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Car reviews - Honda - Legend - sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Balanced style, all-weather dynamic security, standard equipment, price
Room for improvement
Aloof steering, quite thirsty and heavy

Honda logo15 Aug 2006

By TIM BRITTEN

AS the first Japanese car-maker to delve into the luxury end of the market, you’d think Honda by now would have established a big lead over the rest.

The first Legend came along 20 years ago, well before Lexus even existed and comfortably ahead of now-extinct brands like Infiniti (in Australia) and Eunos.

But the Legend never really seemed to have the heart to prove Japan was entirely capable of being a serious luxury player. Through various generations it became something of a nonentity while Lexus flourished.

Boy, how that has changed with the fourth-generation Legend.

As if awaking out of a prolonged torpor, Honda has gone straight for the Lexus jugular with a stunningly engineered BMW 5 Series-size luxury car full of interesting technology and ready to take on the best in the market.

The new Legend is a big and handsome car, trading not a little on the nicely resolved styling of Honda’s successful Accord Euro and quite differently proportioned to the previous, long-gone Legend with more wheelbase but less body length.

The new car is quite close to BMW’s 5 Series in all dimensions except wheelbase, where it’s 88mm shy. The longer wheelbase (than the previous Legend) and shorter body mean a chunkier look, with less overhangs and an attractive, almost-Peugeot stance.

From the rear, it’s marked by in-vouge teardrop tail-lights, as well as twin oval exhausts for a touch of suggested muscularity.

The new Legend comes with a more spacious interior, all gracefully styled and finished to a degree of precision that wouldn’t look out of place in a Lexus. Even the wood trim on the dash and doors is real.

With no problems at all in head, leg or shoulder room, in both front and rear, as well as a decent 452-litre boot, the Honda is a car with presence, looking every bit as solid on the road as its 1855kg kerb weight suggests (this is despite aluminium being used for the bonnet, front guards and bootlid, as well as a fair swag in the suspension).

And, even though Honda has managed to bring the new Legend here at a lower price than the previous model (it went out at $86,550, now admitted by executives to be slightly over the odds), there’s been no skimping on standard equipment - which makes you wonder how long it will be able to hold the price.

At $74,500 it’s a one-version-only car, with an almost astonishing standard equipment list that ensures Honda comes out trumps in any cost comparisons with what is sees as its major rivals.

For the money, you get virtually everything except satellite-navigation - and that’s on the way.

Check the specs. Power sunroof, power-operated, heated front seats with driver memory, climate-control, rearview camera, active Xenon headlights, auto rear-view mirror, power-adjusted steering column, cruise control, trip computer with a central monitor and a 260-watt 10-speaker sound system with six-disc CD changer.

The Legend also has active noise cancellation (ANC), which reduces interior noise levels, in much the same way as the active headphones found in some long-haul aircraft, via the sound system’s speakers and two supplementary speakers mounted behind the roof headlining. Honda says it lowers unwanted noise in the sub 100 hertz range by as much as 10 decibels.

Safety credentials are pretty high too, with front and front side airbags, full-length curtain airbags and active headrestraints as well as a pedestrian-protecting bonnet.

All well and good, but the best is yet to come.

Honda has also given its new Legend a full-time all-wheel drive system that is unique, effective and a substantial point of difference over its competitors.

It’s called Super Handling All Wheel Drive (SH-AWD), and is more than your regular full-time or on-demand AWD system in that it doesn’t actually have - in the normal sense of the word - a rear differential.

Instead, there’s what Honda calls the rear drive unit, which contains a hypoid gear to turn the drive from the lightweight carbon-fibre reinforced composite propeller shaft 90 degrees, and, on each driveshaft, planetary gearsets with electromagnetic clutches that control the side to side power flow.

Before the drive reaches the hypoid gear, it passes through what Honda calls an acceleration device, and here is where the system gets really clever.

Equipped with a planetary gearset (that’s three altogether), this device enables the outside rear wheel to be spun slightly faster than the average speed of the front wheels during hard cornering to dramatically reduce understeer.

The result is a drive system that invisibly controls the flow of power not just between the front and rear wheels, but also between each side at the back.

Motivation for the new Legend comes from a 3.5-litre SOHC VTEC V6 which you might find familiar if you’re cognisant of the Honda MDX. Slightly reworked, the Legend version delivers a solid 217kW (MDX 191kW) and a torque maximum of 351Nm (MDX 345Nm).

The transmission is Honda’s five-speed SportShift sequential system, offering the driver the choice of swapping gears via the console lever, or paddles on the steering wheel.

Such is the overwhelming effect of the Honda’s driveline technology that you expect the fourth-generation Legend to transport you into a new world of experience.

That’s not exactly the case, which is neither bad, nor a good thing.

The SH-AWD system does not make its presence known at all, and the Legend’s electrically power-assisted steering is so light that it removes some of the sense of driver-connection we all appreciate. (Like, for example, the nicely weighted and combinative system seen in the Accord Euro).

The new Legend initially doesn’t really tell the driver much at all, which makes for a very tentative fist-time approach when faced with a challenging set of bends. The disconnected feeling does not encourage initial bravado.

But after a few kilometres of tight switchbacks and sweeping bends the level of confidence grows and the Legend moves along very quickly and very securely. It’s far more secure and sure-footed than the steering suggests.

And the brakes, with four-wheel ventilated discs, four-channel ABS and brake assist you can actually feel, are mightily strong.

The Legend’s double-wishbone front, multi-link rear suspension is a massive advance on the simultaneously soft and hard riding setup of the previous model, which seemed to find road imperfections unnoticed by others.

The new Legend is much more controlled, and does a much better job of absorbing the small irregularities that so upset the previous model. And it does it quietly too.

The 3.5-litre V6 feels the car’s 1.8 tonnes though, and at times needs to dig deeply into the revs to produce results. It sounds eager enough, but don’t expect the Honda to sing as sweetly as a BMW six-cylinder.

The five-speed auto has the usual Honda tricks of knowing when the car is heading downhill via Grade Logic, so you don’t really need to play with the manual controls unless you’re an enthusiastic driver.

The weight shows up the fuel consumption too, where the factory 11.8L/100km claim can be difficult to match, unless you try hard. 14L/100km is quite on the cards in regular city use.

In the end, the new Legend is a tremendously interesting re-entry into the prestige class, with the sort of technological leadership we expect of such an engineering-based company, as well as the highest standards of quality, very good looks and a dazzling list of standard equipment at a price others will be unable to come anywhere near matching.

Maybe this really will be the stuff of legend.

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