Forgotten Heroes: Honda Prelude Type S

When it comes to performance Hondas, one letter looms large above all others in the alphabet – the letter “R”.

The “Type R” Honda lineup needs no introduction, particularly the legendary Honda Civic Type R – although the Integra Type R and NSX Type R are also amazing cars in their own right.

For the longest time, if you want a fast, high-performing Honda, then you buy one with a Type R badge.

But in the late 1990s and early 2000s, there was another option for lucky Japanese buyers (and now lucky buyers in countries where these cars have found their way onto the used market).

In this edition of Forgotten Heroes we take a look at the “other” performance Honda from the turn of the 21st Century, the Honda Prelude Type S (intro photo credit to Torque GT – a specialist JDM car importer in the UK)

What Is It?

The Prelude Type S was the pinnacle of the fifth generation Honda Prelude lineup.

The fifth generation Prelude Type S was produced from 1996-2001 (with a refresh in 1999) and was well-received in its day for being a stylish sports coupe with solid performance credentials – it was also one of the first cars to debut four wheel steering technology.

In fact, the Honda Prelude was generally praised across all of its generations as being a sensible, enjoyable and highly competent sports coupe. I have fond memories of driving a fourth generation Honda Prelude SiR, for example, and being impressed by its tight handling and exciting VTEC power delivery.

As with most Japanese cars of the era, the fifth generation Prelude was available in numerous different trims/configurations, depending on exactly where in the world you were buying it and how much you were looking to spend.

There were plenty of more basic spec Preludes, with less powerful engines, an automatic transmission option, and some cars even came with four wheel steering (which had featured on previous generation Preludes as well). A relative of mine used to have a base spec automatic fifth generation Prelude, and even that was a decent drive – although not a patch on the Type S.

The Prelude Type S was intended to be the highest performance model of the Prelude lineup, and was sold new exclusively in the Japanese Domestic Market. However, as with many JDM cars, the Type S has found its way into other markets like the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand over time.

Honda made a number of changes to the already excellent Prelude formula, in order to make the Type S a proper performance contender.

What Engine Is In The Honda Prelude Type S?

The Prelude Type S boasted 220hp from its 2.2L H22A “red top” engine, which is similar to the engine found in the Accord/Torneo Euro R (although there are some differences). A translated piece of content from Honda’s old website is at pains to point out the 100hp/litre output of the engine [source]  – a number of improvements were made to the engine, including the development of a new piston head that increased the compression ratio to 11.0, adjustments to valve timing, lift and duration, port and polishing on the cylinder head, and a new intake system are just some of the modifications that Honda made.

The beating heart of the Prelude Type S

Mated to a slick five speed manual transmission, the Type S has plenty of power and delivers “old school” VTEC fun.

Another key component to the Type S recipe was the inclusion of Honda’s flagship Active Torque Transfer System, which was also found on the USDM “SH” trim (if you’re wondering what “SH” stands for on the Prelude SH, it means ‘Super Handling’).

A Car Throttle user article has an excellent explanation of how ATTS worked on the Prelude, so we won’t repeat what is already written there – suffice it to say that ATTS helped to optimally vector torque, improving handling and stability through corners. This diagram gives an excellent explanation of how ATTS works:

From https://www.carthrottle.com/post/w8er3qe/

The ATTS system reduced the prone-to-understeer nature of a front wheel drive car like the Prelude, and was one of the reasons why it had such good handling for a car of its type and weight. Another way to think of ATTS is as an electronic limited slip differential; you can definitely notice the difference in handling between an ATTS and non-AATS Prelude (although even without it, the fifth generation Prelude is a fine handling car).

ATTS ended with the production of the Prelude, but the concept lived on in part with Honda’s SH-AWD system as found in the Honda Legend and other Honda/Acura vehicles.

When Was It Made?

To the best of our knowledge and research, the Honda Prelude Type S was available in the Japanese Domestic Market throughout the fifth generation of the Prelude, from 1996-2001.

The majority of examples we have seen for sale in our local market (New Zealand) are from the 1999 refresh to 2001.

