Coupe
- Acura Vigor
- Mazda Millenia
- Citroën SM
- Fiat Coupé
- ’91-’96 Infiniti G20
- ’91-’94 B13 Nissan Sentra SE-R
- ’88-’92 Mazda MX-6
- Audi Coupe GT
- Volkswagen Corrado
- Peugeot 405 Mi16
- ’78-’93 Saab 900
- Volvo 850 T-5R
- 1st- and 2nd-generation Volkswagen Scirocco