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The market for used sports cars is insane right now. This is especially true when it comes to Japanese cars. It gets even more insane if they’re JDM examples. However, not everyone can afford a genuine right-hand drive JDM sports car. Furthermore, the price of U.S.-delivered high-performance vehicles like the Acura Integra Type R is out of reach for many people, too. Thankfully, there are still a handful of sporty and reliable cars one can buy without breaking the bank. If you’re in this market, you should consider a fourth-generation Honda Prelude.

You don’t need VTEC to have fun

Silver 1996 Honda Prelude Si parked on mountain road with valley in background, passenger side
1996 Honda Prelude Si | Braden Carlson, Motorbiscuit

Honda purists won’t be fond of this thought process, but it’s true. In this generation, the only model Honda equipped with the iconic VTEC variable valve timing system is the appropriately named Prelude VTEC trim. However, the trim level that is a step-down, the Si, still offers a world of fun and enjoyment for a fraction of the cost. You still get the same sleek and identifiable looks as the VTEC model.

Under the hood, the Si trim features a member of the iconic Honda H-series engine family; the H23A1. According to Edmunds, this four-cylinder pumps out a plentiful 160 horsepower and an accompanying 156 pound-feet of torque. Though it isn’t the most potent engine, the Prelude’s low curb weight of under 2,900 pounds makes for a power-to-weight ratio that’s more than fun. It’s exhilarating.

Inside, the Prelude Si features cloth bolstered seats and a totally ‘90s set of digital fuel and engine temperature gauges. A digital clock and green backlighting on the tachometer and speedometer make you feel like you’re living in the future of the past. In front, there’s more legroom than one could ever imagine needing. In the rear, though, the story is quite the opposite. That’s OK, though. Much like the Porsche 911, the rear seats are mostly a formality.

Are Honda Preludes fast?

Silver 1996 Honda Prelude Si parked on mountain road with snow caps in background
1996 Honda Prelude Si enjoying the view | Braden Carlson, Motorbiscuit

If you’re talking about going in a straight line, no. The Prelude is not fast. However, much like most Japanese sports cars, that isn’t its intent. The Prelude is meant to be a party on windy roads and tracks with corners.

In that discipline, it does pretty well. This particular Prelude is now 26 years old. However, despite its age and stock suspension, it is still happy to grip up around windy corners and put the power down where it is needed. Could one argue that the VTEC model and adding a limited-slip differential would make it better? Absolutely. That doesn’t make this less fun, though.

If you’re looking for a car that will blow the crowd away at a parking lot car meet full of teenagers, you’ll have to move on to something else. However, if you want a vehicle for you to enjoy taking out for a drive on those windy mountain roads or at the local autocross event but don’t have a ton of money to spend, this is it. Of course, the best part of it all is that it’s a Honda. Parts are plentiful and cheap, and doing work on it yourself is a breeze. Furthermore, aftermarket upgrades, should you decide to modify them, are also abundant.

How much is a fourth-generation Prelude?

Fourth Generation Honda Prelude Si in Silver on Bogus Basin Road in Boise, Idaho
1996 Honda Prelude Si front end | Braden Carlson, Motorbiscuit

Now, on to the best part. The Prelude Si pictured had a near-mint interior, years of service history, and a recent full cylinder head rebuild with a head gasket, timing belt, and head bolts. Best of all, it has paperwork to back all that work up. Furthermore, it has new shocks, new tires, and 175,000 miles. While that seems relatively high, this mileage on a clean Honda with hefty service history is nothing to worry about. All of this greatness just sold for a measly $3,000.

Even if you were to step up to the spicier VTEC model, the price still seems quite reasonable compared to many Japanese classics at this point. Just over a year ago, a VTEC model sold on Cars and Bids with similar miles and service history for just $5,100. You’d better hurry before the market catches up to these beauties if you want in. It’s closing in, too, as a low-mileage VTEC model just fetched over $13,000 on Cars and Bids as well.

Ultimately, the Honda Prelude is the perfect solution for any consumer looking for a fun-to-drive Japanese classic that doesn’t break the bank. Who knows? Perhaps buying one now could net a few years of fun capped with a massive profit down the road. It’s hard to say how these cars will appreciate. However, given the trend of current sporty Honda models, it’s safe to assume that well-kept ones will only go up.


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