Hagerty: The Fourth-Gen Honda Prelude Moonshot

The fourth-gen Honda Prelude was an eyecatcher. Regardless of whether you were a seasoned car enthusiast or still finding your automotive footing when that car erupted onto the scene, the fourth-gen Prelude forced you to take notice. Even for today’s enthusiasts who only know the ’90s as “retro,” the 1992-’96 Honda Prelude stands as an unabashed gem of the era. It’s also quite a performer, making waves to this very day in SCCA Road Racing’s Super Touring® Under class, among others – and there’s nothing stopping you from entering an SCCA Autocross, Time Trials National Tour Powered by Hagerty, or Track Night in America® Driven by Tire Rack event in one. So what made the fourth-gen Prelude so great, and what led to the model’s demise? Hagerty recently dove in.

“The more time you spend digging into automotive history from the 1990s, the quicker you realize how the Japanese bubble economy was more than just a time of increased stock valuations and easy credit from lending institutions,” Sajeev Mehta wrote in a recent article on Hagety.com/media. “All this money and promises of good times for the foreseeable future meant that Japanese automakers were beyond motivated to make amazing cars.... They also had the nerve to put these excellent cars into production, many of which are now appreciating classics in today’s classic car landscape.”

The third generation of the Honda Prelude was a blocky one, pulling styling cues from the Honda Accord Coupe. The Prelude’s sleek 1992 redesign was a giant step for the nameplate, offering a personality clear of its Honda stablemates.

Under the metal, VTEC entered the equation, and it screamed. In addition, the Prelude’s four-wheel steering shifted from mechanical linkage to electric, and the interior became – to use Mehta’s word – lavish.

“A radical interior shared little with other Hondas, and had a six- or seven-speaker audio system to make that cabin even more pleasurable,” noted Mehta. “Well except in Japan, where the Prelude got an eight-speaker audio system, complete with a center channel speaker. So lavish was the eight-speaker system that it got us wondering: Did the bubble economy give us a theatrical experience before Best Buy offered it for your home?”

But these upgrades in a sport coupe format perhaps spelled ultimate doom for the Prelude, especially with a redesigned Accord vying for a similar audience. In the end, Prelude sales plummeted.

“Prelude sales slumped stateside while an economic bubble burst in Japan,” the story says. “It’s the sad reality of automotive hubris, but this Prelude was a delightful interlude in the brand’s history. It represented everything Honda could do with a mainstream grand touring coupe, and Motorweek noted how the 1992 Honda Prelude Si was both stunning to behold and a radical departure from the previous model. They wondered aloud if ‘new and different do not necessarily mean better’, a query that the market would eventually answer with a resounding ‘no.’”

Want to know more? You can read the complete story here. Want to own a 1990s gem of your own? keep an eye on Hagerty Marketplace.

Photo courtesy Honda