They call it the “Bubble Era”, referring to Japanese cars of the late Eighties and early Nineties. Hands down, it was the best time for Japanese manufacturing and will never be matched — especially as we start trending toward electric, self driving cars without any soul whatsoever. This era was all about the driving experience, not just getting to the destination. The two cars in question are a second gen 1987 Honda Prelude Si and a third gen 1988 Honda Prelude Si. Separated by a single year, they share a lot of similarities (as expected) but are also vastly different once you dive into the details and compare them directly to each other.
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Great, fair and accurate comparo! Having spent a lot of time in both when they were new, the one that stayed most in my heart was the 2G, which is why I have one now. (Though I sure wouldn't kick a 3G out of the garage, and that ultra-thin front fender line above the wheel arch is still amazing.) I don't imagine we'll ever see the quality and detail of the Bubble Era again... something I think about every time I look at the three different horn buttons in my '86 Si's steering wheel.
I owned 3 Preludes. My first was a new 86. My first new car. It was the base model. I loved it. I replaced it with a 91 4WS. This car was amazing and I loved it even more. I loved the 4WS. I think it was my favorite car that I owned. But it got totaled when I got hit by an 89 year old driver with diplomatic immunity. A nightmare of insurance and medical issues followed. I replaced it with a 93 Prelude VTEC. This car had better power, but I missed the 4WS. I liked the design of the car less. The rear seat area got smaller. I never liked the dash design. I liked the exterior look, but I missed the “square” design. I had the 93 for the longest time of the the three cars. Rust got it after an accident and the Prelude had been discontinued by that point. I currently have a Civic Si coupe which is as close as you can get to a Prelude. The rear seat space and trunk space is better. But I liked the larger platform better. The engine is great and I love the car, but I wonder what the Prelude would be like now. But 2dr Honda’s are all gone now and that’s a real shame.
Had a similar experience with owning many Civics, CRX's, and Integras never really looking at Preludes until I had a chance to pick up a 30k mile '91 Prelude Si 2 years ago. I was amazed at the overall performance and handling of the bone stock coupe. Absolutely loved having rpm's north of 5k!
Love, love, love my 90 Prelude 4WS. 300k miles and counting...the thing is bulletproof. 200k on the clutch now (original owner replaced at 100k because the manual instructed them to). Hardly a squeak to this day. The cheapest car I ever owned (bought for 3,900 in 2005) and the FAVORITE car I've ever owned 🙂 Sure wish I could find more parts though, and I rue the day when I have to go aftermarket on the clutch...
Wanted to buy a 2G Prelude when they came out but the dealers had waiting lists and big markups. It really was an exceptional car for the price. Wound up with a Dodge Omni GLH Turbo instead, which did go like hell and was tons of fun if not nearly as refined.
Had an '85, and then a '90. Neither were SI, but at least the '90 was a manual. The best way to describe the driving experience on both of them was "go cart". It's proof that a small, light, nimble car with little power can be as much or more fun than a bigger, heavier, more powerful car. I used to wring them both out on the weekends on the mountain roads of north central Arkansas when I was in college in the area. Also, up to 35 MPG was nice when I was a poor college student. And being mechanically bulletproof was nice too.
I've owned 5 3rd Gen Preludes, both autos and manuals, 4WS and not. They are great cars, and I'll always be on the lookout for my next one. Thus, I can appreciate this kind of comparo. However, this article was ENTIRELY too long. All of the points could've been made in about half the space. I found myself skipping entire paragraphs to get to the point/end. Appreciate the effort, for sure, but the editors missed the boat on this one.
It is interesting getting the perspective of someone who doesn't remember these as new cars. The second generation car looked like the future when it arrived. The cowl was so low, and the restraint of the trim after years of cars that were only sporty because of tape stripes and stick-on louvers made most other sport coupes seem adolescent at best. The driving position had been almost perfectly cribbed from the Porsche 924, with the tile steering column a worthwhile addition. The lack of a back seat comment is also unexpected. Compared to a Ford Explorer? I remember getting a ride to a party in one with five other people, although I rode in the trunk. The shift linkage made all my German cars seem agricultural. The other thing that struck me was the sun roof. Every time I opened or closed the sunroof of one of my Audis or BMW, there was a nagging doubt that the task would ever be completed. Their electric sunroofs were slow, and they also could sense when their failure in an open position would be most inconvenient. Compared to my quattro, my friend Deanna's Prelude had a guillotine for a sunroof. It was humbling to witness that thing scythe open or closed.
Third generations were improved in practically every way, but they were expensive and the competition was beginning to make considerably more power than Honda was getting out of their naturally aspirated fours. I worked at a Honda dealer in 1989, and there were secret rebates to move Preludes. When the second generations were available, they often sold for more than list price.
I experienced that exact scenario with the 4WS in a sharp freeway on-ramp. At the time I had an '87 Accord LXi hatchback and was interested in the Prelude Si. I test drove one with 4WS and took an almost-90° on-ramp a little too fast for the conditions (slightly wet pavement after a light rain). The back end stepped way out. Counter-steering with opposite lock swung the back end out in the other direction. This happened a couple more times with car getting closer to the intended path each time. I looked over at the sales person after the car straightened out which, by that time, was merged with the flow of traffic. He was hanging on for dear life with white knuckles.
I also loved the low cowl and sloping hood of Hondas during that era. I remember riding in a friend's '86 Accord DX hatchback and thinking the experience was really weird because it seemed like I could see everything on the road practically pass right under my feet. It was like the front of the car ended right at the bottom of the windshield. The huge greenhouse made place the car so easy in parking lots or in parallel parking situations. I also loved the 4-wheel double-wishbone suspension in my Accord.
Since then I've had two other Honda products: a 2000 S2000 and a 2006 TL. Neither of those cars had the same view of the road ahead or even behind. The S2000 was really difficult to parallel park and the TL has a big booty that makes it difficult for me to judge distance (a rearview camera was included in '07).
I love Hondas. I love the way they drive. I love their smooth running engines that are eager to rev. I recall a statement that "Honda is an engine manufacturer that happens to make cars" and I will always believe that.
I really miss my Blue 84 Prelude. It was four years old with about 40,000 miles when I brought it home from the local Honda dealer. It was a joy to drive and a fine example of a rolling piece of automotive sculpture. Unfortunately, it also had a lot of bad luck including a series of mystery ailments that mechanics either couldn't resolve, or couldn't find. It went through clutches, brakes and mufflers like nobody's business. It would stall on off ramps and in the end you had to keep your foot on the gas at traffic lights. To make matters worse, it was hit in the front, the back twice, and once on the side. After 150 thousand miles and five years of ownership I traded it in for a new VW Golf. It's now 26 years later and I wish I had another one, but in better condition!
These are my cars and I think the writer summed them up really well. I love late eighties Hondas because they are so cleverly engineered. I bought the ‘87 first because my Dad had one like it when I was growing up. The Honda was such a departure from the GMs he had up until then. Soooo smooth and well built. I always wanted the 4ws car and figured when I found a good one, I’d sell the 87. Not so sure now for the reasons explained. The way the engine and mechanicals are packed into such a tight space amazes me.