However, the Prelude Type S featured – for example – in the original Gran Turismo game on Playstation 1, which launched in 1997 (although in the American version of the game the Prelude Type SH, which was the top spec USDM car with the less powerful engine, featured).

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to find any information about exactly how many Type S Preludes were made by Honda. If you have any info or insight on production numbers, please leave a comment below – we would be glad to credit you with the tip-off!

Why You Should Consider One

  • Still one of the best looking cars ever to come out of Japan – The fifth generation Honda Prelude still looks good, more than twenty years after it first launched. At the time, Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear fame claimed it was one of the best looking Japanese cars ever made, and we would have to agree. The styling still looks sufficiently modern, and from every angle it just looks right. The more muscular nature of the Type S really accentuates the overall body shape of the Prelude. Honda simply knocked it out of the park here in the styling department.
  • Excellent blend of performance, comfort and daily drivability – While the Type R Hondas are the choice for driving “purists”, the Prelude Type S offers a superb blend of handling capability, performance from the potent 2.2 VTEC engine, and enough comfort and luxury to make the car a pleasant place to pass time. Having driven the Type R Civic and Integra from the same era, I would not describe them as being comfortable cars. The Prelude is a much nicer place to be for an extended period of time, and the overall package in terms of performance is compelling (albeit not as razor sharp or as aggressive as what a Type R car provides). Basically, if you aren’t the kind of person who demands the absolute best in performance – and you prefer a more well-rounded package – then the Prelude could be a better buy for you. A 1997 Car and Driver test, for example, found the Prelude SH (top spec USDM version with similar handling to the Type S) to be the best handling car you could buy for under $30,000 at the time, with one judge saying of the Prelude’s handling – “Simply does what you want, no questions asked” with particular praise given to the Prelude’s stability and composure through corners.
  • Reasonable value for money – Although prices of all JDM classics have risen in recent years, the Prelude Type S is generally better value for money than the more famous/desirable Type R Hondas of the same era. The relative obscurity of this car means that many will overlook it as a choice, so you should be able to pick up your own for less than you’d pay for a Civic or Integra. Anything half decent with a Type R badge gets snapped up, whereas far fewer prospective buyers are actively in the market for a Type S Prelude so there should be less competition.

What’s Not To Love

  • Not as sharp as a Civic/Integra Type R – If you want to hustle hard, then look for a Type R Civic or Integra from the same era. While the Prelude offers performance aplenty and very credible handling (as mentioned above) it isn’t as ‘razor sharp’ as its Type R siblings, primarily owing to more weight and longer gearing that was better suited to tackling sweeping bends and cruising at high speeds. If the utmost in FWD performance is important to you, then you’re better off to buy a Civic or Integra Type R instead. Think of the Prelude more as a composed, competent and confident “GT” car, as opposed to a point-to-point racer, and you won’t be disappointed. In fact, if you want a rapid GT-type car, then the Prelude is the better buy as the more comfortable cabin makes a big difference. This drag race clip from an old episode of Best MOTORing shows the DC2 Integra Type R clearly beating the Prelude Type S in a straight line drag race:

  • Parts availability may be challenging  – In doing the research for this article, we’ve seen some forum users complain of difficulty in obtaining parts for the Prelude Type S. Engine part availability shouldn’t be terrible, as the H22A redtop was also used in some other cars like the 6th generation Accord/Torneo Euro R – but there are some adjustments so not all parts will necessarily swap over perfectly. Interior and exterior trim parts, suspension components, and particularly anything relating to the ATTS system might be difficult to source and/or fix.
  • Rust can be a killer – Japanese cars of this era could be prone to rust, if you live in a part of the world where rust tends to be problematic for cars. Here in New Zealand, cars don’t tend to suffer too badly from rust as we don’t salt the roads. However, in countries like the UK (where some of these cars were imported on the grey/used market) rust could really be a killer and has claimed many victims. If you’re going to buy a Prelude Type S, then check thoroughly for rust. Make sure you take steps to minimise rust, such as regularly washing and waxing your car, and applying rust protector to the undercarriage.
  • Tricky to find – Perhaps the biggest issue with the Prelude Type S is that these cars don’t come up for sale all that often. One of the best ways to get your hands on a Prelude Type S might be to talk to a specialist JDM vehicle importer. Torque GT in the UK (credit to them for the feature photo for this article) looks like a great option for UK-based readers. In fact, their article on the Type S is good reading and has superb photos. In Australia you could talk to J-Spec Imports, or if based in New Zealand then Tim from J Cars is the man for the job.

