The End of the Honda VTEC Era

2001 Honda Prelude

Source/Oh Snap! Photography by Lj/Flickr

We’re biased when it comes to DOHC VTEC Hondas. The 1995 Acura Integra GS-R with its little 1.8-liter motor and the 8,100-rpm redline couldn’t be beat. The “luxury coupe” 2001 Honda Prelude redlined at a comparatively meek 7,400 rpm but had other stuff going for it that the Integra lacked. These were great cars–stylish, fun, and relentlessly reliable.

And we’ll never see the likes of them again, because Honda has turned its back on that whole scene. The Prelude was quietly put out to pasture in 2001, having become too refined and expensive for its own good. The Integra kept kicking for a while as the Acura RSX (it was still called “Integra” in other markets), but 2006 marked the end of the line. For a few more years, the Honda Civic Si carried the torch with its sweet 2.0-liter motor, a high-revving marvel that reminded drivers very much of the Integra GS-R’s 1.8. But these days the Civic Si uses a warmed-over Accord engine. FAIL.

The Honda VTEC era is gone, and it’s not coming back. But we can still remember the good times, right?

1994 Acura Integra GS-R

1994 Acura Integra GS-R

First of all, as soon as the second-generation GS-R came out in ’94, everyone wanted those shiny five-spoke wheels. Man, Honda knew how to do alloy wheels back in the day, didn’t they? Admittedly, the rest of the car’s looking a bit dated. It’s got that bubbly 1990s look going on from some angles. Many drivers loved the four round headlights, even though they swapped them out for the JDM lenses. And from the back, the GS-R still looks pretty purposeful with its standard spoiler and wide taillights.

This car wasn’t about creature comforts. The road noise at speed was literally deafening, at least temporarily. As for the ride quality… it was “skateboard-like.” Really, the best thing about the interior was the hatchback trunk; you could fold those rear seatbacks down and fit your whole life in there if you had to.

VTEC Acura IntegraBottom line, the Integra GS-R was all about what was under the hood. The dual-overhead cam (“DOHC”) 1.8-liter inline-4 was rated at 170 horsepower, falling just short of the magical 100 hp/L threshold. Torque was a paltry 127 pound-feet, and that was always the knock against the DOHC VTEC motors. Still, the power ramped up steadily all the way to 8,100 rpm, with the VTEC crossover at 4,400 rpm producing a growl that gave way to a motorcycle-like scream toward to the end. Known to fans by the internal code “B18C1,” the GS-R’s engine was only offered with an incredibly precise five-speed manual transmission, and they were a perfect pairing–the short gears helped keep the revs high, and the pedals were ideally placed for heel-toe downshifts.

Nowadays, turbocharged fours are all the rage because of their supposed fuel-economy benefits, but the GS-R got insane gas mileage, like 37 mpg. Throw in legendary reliability and low maintenance costs, and you’ve got an all-time great. There’ll never be another car like it.

2001 Honda Prelude

2001 Honda PreludeThe angular, understated Prelude was a different beast–a gentleman’s  sport compact. With its long nose and short deck, the 2001 ‘Lude could almost pass for rear-wheel-drive, its extended front overhang being the only real giveaway. It was a classy car, especially with the beautiful alloy wheels shown here. With the Integra, you expected a kid to be driving it, and it was normal to see an enormous spoiler tacked on the back. But the ‘Lude appealed to everyone.

Inside, the fifth-gen Prelude served up an inviting mix of quality materials and subtle, ergonomic design. You had all the controls you needed, and no more. People used to say Honda was the Japanese BMW (hard to believe today, right?), and this dashboard is a case in point. Everything was right where it needed to be, and the simple layout aged really well.

VTEC Honda PreludeOn the road, the Prelude was significantly quieter than the GS-R. The general comfort level was a lot higher. Really good stereo, too–so much better than the Integra’s clock-radio-quality sound. But it still handled great, albeit with slightly slower reflexes.

The fifth-gen Prelude’s engine was a torque monster by DOHC VTEC standards, cranking out 156 lb-ft along with a healthy 200 hp. But we liked the GS-R’s engine better. The ‘Lude’s 2.2-liter four-cylinder, a.k.a. “H22A4,” had a Jekyll and Hyde character, coming on real strong all of a sudden at 5,200 rpm. We preferred the way the GS-R’s motor smoothed the VTEC transition out. But the H22 made a great snarl, and the five-speed shifter was lighter than the GS-R’s, gliding friction-free from gate to gate.

If you wanted genuine Honda VTEC performance without the boy-racer looks, the fifth-gen Prelude was the ultimate solution.

Honda VTECs used to rule the street, and for good reason. Did you ever have a DOHC VTEC car? Leave us a comment.

Comments

  1. Honda used to be the source of the best-bang-for-the-automotive-buck. Nothing could compare to them in terms of technology-per-dollar. From high-revving VTEC mills, to race-inspired double-wishbone suspensions, to ergonomics that rivaled the best from Germany, Honda once had it all. The end of the VTEC-era should be lamented by auto enthusiasts, everywhere!

