Honda Prelude VTEC
My previous car was a Honda Prelude VTEC. It's a sporty little machine but still not totally impractical like an MX5 or MR2. It has two doors and a very "compact" back seat (OK for kids but not for adults) plus enough room to put a computer or two in the boot (trunk). Preludes were never an expensive car but are still full of interesting technology (especially for a 10 year old car, see below for details).
This is a nice car to drive - the suspension and tyres make it pretty rough driving slowly around town but on the open road at speed its really fun! The combination of a light compact body and an engine with a fair bit of power can be pretty awesome - just watch out for the cops because it's hard to drive slowly in this baby!
As I said above, the Prelude has some interesting technology. I guess the two more unusual features are four wheel steering and the VTEC engine (far more common now than when Honda first introduced it). Four wheel steering turns the back wheels slightly in time with the front to help with cornering. How much real difference this makes is hard to evaluate but taking corners at double the recommended speed isn't a problem.
The engine is a 2.2 litre (132 cubic inches) alloy straight four with double overhead cam, 16 valves, programmed sequential multi-point electronic fuel injection, and VTEC. The VTEC (which stands for Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control) system optimises the valve timing and lifting to two engine speeds (VTEC 2 and other similar newer systems optimise to a continuous range of speeds). This means than the valve timing is ideal for lower engine speeds until a certain speed is reached, then the VTEC system kicks in and alters the valve timing for the higher speed up to the 7,300 rpm red-line.
The end result is a small light engine that produces about 200 horse power (150 kilowatts) without turbocharging. The Prelude is front wheel drive, of course, and has a rather nice 5 speed manual gearbox and clutch which allows quick shifts. An automatic is also available but surely that isn't an option to the serious driver!
I personally really like the styling of the series 4 model (more than the conservatively designed series 5). The curves over the back wheels and the back-end treatment are particularly nice. The front is perhaps a bit too square. The passenger cabin is short because the windscreen and back window both slope a lot, so the sun-roof hangs over the back when its open. This is not a big car and is low to the ground so getting in and out is a challenge - and don't even think about sitting in the back seat!
The 'lude has most of the goodies you would expect: a high performance engine, four wheel steering, anti-lock brakes, firm suspension, 55 profile tyres, electric windows, air conditioning, climate control, six speaker radio tape and CD player, electric retractable mirrors, electric (two position) aerial, electrically operated sunroof, cruise control, keyless door locks and speed sensitive power steering. The later models have air-bags but mine doesn't - I prefer "active safety" anyway!