Rewind to the 1980s when Honda was making inroads in the mainstream car market with its Accord and Civic models. Honda sought to provide a reliable and affordable alternative to the German luxury marques. In 1986, Honda launched its luxury division, Acura in North America. The first generation Legend was actually a joint effort of Honda and Austin Rover (a British car company). Rover had a reputation for making luxury cars in the UK, but wanted to sell luxury cars in North America whereas Honda sought to produce a luxury car that catered to the tastes of North American, European, and Japanese buyers. The partnership produced the Legend and the Sterling 800 Series (sold as a Rover in the UK). Even though the Acura Legend looked similar to a 1986 Honda Accord, it appealed to Honda buyers with its luxury features and prestige and reliability while it also appealed to buyers who wouldn’t consider a Honda as a luxury car. The combination of affordability, luxury, and reliability was a winner as the Acura Legend became the best selling luxury import in the U.S by 1988. The Legend’s success proved to Toyota and Nissan that there was a market for Japanese luxury brands in the U.S, which resulted in the creation of Lexus and Infiniti. The second generation Legend debuted in late 1990 as a 1991 model. With the arrival of the smaller Vigor sedan, the Legend increased in size and power as to position it in line with competing large luxury sedans. For 1994, Acura refreshed the Legend, and for the sedan, a top of the line GS version was added. The coupe was sold in L and LS trims, while the sedan was sold in Base (dropped in 1994), L, LS, SE (added in 1995), and the GS (added in 1994). Do you rememeber the Acura ILX and the NSX that I reviewed? These two Legends belong to the same person as the ILX and NSX. How often do I get to review two cars that are the same year, both top of the line versions, same color, and same engine and transmission? The only differences are in the number of doors and mileage. The Legend sedan has around 147,000 miles which isn’t too bad, but here’s the kicker. The Legend coupe has…over 530,000 miles, and on the original engine, transmission, and clutch. Unfortunately because the coupe is on its original clutch i.e. barely hanging on for life, I drove the sedan. Fortunately, the owner, Tyson tells me there is no difference in the sedan and coupe’s driving dynamics. So how does a 20 year old Acura measure up?
As far as the design goes, I believe that the second generation Legend sedan and coupe represent some of Acura/Honda’s best efforts. The front of both Legends look similar at first glance, but look closer and the differences become apparent. The bumper designs are similar, but the coupe uses slimmer headlights and grille for a sporty look, while the sedan’s bigger headlights and grille give it an upscale feel. Their rears uses different taillights as well. Even though they both are front wheel drive, they have rear wheel drive proportions with a long hood and a short rear deck. The low hood, a high rear deck, and an upright roofline give it a certain sleekness that some luxury cars cannot match. The coupe is even sleeker with a sloping roofline and a fashionable rear end. While the sedan is upscale and elegant, the coupe looks rakish and dramatic, the traits of a sporty coupe. What I love about the designs is the level of detail. The hoods have creases that lead into the outer edges of the grille, and the contouring of their trunk lids resembles a sleek integrated spoiler. Back in the ’90s, the Legend was praised as one of the most beautiful Acuras made, and I think that assumption still holds true today. The Legends are timeless in their design, and no one would know that this is a twenty year old car. The interior is a little bit dated in comparison to the exterior, but it aged well. The wood trim and light colors make for an appealing cabin.
Even though I have a fondness for Acuras and Hondas, I do have to admit that while pleasant to drive, the Legend coupe and sedan are not sporty. The steering is a bit languid in its responses; there is a delay between the steering input and the tires actually turning. The steering is light, but weights up nicely. However, I wish that there was more of a “meaty” feel to the steering. When tackling corners, sometimes the steering felt light enough to be rattled by mid-corner bumps or imperfections. There is genuine feedback in the steering though, and the steering tracks well. Even with an upgraded suspension unique to the GS version (for the sedan), the Legend is too soft to be considered sporty. Some considerable body lean is present, and when you push it hard, it will run wide. Even though it is not sporty, it is fun in its own way. The ride quality is where the Legend excels. Bumps are well suppressed, and the harshest road imperfections elicit just a slight thud. What is more noteworthy is that the coupe’s ride is just as supple as the sedan, a feat considering it has over 500k miles. Structural rigidity is impressive as well considering both the Legend’s age. The brakes work fine, although the pedal is a bit soft.
