Odometer (Legend): 551,894
Trip Distance: 304 Miles
A quarter-century ago in 1992, you could set foot into your local Honda or Acura dealerships and drive away with any number of sport coupes. From the eco-friendly CRX Si at $11,900 to the flagship NSX at $65,000 MSRP, there was something for just about everyone.
Automotive journalist Steve Lynch (The Truth About Cars) and I decided to pit two against each other that are most alike in price & performance: The Prelude Si versus the Integra GS-R. Coming in at about $18k and $17k respectively, they shared more than just a price point. They each offered a 160-horsepower 4-cylinder powerplant and a slick-shifting 5-speed manual transmission.
Arizona’s “Catalina Highway,” one of the state’s most scenic twisty roads, seemed the perfect spot to carry out our evaluation. At 26 miles in length from its base in Tucson to the summit at Summerhaven, it climbs nearly 6,000 feet in elevation to over about 8,200 feet – high enough that even now in late March there is snow along the roadside in some stretches. Arizona, snow? Yes – it happens.
Joining for the excursion were two friends who preferred to exercise their American muscle and grunt: Will in a Chevy SS and James (Six Speed Blog) in a Dodge Durango R/T. Each one offered more than double the horsepower of our Hondas so it wouldn’t have been a fair fight to include them in the comparison test. Besides, we found a better way to put those two against each other: an exhaust sound-off contest. More on that when you watch the YouTube video.
When you saddle up in the Integra GS-R, you have to be alert and attentive. The automatic seat belts close in on you forcefully as if to say, “Buckle up. You’re about to take a hell of a ride.” A crank of the B17 motor and a glance at the 8,000-RPM redline tell you the car is all about the high-revving playtime. And even though the car is old enough for historic plates and has its share of mechanical quirks consistent with 239,000 miles on the odometer (hello, ABS light on the dash!), it revs happily like a toddler and the chassis tuning is stiff.
The Prelude takes a more sophisticated approach. Its futuristic dashboard communicates all relevant driver information in typical Honda sensible fashion. But its engine’s behavior and suspension’s refinement make it less of a rev-machine. It’s torquey enough at low RPM that the driver doesn’t feel like he or she has to push it to the limit. Seats are comfortable and supportive, sounds are more subdued, and it acts like a much more responsible daily driver – with a fun side for the weekends – than the trouble-maker Integra.
We all did enough key-swapping throughout the mountain cruise to come to pretty much the same conclusion. If I had Marty McFly’s DeLorean and transported myself back in 1992, my $18k would be better spent on a Prelude than an Integra. Reason being, we all spend far more time in day to day mundane driving situations – traffic, commuting, and the occasional interstate cruise – than we do carving up a canyon road or sprinting around an autocross track. The Prelude is a better all-around value for the money.
For reference, a prior Mount Lemmon trip in which we took a similar parade of sporty Hondas up the mountain.
Oh, and the Durango versus SS? Skip to the end of the video to see how that contest went :).
Preparing for our ascent
The V8 contenders
Headed on up the mountain
Prelude in the lead
Arrival at Summerhaven – elevation 8,200 feet
And perfect weather!
Lunch at the Sawmill Restaurant
Sweet potato tots! (insert heart-eye emoji)
Few more pics up at the ski lift area
Integra engine bay
Prelude engine bay
Making our descent
And finally, a visit from my friend Matt today in his 2003 CL Type-S 6-speed! 235,000 miles and it looks & drives like new!
Here are a few links to share:
- Article from The Drive on long-term Legend quality
- “Dashboard Light” – an informational site about long-term reliability of many makes & models
- My mom’s blog! She and her friend Peg have teamed up to share their experiences as fit women beyond 50 y/o
TSX Travels Acura Anniversary video that I was honored to be a part of: