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LA show: Honda set to launch hybrid flagship

Under the skin: New technologies to make their debut in the Acura RLX are also expected in the car’s mechanical twin in Japan, Europe and Australia, the Honda Legend.

Hybrid AWD Acura RLX to provide technology insight into next Honda Legend

15 Nov 2012

AMERICA’S version of the next Honda Legend – the Acura RLX – will not only gain a hybrid-driven flagship but also restore an entry level front-wheel-drive variant to the line-up when the all-new range arrives in the United States next year.

What’s more, the front-drive car will get Honda’s new active four-wheel-steering system – called Precision All Wheel Steer (PAWS) – that uses sophisticated electronics to bring the Japanese manufacturer’s pioneering 4WS technology, made famous in 1980s on cars such as the Prelude, into the 21st century.

These systems are likely to translate onto the fifth-generation Honda Legend that is set to debut in Japan in 2014 and – most likely – shortly after in Australia, replacing the current model that made its debut in 2006.

Sales of the Legend have virtually stalled in Australia, with only 20 of the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class competitor sold this year. None were registered in October.

Officially, the Legend is still on offer here, although overseas reports suggest production of the current model in Japan has also stopped ahead of the new generation, starting with the RLX that is sold under the up-market Acura brand – Honda’s rival to Lexus and Infiniti.

15 center imageFormerly known as the Acura RL, the Legend-based luxury large car will be renamed when the new model is unveiled at this month’s Los Angeles motor show ahead of its showroom rollout next year.

The Legend offered in Australia currently comes in only one $76,990 specification, powered by a 226kW 3.7-litre normally aspirated V6 driving all four wheels through Honda’s Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive (SH-AWD) system.

That mechanical torque-splitting system is set to be superseded by an all-new hybrid-drive system that pairs a new 230kW direct-injected 3.5-litre V6 with three electric motors – one 30kW unit in the front and two 20kW at the rear – to not only save fuel but provide torque vectoring in the corners.

The inside rear wheel can even be braked by the electric motor in tight corners, transferring the electricity generated from the motor/generator to the outside wheel to provide extra torque for smoother cornering.

The two rear motors propel the car in all-electric mode at slower speeds, with the front electric motor kicking in alongside the petrol V6 under hard acceleration.

The front electric motor also acts as a generator to re-charge the batteries under braking. As well, that motor does double duty as the starter motor for the V6.

This so-called Sport Hybrid SH-AWD system also employs a new seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission in place of the six-speed auto in the current model.

This drivetrain is also expected to make it into the next generation of Honda’s NSX, although it is expected to be reversed, with the two smaller electric motors driving the front wheels and the larger motor attached to the mid-mounted V6 driving the rear wheels.

The RLX/Legend hybrid model is expected to top the range, with a new, more affordable model slipping in underneath it.

This petrol-only model will dispense with the all-wheel-drive system, driving through the front wheels like early model Legends and RLs.

However, Honda has confirmed that the Acura RLX will get its new-generation PAWS all-wheel-steering system that American journalists say will be fitted to the front-drive variant to make it more nimble.

This system uses sophisticated electronics and actuators on each rear wheel to adjust the toe angle for what Honda describes as an “extraordinary level of cornering control and steering precision”.

The new system allows each rear wheel to be adjusted independently, instead of by the same amount, as in the old mechanical system.

This means it can, for example, apply toe-in on each rear wheel for greater stability under heavy braking.

The Acura RLX will be armed with LED headlamps and a full array of new safety technologies, such as lane departure warning and autonomous braking.

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