Prior to 1993, both the sedan and coupe utilized a 200 horsepower 3.2 liter V6. In 1993, a 230 horsepower version of the same engine dubbed the “Type II”, became the sole engine for the coupe. In 1994, the top of the line GS launched for the sedan, and came with the Type II engine whereas lesser versions of the sedan stuck with the 200 horsepower engine. Back in 1994, 230 horsepower in a luxury car was considered fast. 20 years later, I wouldn’t call it fast, but this Type II is still a fine engine. At low revs, it feels a bit flat, but get above 2,500 rpm, and it performs flawlessly. I can’t explain it, but there’s a creamy quality to the way it delivers power. It is silky smooth with no gaps in its power delivery. Just let the revs climb, and there is a subtle power surge that doesn’t end till the redline. Acuras typically perform better when floored to the redline, and the Legend is no exception. Floor it, and it surprises with its quick pace. There is no neck snapping moments, but these 20 year old Legends felt faster than I expected. As you might have guessed, I was enticed by the fact that both of these Legends have a six speed manual transmission. The GS sedan shares the coupe’s six speed manual transmission, and the surprising thing is that the manual transmission felt different than Tyson’s 2013 ILX. This transmission complements the engine well with its well chosen ratios, and the clutch is buttery smooth with decent travel, although I wish it had more feedback. The shifter itself is smooth enough albeit with slightly long throws compared to the ILX, and I liked that it felt weighty when shifting. However, I noticed that shifting into third is harder than any other gear.
As you probably have noticed, in all my Acuras and Hondas reviews, I always criticize the road noise. However, in the Legends, they fare much better in sound insulation, but tire roar is still noticeable on most road surfaces. It is quiet for a luxury car overall with no wind noise. Another reason I like the Type II engine is simply because of its engine note. At 2,000-3,000 revs, there is a slight timbre, then it transcends into a harmonious note. I actually let the revs build up slowly so I can enjoy it longer.
Legends equipped with manual transmissions don’t have any cup holders (in the front that is). I find that lamentable but yet hilarious. Because trying to drink coffee or soda while driving manual is hard enough, but not having a place for your beverage? What gives, Acura? Also, the center console is tiny, and there is not much cabin storage compared to a modern Honda or Acura. However, it is roomy in the front with sufficient legroom, and visibility is excellent all around. The main differences between the coupe and the sedan lies in the rear seat’s space and the seats themselves. The coupe’s front seats feature more bolstering and firmness than the sedan’s. But both the sedan and coupe’s seats provide ample support and cushioning. The sedan’s rear seat is roomy with plenty of legroom whereas the coupe is cramped and lacking in headroom. Finding a comfortable driving position is easy thanks to the tilting and telescoping steering wheel and the four-way power seat. The interiors of both are both ergonomically correct with logically placed controls and gauges. The only problem I had with the controls was locating the fan speed button for the climate control system, which is unlabeled and a reach from the driver. The trunk of both is spacious, although the taillights cut into the opening. Large door openings and an upright roof line aid access, although getting into the rear is tedious in the coupe. What amazes me is how immaculately finished the interiors are. While they are not super luxurious, there is meticulous attention to detail, and a sense of high quality that lets you know that you’re sitting in something special. Even the leather seats are beautifully finished, and there’s no evidence that these are twenty year old cars. The signature on the coupe’s dashboard belongs to Shigeru Uehara, the man behind the Honda S2000 and Acura NSX.
Man, what can I say? Doing this review was one of the hardest reviews I ever had to do. Usually, when I have trouble writing reviews for a car, it is because I didn’t connect to the car well. That was not the case with the Legend. The problem was getting my words out because I have so much to say about the Legend. I am completely blown away with the Legend. I am captivated by its styling. I usually favor simple designs over edgy designs on the belief that simple designs will age well. The Legend is no exception. Not only does it age well, it is a magnificent looking thing. It is quiet inside, and with a supple ride and decent handling, the Legend prevails on its all around competence. The unsurpassed level of quality and reliability is to be believed. The coupe with over 500,000 miles feels like it has only 100,000 miles, and that is with regular maintenance. When I was driving the Legend, I got the sense that this was a quality car. I could literally feel the sweat and love that Honda/Acura poured into this car because it shows. This isn’t a car you just drive. This is a car that you appreciate and love. Having been raised around Hondas all my life, I have a certain fondness for older Acuras and Hondas. I have a theory called the “Honda magic.” The magic is that you always love your Honda or Acura. Even though they were for point A to point B, they were always more involving to drive or more entertaining than their main competitor, Toyota. Which brings me back to the Legend. Even though the latest Hondas and Acuras don’t have the magic, and they are not as fun to drive as before, this Legend reminds me the greatness that Acura is capable of. As its name suggests, it is a legendary car.