Also Consider – Prelude SiR S Spec

To further complicate matters, Honda also made an equally rare Prelude SiR “S Spec”, which was another JDM-only special.

The biggest difference between the Type S and the SiR S Spec is in the handling department. The Type S uses Honda’s ATTS system, whereas the SiR S Spec eschews that in favour of a proper Limited Slip Differential (LSD). You can learn more about the Sir S Spec in Honda’s 1998 press release.

What this means is that the SiR S Spec is lighter, and on paper should be the better car for more spirited driving. There are also no worries about the reliability of the ATTS system, which has been known to cause issues on Type S Preludes.

We would still say that the Type S is the more attractive package overall, as it was meant to be the pinnacle of the Prelude lineup, but it’s not hard to see the argument for the SiR S Spec.

Realistically, with both of these cars being rare and hard-to-come by, you can’t afford to be too picky between them. Look for the best SiR S Spec or Type S you can find within your budget and go for it.

Even the regular SiR spec (if you’re buying a JDM Prelude) is still a nice car, although not quite so powerful with only the 200hp ‘blacktop’ H22A as opposed to the 220hp ‘redtop’ version. However, considering that fifth generation Preludes in good condition are becoming harder and harder to find, you might be better off to buy a “lesser” spec car in superior condition than try to get your hands on a Type S or SiR S Spec that isn’t in such good shape.

Is The Honda Prelude A JDM Car?

Yes, and no.

The Honda Prelude Type S (and SiR S Spec) are both JDM cars. These particular specs were only sold new in Japan, as far as we can tell. There were also lower grade JDM spec cars.

However, the Honda Prelude was also available from new in other markets, such as the United States with the top spec “Type SH” (which stands for Super Handling) or in Australia with the equivalent VTI-R.

So the Prelude as a whole is not a true JDM car, but as you can see there were JDM-specific variants available.

If you’d like to learn more about the ins and outs of JDM, then read our JDM meaning guide here.

Did Honda Make A Prelude Type R?

No, Honda never made a Prelude Type R. Not for export, nor for the Japanese Domestic Market.

The Prelude Type S was as close as it got. However, as established in this article the Prelude – despite having great handling – wasn’t really a Type R substitute as it was never aggressive enough or sufficiently stripped out in terms of excess weight.

Honestly, it’s hard to understand why Honda overlooked the opportunity to build a Prelude Type R. The Type R badge was already established by the time the Prelude Type S released, having been used in small numbers of the rare NSX Type R.

The DC2 Integra Type R was released in 1995, prior to the release of the Prelude Type S, so it’s not like Honda needed to introduce a new mainstream badge (the NSX having been such an exclusive car).

The most likely explanation seems to be that the Prelude Type S was really more about demonstrating how far Honda could push the envelope in a more luxurious “GT” car, using technology like ATTS to overcome the greater weight of the chassis, and providing a class-leading vehicle that was ,ore comfortable and refined than the track-focused Type R cars.

Maybe the SiR S Spec should have been called the Type R, as it was lighter than the Type S due to swapping out the ATTS system for a proper LSD.

It would also be interesting to crystal ball gaze and wonder if the Prelude Type S would have sold better if it had simply been called the Prelude Type R (with no other changes made). What do you think? Make sure to leave a comment below.

There have been some enterprising individuals who have modified their Type S Preludes to be more like Type R Hondas, such as this incredible example.

Long story short, Honda never did make a Prelude Type R, so you’ll have to settle for the Prelude Type S (which is hardly a tragedy as it is such a good car anyway).

Is The Honda Prelude Type S Fast?

The Honda Prelude Type S is reasonably fast.

If you look at the video further up this page, you’ll see it going head-to-head with a DC2 Type R Integra. The Integra clearly wins, thanks to its lighter weight.

