Car Life Nation

When Driving is about Lifestyle, Car Life Nation is the Answer

When Driving is about Lifestyle, Car Life Nation is the Answer

A white 2026 Honda Prelude is shown parked near a used Honda dealership.

Bringing Back the Honda Prelude

The Prelude is a notable model in the history of Honda, recognized for its sleek design and innovative features. Car enthusiasts remember this sporty, Japanese-made coupe with fondness, as it was a mainstay at used Honda dealerships for over two decades. We, too, get overjoyed whenever we see one of these retro vehicles on the road, but this legendary nameplate won’t be a rarity for much longer…

Honda has been teasing the return of the Honda Prelude—first, with its global debut at the Japan Mobility Show (JMS) in Tokyo, and then, to the surprise and delight of fans, it made an appearance at the LA Auto Show. Before we talk about what’s upcoming for the Honda Prelude, let’s take a dive into its history and why this coupe still holds so much sway over the hearts and minds of so many people…

What Makes a Coupe?

Coupe-style vehicles like the Honda Prelude are a distinctive type of car that is no longer commonly seen on the road today. They’re known for their sporty performance and that they only have two doors and a fixed-roof body style. They look aerodynamic (and they certainly are), and they often feature luxurious interiors, emphasizing comfort for the front seats. (After all, a coupe is primarily geared toward the driver’s experience.)

Unsurprisingly, coupes are commonly deemed more as bachelor vehicles than family vehicles. Their engines have a lot of get-up-and-go and are therefore known for their responsive handling, as well as for being compact or midsize cars that are easy to maneuver in tight streets. Coupes were more common in the ‘80s and ‘90s, whereas bigger is now often seen as better, primarily with crossover SUVs. We don’t always agree on this, though, as automotive superiority is not relegated to one segment over another, and coupes definitely bring a sleek style that’s hard to replicate in a vehicle as tall and boxy as an SUV.

Honda Prelude Through the Years

Honda made a splash in 1978 when it introduced the Prelude. They wanted to provide the market with a sporty coupe that was big on style and would catch the eye of customers who prioritized design, speed, and comfort without wanting to break the bank. The first few generations of the Honda Prelude all featured a 1.6-liter engine as standard, with the option to upgrade to a bigger 1.8-liter engine. In today’s terms, neither of these engines is particularly powerful, but back in the day, they were plenty capable and helped drivers keep fuel costs down.

Honda made some changes to the Honda Prelude in their 1983 model, with a significant redesign, and changes included a significantly more aerodynamic exterior body and pop-up headlights that have us drooling with nostalgia for the era of synth drums and fuzzy basslines. Honda has always prioritized technology, and the Prelude was getting blinged out with tech even back then. For example, four-wheel steering was introduced in this iteration of the Prelude, which is rare for any nameplate, let alone a coupe in the mid-1980s.

In the late ’80s, Honda did its third redesign to make the Prelude more modern-looking. (Well, modern for that era.) They smoothed out the exterior as well as added some nicer appointments to the cabin. Honda began focusing on comfort as well as luxury in this generation. They also ramped up what the engines could do during this time, wanting to brand this vehicle as a sporty and fun ride.

In the fourth generation, we were sad to see the iconic ’80s pop-up headlights get cut from the Prelude’s feature set. The 1992 model year saw a complete redesign, with Honda going for a more rounded look that gave the Prelude a future-tech sort of feel. Scaling on their commitment to revamp the engine capabilities, Honda introduced a more powerful and more efficient engine called the VTEC (Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control).

The last generation of the Honda Prelude lasted from 1997 through to 2001, at which point this iconic coupe was discontinued. Honda continued to refine the VTEC engine so that it had more power and could whip around town with greater finesse. Despite the adoration of enthusiasts, sales for the Prelude had begun to fall, and the whole market started to shift away from cool, small vehicles toward practical and prominent SUVs.

The SUV segment was beginning its usurpation of the minivan, and the momentary affordability of gasoline saw SUVs steal the steam of sedans, as well. As engine efficiency and interior space maximization both advanced, SUVs edged out sedans with small, nimble models (crossovers) and seized much of the coupe’s old market share.

Honda Preludes in the News

In late October of 2023, Canadian Sébastien Michaud had the misfortune of having his treasured 1992 Honda Prelude stolen from his New Brunswick home. Despite police skepticism about its recovery, hundreds of car enthusiasts banded together to get Michaud’s car back to him. For Michaud, this 1992 Honda Prelude held special significance as he had dreamed of owning one since he was eleven years old, and he had finally purchased a pre-owned model in 2006.

Social media came to the rescue. Michaud—who had posted about the theft—went viral with car enthusiasts who quickly spread the word. This unique blue Prelude was subsequently spotted in various locations across three Canadian provinces by people who had seen the post.

It was eventually sighted at a gas station in Aulac, New Brunswick, with the help of security camera footage that helped identify the thief. Possibly because the thief knew good samaritans across the country were tracking him, he abandoned the car. When it was discovered, Michaud found about $5,000 worth of damages done to it.

Michaud—who is deeply attached to his Honda Prelude—plans to repair the damage done to his beloved car. Its recovery is a huge win for the car-enthusiast community, and we wish Michaud good luck in getting his ’92 Prelude up and running again!

A white 2026 Honda Prelude is shown parked in a Honda showroom.

A New Honda Prelude?

There might not be a big enough market right now just for a sporty little coupe—however, as we know, there is a massive market growing for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. Honda (like most other automakers) is designing new (or reviving once-beloved) vehicles to try to corner the market in the early era of this new segment.

It’s unsurprising that Honda leaned into the Prelude name and nostalgia when it announced a new concept vehicle, which we think looks ready for manufacturing. This concept vehicle is tentatively planned for release in 2026 and is a hybrid electric concept that loosely looks like the old Prelude models.

According to Gary Robinson, the VP of Auto Planning and Strategy at the American Honda Motor Company, “Honda hybrid-electric models have been doing a great job of furthering our electrification strategy and now represent one-quarter of Honda sales in 2023. Displaying the hybrid Prelude Concept demonstrates our electrification strategy in a sporty and dynamic package.”

Honda hasn’t announced exactly what the powertrain will be on the new Prelude, but it’s likely it will be similar to the hybrid ones in Honda’s CR-V, Accord, and Civic. This kind of powertrain—if not an outright BEV—would be a natural next step in Honda’s EV strategy and lineup.

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