Tyson Hugie is my hero. My Phoenix friend recentlyÂ purchased a small house with a seven-car garage, the better to store his five 1990s-era AcurasÂ 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.
Hugieâ€™sÂ latest acquisition is a 1992 Acura Integra GS-R five-speed three-door hatchback with 238,000 miles. I recently purchasedÂ a 1992 Honda Prelude Si five-speedÂ 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 â€” or a harebrained scheme wherein two auto journos thrash their own 25-year-old carsÂ like they belong to somebody else.
We recruitedÂ James Lee of the Six Speed BlogÂ 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 challengingÂ Catalina Highway, which windsÂ its way up to Mount Lemmon, the same route we used in our “Orphaned Acuras” boondoggleÂ back in 2015.
Both cars are front-wheel drive with four-cylinder engines,Â Honda’s double-wishboneÂ suspension, and four-wheel disc brakes with ABS. Both are rated at 160 horsepower,Â but that is where the similarity ends; the Integra sports Acura’s first mass-market VTEC motor for America, a 1.7-liter plant thatÂ takes off like a turboÂ between 5,500 rpm and its 8,000Â rpm redline. The Prelude’s 2.3-liter motor has greater torque and a more linear power curve. HondaÂ 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’sÂ dashboard is basic, functional Honda, while the ‘Lude has the controversial-for-its-time wraparound black light bar in the dash, only a smallÂ portion of it being filled with gauges â€” half analog, half digital. I think the dash truly proved to be “futuristic.” You couldÂ put two (or maybe three) LED screensÂ in its expanse, like theÂ 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 seeingÂ 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 hatchÂ 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.Â
The lighter and quicker Integra’s steering was more responsive than the Prelude’s and helped make for a better canyon carver â€” 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.
SaidÂ 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 â€” the ride quality is supple and the gear changes are single-finger-movement smooth. The steering in the Prelude doesn’tÂ 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.”
I voted for the Integra as the better car partlyÂ because it is inconceivable that a vehicle with 238,000 miles can be so entertaining. This GS-RÂ could be held up as the singular shiningÂ 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 usÂ was also aroundÂ 25 years and theÂ young’unsÂ did not prefer the Integra.
The 1990s were the peak years for Japanese sportsÂ 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 toÂ even something from Mitsubishi.
The Prelude and Integra were overshadowed by mostÂ of the those cars, but it’s noteworthy that both vehiclesÂ made Car and Driver’s annual “10 Best Cars” list fourÂ 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 funÂ 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]