However, a Prelude Type S could realistically do 0-100kmh in around 7 seconds (give or take half a second for condition of the vehicle, driving skill and other factors).

That isn’t massively fast by today’s standards, but is still more than adequate to have fun.

The combination of ample power, acceleration capability (although it isn’t “tear your face off” fast) and tight handling combine to make the Prelude Type S a car you can hustle hard, but also roll around in comfort.

One thing to note is that compared to the likes of the DC2 Integra Type R, the Prelude Type S doesn’t feel quite so aggressive when “VTEC kicks in ‘yo”. It’s definitely noticeable, but the car is just not as aggressive in its power delivery, at least in stock form.

Conclusion: Honda Prelude Type S

As is often the case with Japanese car manufacturers, Honda saved the best of the Prelude for the Japanese Domestic Market.

The Honda Prelude Type S never managed to achieve the same level of popularity and desirability as the Civic Type R or Integra Type R (although maybe if it had been badged as a Type R it would have sold better). The Type R badge remains the more desirable option for most, and if you want a true performance car, then that’s where your money should go.

However, along with its close stablemate, the SiR S Spec, the Prelude Type S offered buyers in its day a fine blend of performance, comfort and luxury. Do not overlook how well-regarded this car was in its time for offering capable, composed handling and more than enough power to have fun with.

If you fancy a rare, extremely good looking, and very competent sports coupe from the “golden age” of Japanese performance motoring, then you could do a lot worse than the Prelude Type S.

If you aren’t the kind of person who wants to tear up the racetrack or drive at the ragged edge, then the Prelude could be a better buy than a Civic or Integra Type R. Prices haven’t gone as ballistic on the Prelude as on the Civic/Integra because they are not so well understood (although due to rarity it might be hard to find one).

What do you think about the Prelude Type S? Leave a comment below – it would be great to hear from you. If you own one and are happy to share images/video, then you can submit that and we can add to this article and feature your car elsewhere.

Author

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  • Sam

    Sam focuses mainly on researching and writing the growing database of Car Facts articles on Garage Dreams, as well as creating interesting list content. He is particularly enthusiastic about JDM cars, although has also owned numerous European vehicles in the past. Currently drives a 3rd generation Suzuki Swift Sport, and a Volkswagen Touareg (mainly kept for taking his border collie out to the hills to go walking)

7 thoughts on “Forgotten Heroes: Honda Prelude Type S”

  1. My (now!) wife imported one in 1999/2000. Was black with black interior leather and had been “breathed” on a bit by its previous owned in Japan…..
    It made a ferocious noise and went like stink for the time. It certainly helped that it had been tinkered with It think. It widdled all over my Mk3 GTI at the time.
    She imported it via Dublin to the Isle of Man (she is from Ireland, I am from Manchester and we met on the IOM for work) where we lived in St Johns – just off the TT Course turn for going up the mountain. Used to come off nightshift and take it for blat around the course – no speed limits outside of the villages/towns and push it too its limits. Did spin it on an “S” bend up there once – very much a squeeky bum time…..

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  2. I am the proud owner of a 4gen red top JDM 2.2 Si Prelude. I bought her in the UK about 15 years ago and she is in a remarkably good shape. Wear and tear here and there of course – paint faded and not sprayed yet – but never raced or tuned or messed about with her. I also managed to import her completely legal into the EU with no problems found on the car during the examinations at all. The authorities needed me to obtain the factory paperwork and according to that she has got 200bhp thanks to the H22A engine. As I don’t have time to look after her I really wonder how much I could sell her for and where. I mean, I have not seen ANY of these cars advertised for the last 10 years and only in the UK, back in those days. Not one in Europe. If anyone has an idea, is looking for one or could share helpful thoughts I would apreciate very much. Thanks.

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    • Sounds like a great car, to be honest I’m not really sure in terms of value (particularly in the European market) but hopefully some other readers can chime in with advice/input. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      Reply
  3. I have a 1997 Prelude I picked up as a project car which I plan to build to SiR S spec standards. Someday I will import a genuine SiR S spec into California, but for now this is proving to be a fun and exciting project car!

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