Road Impressions

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The Honda Prelude

In the Honda Prelude the Japanese manufacturer in Tokio who has built up a reputation for reliability and good engineering techniques, has an impressive two-door 2+2 sports coupe, based on the Accord’s mechanicals. It appeals on four main counts — the pleasure of driving it, its unexpectedly good fuel-economy, its attractive interior layout of controls and instruments, etc., and its distinct individuality.

The Prelude is a front-wheel-drive car with a transverse-mounted four-cylinder engine of 1,602 c.c., the stroke being 9 mm. longer than the 77 mm. bore. It is the same overhead-camshaft, alloy-head, five-bearing power-pack that Honda use for their Accord, developing 80 DIN b.h.p. at 5,300 r.p.m., on a cr. of 8.4 to 1. The camshaft is driven by a properly-guarded toothed-belt, an electric fan assists power output, and the ignition system is of the breaker-less kind. Unless one specifies Hondamatic automatic transmission the power is transmitted through a five-speed gearbox which gives 20.6 m.p.h. per 1.000 r.p.m. when in the highest ratio. Nevertheless, this fifth gear can be held onto in town driving, if one is seeking maximum economy of fuel, of which more later.

The Honda Prelude has revised Accord suspension, using coil springs with MacPherson struts and lower links at the front, and a similar layout at the rear, with a roll bar. Telescopic dampers are fitted all round. The revised brakes are vacuum-servo-assisted disc/drum, and there are alloy wheels shod with Japanese Dunlops or, as on the test car, with Bridgestone radial 175 x 70 SR13 tyres. The rack-and-pinion steering is not servo-assisted.

The Prelude is quite a nice little car to drive. Driver and front passenger sit on well-shaped seats with head-restraints adjustable to three positions. The squabs also adjust and separate levers release these for access to the rear compartment, which is very restricted, making this smart coupe really a 2+2. The interior has a shiny black finish with very clear labelling of controls and instruments in white, which I approved of. A clever idea is to have the tachometer imposed over the very big speedometer face, thus making for a compact facia, although no more space would have been needed for two smaller-dials. However, the Honda arrangement is ingenious and fairly neat and not too difficult to refer to. A small hooded nacelle in the centre of the tachometer has warning lights for indicators, full lamps’ beam, fuel-contents, oil-pressure, battery-condition, choke-in-use, and hand-brake on/fluid-level low. The safety-conscious Japs have also put in a r.h. lights’ panel which, with the ignition “on”, or when a button is pressed, shows whether doors and boot-lid are properly shut, and whether both stop lamps are working; a pilot light attracts the driver’s attention for six seconds, after which the individual warning lights come on if anything is amiss. Ingenious, and something to appeal to those who love gadgets! Apart from that, there are the normal fuel-gauge and heat-indicator, and a digital electronic clock is fitted, on the dash, with a press-in panel to make it record the time when the ignition is off.

All the foregoing items are very neatly installed, in an Interior with a high-quality trim. The small steering wheel has its spokes in the form of a narrow “X”. with horn-pushes on each of the four spokes, which is better than a single button in the wheel-centre or on a stalk that moves about. There are many other quality items to be found around the Honda Prelude. For instance, the k.p.h./m.p.h. speedometer incorporates a total and trip odometer, below which are lights which remind one at the appropriate mileages about changing the engine oil, rotating the tyres, and renewing the oil filter. There is driver control of instrument-lighting intensity, the radio knobs are neatly combined at right-angles on the left of the instruments nacelle with a knurled, recessed, normally-mounted tone-contol knob, and the choke is operated by pulling out what might be a tiny drawer under the facia, but which is clearly marked. The highly efficient heater/demister has many symbols to explain the positioning of the horizontal levers on its separate panel and the 3-speed heater fan, with neat control, is not unduly obtrusive.

Tyre pressures are neatly listed on a tablet on the interior of the driver’s door; under-bonnet instructions are likewise listed. Throughout the car there is evidence of this careful Japanese thinking. The boot-lid can be opened from within the body or from outside by using the one key that suffices for all services, and which in this case enters the body-panel, not the boot-lid, for maximum ease of operation. The fuel-filler is under a well-fitting circular locked panel, that opens very easily. The in-built (thief-defeating) radio has indications visually of which station has been selected, there are two exterior mirrors as well as a roof rear-view mirror, and, as a final touch of luxury, the Prelude comes as standard with a quick-acting electrically-operated sun-roof, which has a stiff sliding blind beneath it, to cut off glare from the tinted glass panel.

The cloth-upholstered seats are very comfortable, the pedals are well placed, and altogether a driver should be well content in this Honda. There is not much stowage within, apart from a rather small unlockable glove compartment and a well by the gear-lever, together with small rear-seat wells, and a small open facia well for the driver’s oddments. Door pockets are lacking. Two stalk-controls are used, the short left-hand one functioning smoothly for wash/wipe and all combinations thereof, the r. h. one looking after lamps and turn-indicators, the latter with side reflectors. To flash the headlamps you just press the knob on the extremity of the r. h. stalk — what could be quicker or more simple! The engine likes choke for a cold-start but pulls away at once. It idles quite quietly, but with a slight tappet sound, at 400 r.p.m. and is generally a quiet-runner. The steering is high-geared, at 3 1/2-turns lock-to-lock, yet is not unduly heavy for parking, and is quick but rather dead. There is more than a trace of front-drive characteristics about the Honda’s handling. The tyres seem to lose grip rather early and power-understeer has to be coped with. The suspension is quite good, but lurchy and lively over bad going, and generally the handling characteristics are somewhat dated. The gear lever is not unduly heavily spring-loaded to the centre of the gate; 5th gear is towards the driver, with reverse (press the knob behind it).

Top speed is an impressive 101 m.p.h., and the maximum engine speed marked on the tachometer is 6,000 r.p.m. The Prelude gets to 60 m.p.h. from rest in 11.3 seconds. It is in conjunction with such good average performance that the creditable fuel economy must be judged. It is possible to get over 40 m.p.g. without hanging about, and that on two-star petrol. Indeed, so good is the Prelude’s fuel-thrift that I could not at first believe the 40 m.p.g. plus figures I was getting. Overall consumption was 33.7 m.p.g. The tank is said to hold fractionally over 11 gallons but if so it would take a long time to fill it to the brim.

The front-hinged bonnet opens to reveal the extremely accessible dip-stick (no oil wanted in 500 miles), sparking plugs, and Yuasa NS60(S) battery, etc. The Stanley 001-3004 headlamps are supplemented by fog lamps built into the substantial wrap-round front bumper, which is matched by a similar rear bumper. Equipment includes tinted glass, a coin box, a cigar-lighter and rear fog-lamps, and the interior and exterior door locks, and handles, etc. are as neat and pleasant to use as the rest of the car. The front-seat passenger has a grab-handle. The clutch is light, if a trifle sudden, and the five-speed gear box changes gear nicely, with only a little catch-up at times going from 4th to 5th speed. The brakes are both light and usefully progressive. The boot is rather shallow but deep, with two side-wells, and adequate if the Prelude is regarded as a two-seater.

As a highly individualistic sporting coupe with fair performance in return for a most commendable fuel thrift, the Honda Prelude is a worthwhile package at £4,950, especially remembering that it comes with an electric glass sunroof. The Ford Escort RS2000 will run away from this new Japanese offering, but those who set store by ingenuity and a good quality interior trim should still be very interested in trying this new coupe from Tokio. — W.B.

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