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New Honda Prelude explored: access all areas of the sleek hybrid coupe

We take a closer look at Honda’s new Prelude and get the hybrid coupe’s secrets from its chief engineer

This is the new Honda Prelude, a coupe with a famous name from the past that Honda hopes will buck the SUV trend and make the world fall in love with small sports cars again. The Prelude was initially revealed as a near-production concept at the 2023 Tokyo motor show but now been given the chance to see it up close and discover more of its secrets from some of the team responsible for its development.

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Before we get into the details, a question: How do you successfully build and sell an affordable volume sports car in an age of SUV obsession and ever tougher safety regulations? Some brave companies have found ways – think Toyota with the GR86 or BMW and its 2 Series – but these either rely on technology already in volume production or, in Toyota’s case, settle for a product with a shorter-than-ideal lifespan. 

For the development of the new Prelude coupe, neither of these avenues was available to Honda. The result is a particularly ambitious car that doesn’t just renew a much-loved nameplate, it could kick off a new era of small, efficient, engaging hybrid sports cars. 

When quizzed about what sort of sports car the Honda Prelude aims to be, chief engineer and project lead Tomoyuki Yamagami told us: “The grand concept of this car was to be like a glider. Gliders have two different characteristics. On one hand, they’re designed to glide for as long as possible, but on the other hand they’re used for stunt flights and need to be agile and high performing. These two characters are also unified in this car to be efficient on one hand, as you can see from the design, but also very agile and joyful on the other.”

Design details

In the flesh, the Honda Prelude’s sleek yet slightly generic front-wheel-drive proportions look tighter and more dramatic than in pictures. There’s a wide stance at the front, plus a low scuttle and sleek lighting units that make a good first impression. 

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The casual observer might not immediately identify it as being a Honda, but look a little closer at the body lines and there are nods to the brand’s former models, such as the aggressive line up the car’s flank reminiscent of the second-gen Honda NSX, and the rear end incorporating Prelude motifs from past generations. 

Hybrid powertrain

Honda still won’t confirm specifics of the powertrain beyond the fact that it’ll feature hybrid technology. We do know, however, that the layout is likely to mimic the clever e:HEV system from the current Honda Civic. That may mean a direct-injection naturally aspirated 2-litre powertrain matched to two electric motors and a clever variable transmission. 

In the current Honda Civic, peak figures for this specific hybrid powertrain are rated at 181bhp and 232Nm of torque. This gives the basic hatchback a good turn of speed with a 62mph time of 7.8 seconds. Its use in the new Honda Prelude could see updates to this system, and when quizzed Tomoyuki Yamagami’s wry smile suggested this was not an unreasonable suggestion.

Honda doesn’t have any immediate plans to expand the range with different powertrain options, instead insisting that it wants the model to be accepted by customers first. However, work on the future development of the Prelude through potential variants is already underway. 

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We asked whether there was room for a Honda Prelude Type R model in the future, which raised another smirked from Yamagami. He suggested that while the Type R’s turbocharged four-cylinder engine would fit under the smartly designed bonnet, there’s no immediate plan for such a high-performance model. 

The Honda Prelude will also borrow lots of the Civic’s underlying chassis architecture, making full use of the added rigidty and sporty suspension setup that was introduced in the latest generation. The hot Honda Civic Type R has given the development team lots of useful expertise when it comes to the set up, but the Prelude’s overall demeanor is destined to be softer, with more duality to its driving dynamics.

Specs and prices

Frustratingly, few other specific details about the new Honda Prelude, such as price points or market placement have been officially announced, but given the car’s Civic-based underpinnings, we expect it to be around the £35,000 to £40,000 price point when it arrives in Europe in 2025.

The wheels fitted to this concept look to be production-spec, and sit at 20-inches front and rear on a 235-section profile tyre. The relatively wide stance of the Prelude also suggests that it could share some of its basic suspension geometry with the Civic Type R, albeit in a much more relaxed state of tune. 

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The interior is also still yet to be revealed, but the low bonnet and tall windscreen should yield good visibility. It will almost certainly have two rear seats, but the aggressively sloping rear glass hatchback will probably make them a squeeze for adults.

For those with a particular penchant for Japanese sports cars of the ‘80s and ‘90s, the good news is that it’s not just Honda that is looking to return to the class. Rumours persist of Toyota’s desire to bring back its Celica coupe, with a new MR2 sports car also rumoured to be in development. 

Q&A with Tomoyuki Yamagami

Honda Prelude chief engineer and project lead

We speak to the man behind the new Honda Prelude…

Q: What architecture or platform is the Prelude based on?

A: “We haven’t disclosed which platform Prelude is based on, but if you look underneath the skin, and look at the design itself you’ll be able to tell which platform it’s based on.”

Q: What sort of sports car is the new Prelude? Is it a GT? Is it a pure sports car?

A: “This car's specifications and figures are not so important. What we have emphasised in this car is the joy of driving. For that, everything is based around the driver, but also an emphasis on a sense of unity between man and machine. 

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“On the one hand, this car will be an effortless cruiser, like a glider, but also a car that’s agile and lightweight. These two characters are also unified in this car to be efficient on one hand, as you can see from the design, but also very agile and joyful on the other.”

Q: What style of hybrid powertrain have you designed for the Prelude, and are there any bespoke powertrain solutions coming out with this model you’re excited about being introduced?

A: “We can’t talk about the specific technology, but if you look at the Civic we changed the engine to be direct injection to improve the performance of the engine itself. There were also many other aspects to improve the overall balance of the hybrid system, but that was for the improvement of the whole car and its dynamic performance.

“What we’ve implemented in this car is to unify a very efficient ‘gliding’ performance from the hybrid engine, but on the other hand the agile ‘stunt-like’ performance at the other end. We have given it a sort of ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ characteristic that when you drive it, you’ll feel and experience.“

Q: What lessons have been learned from the Civic Type R and its general chassis setup that have been applied to the new Prelude?

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“The lessons we learned from the Type R have been applied to all our cars, is how you manage to keep all four wheels on the ground. That distribution of adhesion has a potential to drive the dynamic performance of the car. Of course, the Type R has a very high target, but that input is on a different level, which is expected here. 

“However, the physics are the same, and all the knowhow, all the setup, experience, setup capability, how to characterise and how to enhance certain sensations, it has in common with Type R. In that case, we’re quite happy from what we’ve learned and applied to the Prelude which has two faces – one a comfortable cruiser, and the other side a more dynamic coupe.” 

Q: Will the Prelude be limited to a single powertrain, or will it be expanded into a wide variety of options?

“To bring an electrified coupe model in this era is already unique, but also very challenging. This needs to be accepted by customers first. Once this has happened, we are already thinking about how to keep the car fresh, and considering different power units and prolonging the life-cycle of this model.” 

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Q: The F1 program is a big part of your engineering experience. What are the learnings you’ve made from it, and how have they been applied to the Prelude?

A: “It’s the same aspect as we’ve been saying about the Type R. It’s a different target and battlefield, but the motivation is the same for the power unit. Our goal is how much power you can retrieve from one drop of fuel, and how quick you can make the car and how efficient. Reducing weight as much as possible, but generating the most power possible. 

“In racing, these learnings have to move exceptionally fast. We call it a moving lab, as our engineers have to find solutions in a very short amount of time, and apply them in one week, one race. That gets the most out of an engineer, and comes into play in production cars, just with a different level of requirements and on a different battlefield.”

Q: What aspect of this car are you most proud of? Do you have any wins in terms of design, engineering or packaging?

A: “This is a difficult question. But probably the most difficult part was realising such a car at this time. That was our biggest achievement, that we were allowed to bring this car to market.” 

Do you like the look of the new Honda Prelude concept? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section...

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Senior staff writer

Senior staff writer at Auto Express, Jordan joined the team after six years at evo magazine where he specialised in news and reviews of cars at the high performance end of the car market. 

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