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Honda Prelude returns to UK as hybrid sports coupe

Honda Prelude concept front three quarter
Honda Prelude concept front three quarter

The Civic-based two-door hybrid will be Honda’s sixth UK model line

Honda will bring its new Prelude sports coupé to the UK and target younger customers with its elegant, swooping looks, acute attention to dynamics and an interior that has been designed around the driver’s needs.

Set to be imported from the “mid-2020s”, the Civic-based two-door hybrid will be Honda’s sixth UK model line and the first Prelude sold here since the fifth-generation car was withdrawn from sale in 2001.

It will also be the only front-driven coupé on sale in the UK, after cars such as the Volkswagen Scirocco, Hyundai Veloster and Vauxhall Astra GTC were retired several years ago and the Audi TT is now out of production.

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According to the firm’s CEO, Toshihiro Mibe, the new Prelude is intended to “embody Honda’s unalterable sports mindset” with a driver-focused chassis and engine set-up. The firm suggests it will serve as a halo product for its line-up of electrified models – currently mostly consisting of SUVs – and a showcase for its hybrid powertrain technology.

Tomoyuki Yamagami, project lead for the Prelude, told Autocar: “The trend in the movement of electric and hybrid vehicles is more in the direction of SUVs. We believe the practicality needs of the customer are important. However, we as Honda have always sought the joy of driving. And we believe personal mobility cannot be without the joy of operating, the joy of driving itself. That’s our core DNA.

“So particularly now that everybody is seeking efficient power units, it is time for Honda to show its ability to combine high efficiency with something that is fun to drive with dynamic cars – even though we are talking about low-carbon trends in the world.”

Honda has been tight-lipped about the Prelude’s precise mechanical make-up since revealing the concept last year, but it is understood to use a variation of the Civic’s e:HEV petrol-hybrid system, which combines a 2.0-litre petrol engine with a pair of electric motors. In the five-door car, it’s good for 181bhp and an official 56.5mpg.

It remains to be seen, though, if Honda will ramp up the output for the more overtly sporting Prelude. The new coupé is expected to use largely the same chassis as the Civic, with a lightweight aluminium subframe together with a wide rear track and double-wishbone front suspension.

Yamagami said the development of the Prelude focused on it being “built around the driver” and particular attention was paid to not only its controllability and drivability but also the “emotional aspect of the engine”.

He highlighted the engine’s sound and vibration as examples of that. “It’s the linearity, the progressivity, all these kinds of aspects which have an impact on your sensation,” he said. “This is something that we wanted to really express within the application of the hardware, but also in the settings.” He also made it clear, though, that the Prelude is “not simply a car to be used on a circuit.”

Yamagami envisions the new coupé appealing particularly to drivers who are younger than Honda’s core demographic and the striking exterior design is said to be key to its appeal. Yamagami cited the clean, aero-honed surfaces of gliders as a main influence.

He said: “It’s a very mature design. There are not so many different lines and angles and surface textures, but it’s a very round and balanced exterior.”

The car has a long, low-slung bonnet, headlights that are integrated into the bonnet-width grille and pushed to the corners to emphasise width and a low belt line for better visibility. It sits on bespoke 20in alloys, and details like the small blue strip on the leading edge of the front bumper nod to its electrified powertrain.

The interior has not been revealed yet but it is said to mirror the minimalist exterior with an overall design that focuses on simplicity.

Yamagami said: “Try to imagine, if Honda makes a car which emphasises the joy of driving, what operational equipment is necessary? That’s what we’ve actually transferred into the interior design. It’s not just about the dynamics or the sense of unity with the car.”

Its design is expected to be heavily influenced by that of the Civic, which uses what Honda calls a “man-maximum/machine-minimum” approach, with physical knobs and buttons for the air-con and radio, metal honeycomb mesh in place of regular air-con vents, an infotainment touchscreen up to 9.0in in size and a 10in digital instrument cluster.

Q&A with Tomoyuki Yamagami, Prelude project lead, Honda

Does it make less sense to put an electric powertrain in a sports car?

“We believe [with] battery-electric vehicles, and particularly with battery technology, technological development is still ongoing on a daily basis. However, there were so many different requirements where we believed that the hybrid powertrain provided a better balance.”

What has your team learned from this car that you will put into future Honda models?

“We learned that the hybrid powertrain still has a lot of room for improvement, and that because we are now in the transition to full electrification, the hybrid powertrain still has a lot of potential to be utilised for different applications.”

What more can you reveal about its target market?

“In Japan, the Prelude was the most attractive car for taking a girl out on a date, but we believe a date doesn’t necessarily have to be with a [partner]: it can be with your children. It will be quite something if the Prelude becomes something like a common interest, where children and parents share a date together.”

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