  2. I had the 2006 RSX Type S and now a 2013 Civic Si Sedan. First of all I would like to say there is nothing like the 8,200 redline with my RSX. That is a sensation all in it’s own. With that being said, I really like the new Si engine and drivetrain. Sure, it shares the same engine as an Accord LX, but man is it smooth. The gearbox is marvelous and the interiors have improved drastically. No more hard plastics. No more dim, back lit orange radio dials. It gives a sensation that your not in a Civic, but a much more expensive luxury sports sedan. The Acura was great too, just not as practical or plushed out (interior) as the Si. I got about 34 MPG in the RSX on the highway (when I wasn’t thrashing that bulletproof 2.0L) and identical figures in the Si. Where the Si stands out over the RSX is in torque. To move that RSX you would have to down shift and get the revs up to about 4500rpm. The Si has a much smoother, more robust powerband that starts around 3300rpm. It’s a noticeable difference. With all that being said, I do think the days glory days of VTEC are over. Just like any good thing, it must come to an end. But now, hopefully Honda has something planned for a new generation of sports cars (god knows they need it). Only time will tell.

    P.S.
    Why no mention of the S2000? Great car!

  3. Caleb Springer says:

    I didn’t have a DOHC. I had the 95 his civic ex m it came with the single over head cam VTEC. The d16z6.I loved that little car and it surprised everyone that I raced. They would laugh until the VTEC kicked in.

  4. I have had a 94 ex V-Tech accord. 92 eg hatch with a B18C1 type R Pistons, rods, Cams, high-pressure fuel rail feel pump, B17 tranny. 1990 Honda Accord stock. 95 & 96 integra’s LS’S. 93 Civic DelSol stock. #HondaForLife because I have a 94cbr600 I will never sell

  5. Kyle Myers says:

    I had a 94 Honda accord(non-vtec) and it was quit the little for door with its f22-b1 pushing 130hp and 110tq(I think). Completely stock and automatic it got me around and very quickly. That was until I was driving home one day an hour away and half way it blew up. Still a great car. So I got another one but this one has the f22-b2 VTEC engine also automatic pushing 134hp and 142tq. Same ride but a definite increase in speed. I raced that car everywhere. Note it wasn’t a Honda civic eg with a b series engine but it would out corner them even stock as they were coil overed. Beautiful gold exterior with a tannish gold interior cloth seats and all the buttons in the right spots. Gotta say my favorite Honda I’ve driven so far.

  6. I have a DOHC 2.0L in my 06, Si. Great car! Can take a good thrashing and still drive nice. That standard VTEC oil burn smell is great too 😉

  7. Tony Estrada says:

    Here’s my short story, I’ve only owned one Honda. My 2005 Honda Accord EX 2.4l DOHC VTEC has been smoothly for a little while until I ran into some minor engine trouble.
    But it’s been work on by me and a few friends of mine, and we got it running smooth again. I have no plans to getting rid of it ever. Vtec era is only dead if we keep it that way, I’d say it’s just getting started again.

  8. i just want to say that the honda dohc vtec engines are one of the most underestimated beast in the world. first time i rode in a real turbo race car it was a 90′ civic ef hatch running a b16a1 dohc vtec 8:1 comp, 72mm turbo, 3″ down pipe. lowered and fenders rolled to fit bbs rims with perelli tires stretched and jdm body lip,side skirts, and rear spoiler. ran 510hp at 14 lbs of boost. when people wanted to race, they could not here the turbo till 4400-6500 rpm because of size. lag meant less spin and till vtech kicked in other guys were smiling ear to ear, vtec pushed the turbo to spool range and 60-160 in about 3 sec. i will always miss the car but now we are working on a typr r b18c jdm engine in another hatch, u can see it on the 007 racing site.
    -repro #98

  9. Radames Ten says:

    I’ve owned two Honda VTEC motors (DOHC and SOHC) and both motors had below 3,000 rpm were very economic of fuel. When there was a little bit of track time the car held it’s self against plenty other vehicles. Currently own a Honda that is turbocharged and put well over 300hp at the wheels and all i have to say Honda’s for the size and there cost are very reliable motors.

  10. kevin johnson says:

    I’ve been building Honda’s since I was 16. My first build was a usdm 18c5 in a 94 hatch. We nicknamed the car super egg given the 94 resemblance to a egg. I also loved that car because if I remember correctly it was the only car with a tail gate. It took first place in the 1st ever. NOPI drag race with a 10 second pass. That was a mile stone for 1997-98. Now they have k series doing 8 and 9s. Now I’m 35 and still in love with Honda’s. I rolled my second major build out last week. A 96 integra with the h22. I miss the revs and vtec hit of the r motor, however the torque and smooth vtec cross over of the 22 suits me better with my old age lol. But I agree honda old vtec seemed much more dominate then the refined ivtec system. But no one ever ran a 9 , with a b or h series. So vtec isn’t dead just different.

  11. My wife purchased a 93 vtech Doch Lude in fall of 1993. We drive it in the summer. What a car ! It has that wonderful roar and the car is still all stock and in excellent condition the car is green, I call it the little Green Monster!

  12. The car was new when she bought it orig owner

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