Honda didn’t make life easy for themselves when they turned their fire on some of the biggest names in the prestige car market and pulled the trigger with the four-door Legend saloon. When launched, the near 40,000 price tag and hoped-for customer profile put the car up against well established and favoured names like the BMW 5-Series, the Lexus GS300, the Audi A6 and the Mercedes E-Class. In the eyes of some, Honda also tied one arm behind their back by only offering one engine, albeit a highly accomplished 3471cc 24-valve V6.
The Japanese brand added to the car’s armoury however with a vast array of technology making it as simple and easy to drive as possible. Headlines were a five speed sequential shift gearbox operated by steering wheel mounted paddles and a highly sophisticated SH-AWD (Super Handling All Wheel Drive) system. While it was a package that, brand new, suffered in the shadow of the German and Lexus marques, for used car buyers it all translates into an awful lot of car for the money, underwritten by Honda’s exemplary record for reliability and build quality.
Despite their great success at producing and selling excellent smaller cars, Honda is not alone among the Japanese manufacturers in having struggled to make any significant impact in the higher-end luxury car market. Not that they haven’t tried. In fact, the Legend executive saloon has been around for a while in various guises. The original version was launched in the mid 1980s as part of a joint project with Austin Rover that also gave birth to the Legend’s sister car the Rover 800. Honda’s thinking was that their partners Rover, with a history of luxury mid size cars like the P6 and SD1, could help them break into the UK and America with a bigger, upmarket model. It didn’t really work, even though a coupe version was also offered.
So Honda tried again in 1991 with MK2 saloon and Coupe Legend models, now with even smoother 3.2-litre V6s. They even carried an early form of sat-nav (admittedly only in Japan) called the Electro Gyrocator. These enjoyed moderate success, certainly more than the saloon-only MK3 model which arrived in 1996 and eventually petered out in 2004. Hence the low expectations which greeted the launch of this MK4 model in 2006.
The Legend is not the easiest car to spot in the supermarket car park. The styling is pleasant enough, the front end dominated by the H badge and the three horizontal bars of the grille, along with large headlights that look almost retro compared to some of the jewelled creations that adorn more recent vehicles. The flanks lack any creases or detailing and the rear end features large, effective, but again unremarkable light clusters. When new, the Legend probably didn’t have the charisma or badge-appeal of similarly priced offerings from Jaguar, Audi or BMW. Second-hand, the story is entirely different and the value-for-money argument is a lot stronger when you can overlook bland styling for the attractions of
superb build quality, advanced technology and affordable pricing.
The Legend makes choosing easy as there’s only one engine, the 3.5 litre V6, and only the one transmission set-up, the five speed sequential auto. Seek out the SH-AWD models and you’ll also get the Collision Mitigation Braking System (which slows the car should it detect an accident about to happen) and Advanced Driver Assist (with adaptive cruise control which keeps a constant gap between you and the vehicle ahead). Inside, the cabin isn’t as big as the outside dimensions suggest. Nor is the available boot space, which at 452-litres is smaller than its Accord sister.
Build quality though, is of the highest and the equipment levels are downright indulgent with adaptive headlights, a reversing camera, adjustable heated front seats and a BOSE sound system as well as sat-nav and Bluetooth compatibility.
Safety equipment includes front, side and curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes with Brake Assist and vehicle stability control. The Legend comes with a V6 3.5-litre petrol V6 with automatic transmission, all of which, along with the weight penalty of the 4WD system, means this is not a light car at around 1900kilos. As a result, expect fuel figures of around 24mpg (combined) and carbon dioxide emissions of 280g/km. It falls into the Group 17 or 18 insurance bracket and the three year/90,000 mile warranty offered when new gives some idea of Honda’s confidence in the car to do big mileages without major worries.
When new, the SH-AWD all-wheel drive system was an expensive option but one which now commands a minimum premium and this is the model to seek out. The V6 motor, SH-AWD all wheel drive system with twin electromagnetic computer controlled clutches, plus the paddle-shift sequential gearbox, means that this is a complicated car. So seek out models with a full Honda service history for your own peace of mind. Such a history will also mean you can check annual mileages, as only the earliest Legends for sale second hand will have MOTs allowing you to cross-check mileages. Despite
having been in the market for a number of years, there have really been no major complaints or glitches with the Legend.
Under the bonnet sits Honda’s 3.5 litre V6 with 295hp at 6200rpm and 259lb ft of torque available up to 5000rpm. The clever bit is how that power is delivered to all four wheels using a system of twin, electro-magnetic clutches, all automatically controlled by an array of computers. The result is that whether in rainy, slippery or icy conditions, the system deploys power to the wheels, front or rear, nearside or offside, as and where needed for optimum traction. The downside is paid for in terms of the car’s bulk, which you might think would translate into slothful performance, since the Legend weighs around 1900kilos. Actually, it’s not too bad, with a 0-60mph time of around seven seconds. Use the engine hard flicking quickly through the gears and (should you be on a German Autobahn) three figures will come up in well under 20 seconds. Sheer performance aside (and after all, this is a car with nigh-on 300bhp available), the 4WD Legend delivers a very surefooted feel that inspires confidence whatever the corner or conditions. Honda have moved the car on a long way from previous generation models. The chassis is tailored specifically for the car and for the all wheel drive system, helped out by front end suspension that uses a double wishbone set-up, and, at the back end, a multi-link arrangement. If there is a complaint, it centres not so much on the suspension, drive or engine, but on the gearbox which sometimes seems to struggle to find the right gear for a hill or corner and is liable to make unexpected changes as a result. This is easily
remedied by opting out of full automatic and using the paddles, which is more fun anyway.
In the world of car badge envy, the Honda Legend lost out when new as a car priced to go up against the Mercedes fourpointed star, the blue and white spinning propeller of BMW and Audi’s four rings. In this Executive sector company, a big H on the grille just didn’t cut it. Even when it was launched, Honda only expected to sell a few hundred of the cars a year in the UK.
As a second-hand buy though, its buying proposition is transformed, assuming you’re prepared to look beyond badge equity and anonymous looks. In return, you get a genuinely compliant ride, a smooth V6, great road holding through all wheel drive and great build quality at an affordable price - a compelling argument. The V6 isn’t the most economical engine out there and there are questions over rear passenger space and boot space. But for the money, clever executive sector buyers will find this Honda hard to ignore.