With a name like Honda Legend, people are always going to have high expectations of Honda’s flagship sedan. With the exception of the Skoda Superb, this car probably has the most arrogant name on the market (Proton Savvy is really more delusional than arrogant).
This year marks 25 years of the Honda Legend nameplate, although Honda Australia has little to celebrate.
Just 35 were sold between January and September, making the Honda Legend one of the least popular vehicles in the $70,000+ large car segment. So far this year, buyers in this segment have looked past the Legend in favour of the more expensive Mercedes-Benz E-Class (1122 units) and the BMW 5 Series (1042 units). For the record, the Legend has also been pipped by the Superb (620 units) and the Savvy (39 units).
Available in just one specification level, the Honda Legend is not cheap. Starting at $76,990, there are plenty of other options for new car shoppers with this kind of coin. The Ford Falcon G6E Turbo ($58,990), Holden Caprice V ($75,490) and the Volvo S60 T6 ($64,950) are just three premium sedan options at a lower starting point.
In fact, one of the biggest problems about the Honda Legend is the Honda Accord. At $49,990, the top-spec Honda Accord V6 Luxury is $27,000 less expensive than the Legend. The cars share the same wheelbase (2880mm) and the Legend is an imperceptible 35mm longer.
Although the Legend produces 24kW/31Nm more than the Accord, the Accord is more efficient (9.9 litres/100km vs 10.7 litres/100km). Like the Legend, it comes standard with a number of high-grade features including automatic Xenon HID headlights, rain-sensing wipers, sunroof, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, satellite navigation and a reversing camera.
So why would you buy a Legend?
The 3.7-litre V6 engine in the Legend is an absolute gem. With 226kW of power (at 6300rpm) and 370Nm of torque (at 5000rpm), the Legend’s V6 is one of the most powerful naturally aspirated V6 engines available in Australia.
There’s no real fury or drama about anything it does – it’s all very composed and self-assured. It’s like it knows what it’s capable of doing and doesn’t really see the need to make a big fuss about it. Depressions of the accelerator pedal are accompanied by a mechanical rush, rather than a torquey grunt or a whistling turbo.
Stopped at traffic lights, the Legend is the ultimate wolf in sheep’s clothing. The inconspicuous exterior will lead most fellow motorists to think it’s a languid, lifeless executive car. You’d no doubt see their jaws drop, if only they weren’t so small in your rear view mirror sitting almost where you left them.
There’s no lack of punch on the highway either, with the Legend just as effortlessly pulling at higher speeds to overtake strings of slower vehicles.
The feeling of composure and surety is enhanced by Honda’s all-wheel drive system, called SH-AWD (super-handling all-wheel drive). Not only does SH-AWD distribute power between the front and rear wheels, it also varies power between the left and right, depending on where the power is needed.
In normal driving conditions, 70 per cent of the torque is sent to the front and 30 per cent to the rear. In low traction conditions, the split changes to around 60:40 front to rear, and during high-speed cornering, the distribution can reach a maximum 50:50 split, potentially sending all 50 per cent to the outside rear wheel and zero to the inside rear. A real-time digital dashboard display cleverly shows you know exactly where the power is at any given moment.
The result of this is tremendous levels of grip, and a truly confidence-inspiring driving experience. In the wet, around bends, at speed – the Legend is unfazed.
The other key element of the Legend’s drivetrain is the six-speed automatic transmission, which delivers power smoothly. It has no hesitation hanging onto gear when it knows you mean business, but will just as readily slide to higher ratios when your inputs are less emphatic. The steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters add an extra sporting element to what is already an involving package.
Unfortunately, if you push the Legend’s drivetrain to even seven-tenths of its capabilities, you will become fairly well acquainted with your local servo clerk. The big Honda is officially rated at 10.7 litres/100km on the combined cycle. On the highway it uses a respectable 7.9 litres/100km, but that balloons out to 15.6 litres/100km once you’re crawling through the city. It’s an unavoidable consequence of the Legend’s combination of a powerful naturally aspirated petrol engine, an all-wheel drive system, and – compared with its direct German rivals – a significantly cheaper starting price.
After spending a week with the Legend, I couldn’t shake the perception that I was driving a five-year-old car. While the conservative appearance will appeal to some, most would agree the Legend is showing its age. The front-end looks weighed down by the heavy chrome grille and characterless headlights and fog lights. The rear is a little more lively, with its ‘vampire fang’ LED taillights, prominent boot lid and twin chrome exhausts. The 15-spoke 18-inch alloy wheels are simple and classy.
It’s a similar story inside the cabin. It may come loaded with plenty of features, but with its skinny, slab-sided centre console and woodgrain trim, it all looks a little dated. Personally, if I was parting with $80,000 to get a car on the road, I’d want it to look and feel cutting edge - and let's face it, wear a European badge too - and the Legend just doesn’t.
The key is another example of this. It’s just a basic key. No flip-out function, no smart entry, no push-button start.
Its memory function is impressive, however. Inserting the key in the ignition automatically adjusts seat and side mirrors and brings the steering wheel out from the dashboard into your preferred driving position (each key has its own memory).
Getting comfortable up front is easy. Both the driver and front passenger get eight-way heated power seats with electric lumbar adjustment. They’re both comfortable and offer plenty of support. The leather upholstery also has a high quality feel to it.
Rear passenger legroom isn’t class topping but it will meet most needs. Sunshades on the rear windscreen (automatic) and side windows (manual) are perfect when travelling in summer or for longer sunny trips with the kids. A button near the sunroof controls that automatically folds down the rear headrests is just another clever cabin feature.
The 10-speaker audio system has a great sound and is unlikely to disappoint. You can load six CDs into the dash, or connect your phone or MP3 player using the iPod-compatible USB audio connection. Unfortunately, the integrated Bluetooth system only supports hands free phone, not audio streaming.
The satellite navigation system is fairly intuitive to operate and provides clear and accurate instructions. The screen is a good size and positioned high on the dashboard. Included in the map data is an extensive database of points of interest, which is great for exploring unfamiliar areas. The integrated reversing camera takes the stress out of manoeuvring the Legend in tight spaces.
Like most new Hondas, the Legend is silent at idle and generally a quiet drive, leading to a refined cabin ambience. Tyre noise on less-than-perfect surfaces is probably the noisiest intrusion, but it’s far from a deal breaker.
Although the boot will swallow plenty of gear, it’s far from the biggest going around. Incredibly, the Legend’s boot is smaller than that of the pint-sized Honda City (452 litres vs 506 litres). The Legend misses out on a full-sized spare wheel, making do with a temporary space saver instead.
The safety equipment includes all the usual features: six airbags (dual front, side and curtains), electronic stability control (Honda calls it Vehicle Stability Assist), traction control, ABS, EBD and brake assist. As a result, it earns ANCAP’s maximum five-star safety rating. Considering the $15,990 Suzuki Swift comes with seven airbags as standard, however, the time has definitely come for larger luxury cars like the Legend to step up with a more comprehensive kit.
The Honda Legend is an interesting proposition. On one hand, Honda asks you to pay $27,000 extra for a car that’s the same size as the Accord and has a similar engine. On the other hand, the Legend comes with the unique combination of a tremendous drivetrain and a standard features list that its German rivals could only dream of at the price. If you can look beyond the ageing appearance and the high price for a Honda badge to see the sharp dynamics and clever interior, the Legend is worth adding to your test drive list if you’re in the market for a sub-$100,000 luxury sedan.
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