1992 Honda Prelude Si / 1992 Acura Integra GS-R
2.3-liter DOHC four-cylinder engine (160 hp @ 5,800 rpm; 156 lb-ft @ 4,500 rpm; 6,500 rpm redline)
0-60 (new): 7.7 seconds
Original MSRP: $19,550
Current mileage: 101,000 miles
1.7-liter DOHC VTEC four-cylinder engine (160 hp @ 7,600 rpm; 117 lb-ft @ 7,000 rpm; 8,000 rpm redline)
0-60 (new): 7.0 seconds
Original MSRP: $17,910
Current mileage: 238,000 miles
Tyson Hugie is my hero. My Phoenix friend recently purchased a small house with a seven-car garage, the better to store his five 1990s-era Acuras along with his 2013 Acura ILX. From an NSX to a Vigor to a pair of Legends, his collection is a reminder of the halcyon days of Acura. You know, the days when Acuras had actual names.
Hugie’s latest acquisition is a 1992 Acura Integra GS-R five-speed three-door hatchback with 238,000 miles. I recently purchased a 1992 Honda Prelude Si five-speed two-door coupe, now with 101,000 miles. We found no head-to-head tests ever conducted between these two Honda siblings, so consider this story yet another TTAC exclusive — or a harebrained scheme wherein two auto journos thrash their own 25-year-old cars like they belong to somebody else.
We recruited James Lee of the Six Speed Blog to join us, so as to give an impartial perspective on the cars and because he had recently reviewed the 2017 Toyota 86, one of the few remaining Japanese sport coupes available today.
We headed out to Tucson’s challenging Catalina Highway, which winds its way up to Mount Lemmon, the same route we used in our “Orphaned Acuras” boondoggle back in 2015.
Both cars are front-wheel drive with four-cylinder engines, Honda’s double-wishbone suspension, and four-wheel disc brakes with ABS. Both are rated at 160 horsepower, but that is where the similarity ends; the Integra sports Acura’s first mass-market VTEC motor for America, a 1.7-liter plant that takes off like a turbo between 5,500 rpm and its 8,000 rpm redline. The Prelude’s 2.3-liter motor has greater torque and a more linear power curve. Honda would add a 190 hp VTEC engine as an option in the ‘Lude starting in 1993.
Both of the cars are well-cared-for, unmolested examples riding on new tires, with the only mods being a short-shift kit on the Integra and a new Bluetooth sound system on the Prelude. Both drivetrains felt and performed beautifully so the vehicles’ high-mileage numbers were not a factor in their drivability.
On the other hand, don’t get us started about the multiple minor bugs in both cars. Hugie and I could write a book about stuck ABS lights, floppy visors, rattling windows and the other challenges of owning vintage Japanese machines.
Right off the bat, we noticed some interesting differences between the two combatants:
- The Prelude had a driver’s airbag while the Integra still had the annoying motorized seat belts. So tell us again why Acura positioned themselves as the upscale leader in technology?
- Despite the Integra being the smaller vehicle, adults could actually squeeze into its back seat, a feat nearly impossible in the Prelude.
- The Integra’s dashboard is basic, functional Honda, while the ‘Lude has the controversial-for-its-time wraparound black light bar in the dash, only a small portion of it being filled with gauges — half analog, half digital. I think the dash truly proved to be “futuristic.” You could put two (or maybe three) LED screens in its expanse, like the dash in the Mercedes-Benz E300.
- The Prelude’s interior was more luxurious than the Integra’s, but its ingress and egress was a pain-in-the-back compared to the Integra.
I hopped in the Integra and my first thought upon seeing its bland innards was, “It’s a Civic!” Five minutes of twists and turns later, that was all forgotten as I realized the Integra was a mini-Honda S2000. The hot hatch just screams ahead when VTEC kicks in at 5,500 rpm, and suddenly you’re at the car’s 8,000 rpm redline. Like the S2000, you have to concentrate to keep it in its peak powerband. The Si has a slick shifter but GS-R’s was better, on par with the S2000 or Miata.
The lighter and quicker Integra’s steering was more responsive than the Prelude’s and helped make for a better canyon carver — though the Prelude was no slouch, albeit with more body roll. The Prelude rides better than its cousin, but Hugie and I can testify both cars have surprisingly jarring rides on rough roads, not to mention significant wind noise at highway speeds. Whether this was due to the cars’ age or just the way things were in 1992, we cannot say.
Said Hugie about the combatants: “The Prelude is just a sweetheart of a car — intuitive to drive, balanced and confidence inspiring. It’s the 4.0 GPA student who never misses his homework. The Integra is bred from the same DNA but behaves like a rebel. To drive it requires far more attention and you have to get aggressive with it. It’s always trying to push its limits and — no matter whether it’s Monday or Saturday — the car acts like it’s hopped up on Red Bull, which makes for an exhausting driving experience as a daily.”
Said Lee: “These coupes were each special in their own way; however, I feel they targeted two completely different consumers. The Prelude is the everyday sports coupe — the ride quality is supple and the gear changes are single-finger-movement smooth. The steering in the Prelude doesn’t speak sports car, but rather has touring car-like qualities, being more easier to maneuver. The Integra’s sportier characteristics make it more of a proper sports car, but it makes day-to-day life a bit crazy. It has more precise, accurate handling and a firmer ride. Despite a vacuum cleaner looking dash, the Prelude speaks the future with digital and analog displays while the Integra keeps things simple minded and to the point.”
Lee also noted he would rather drive either of these two cars on a daily basis rather than the “brutal” riding 2017 Toyota 86. High praise indeed.
I voted for the Integra as the better car partly because it is inconceivable that a vehicle with 238,000 miles can be so entertaining. This GS-R could be held up as the singular shining example of Honda quality and durability.
We all agreed the Integra GS-R was the better sports car and the Prelude Si the superior daily driver, with the Prelude taking the overall crown by a 2 to 1 margin. It’s interesting that the age disparity among the three of us was also around 25 years and the young’uns did not prefer the Integra.
The 1990s were the peak years for Japanese sports cars. The decade began with the introduction of the Miata and ended with the introduction of the S2000. In between, you could find awesome cars for every budget, from the CRX Si to the NSX, from the Supra to the 300ZX, and from the RX-7 to even something from Mitsubishi.
The Prelude and Integra were overshadowed by most of the those cars, but it’s noteworthy that both vehicles made Car and Driver’s annual “10 Best Cars” list four times during their generations’ run, a testament to their all-around “Honda Goodness.”
This fourth-generation Prelude Si and second-generation Integra GS-R were innovative and fun vehicles that brought smiles to their owners’ faces even a quarter of a century after they were introduced. If you can find an unmolested example with reasonable miles, spend the approximate $3,000 to $5,000 it will cost you and we guarantee you won’t be sorry.
[Images: Tyson Hugie and Steve Lynch]