Honda Legend

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Honda Legend

Honda Legend

1986 - 1990
90 degree V6
2.5 Litre
120 kW @ 6000 rpm
4 spd. AT
Top Speed:
Number Built:
0 star
Honda Legend
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
ur Rating: 1


The first-generation Legend, introduced to Japan October 22, 1985, was the first production Honda vehicle to offer only a SOHC V6 engine worldwide. The introduction of the Legend also coincided with the launch of a new dealership sales channel in Japan, called Honda Clio. It was arguably the first attempt by a Japanese manufacturer to compete head on with the European luxury car makers, the first Japanese car purpose built to tackle Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi, Volvo and Saab on their own terms.

And if any Japanese car maker had the credentials to attempt a car like the Legend it was Honda. During the 1980s Honda had developed a well earned reputation for original, innovative and meticulous engineering, and was the benchmark among Japanese manufacturers for build quality. The Legend was a result of a joint venture with Britain's Austin Rover Group called Project XX that started in November 1981 with the Austin Rover-Honda XX letter of intent signed by the two companies to replace the Rover SD1 and to provide a luxury vehicle for Honda, and was codenamed as HX.

The Rover Company had a long established reputation as a luxury car maker in the United Kingdom and Europe, demonstrated with the Rover P5 and Rover P6, and Honda wanted to introduce a luxury car for the Japanese, European and North American markets. Rover also wanted to return to the American market when previously they had reportedly sold only 1,500 cars in 1971, and a brief return in 1980, selling 800 Rover SD1s by offering the Sterling which was also a result of the ARG-Honda partnership. The development work was carried out at Rover's Canley, Coventry plant and Honda's Tochigi Prefecture development centre.

Honda and British Leyland/Rover agreed that Legends would be built in Plant Oxford for the British market. However, quality issues prevented many from going into the market and ended up being used as in-plant transport. The US-market Legends were built in Japan. The Legend's spec sheet was Honda's statement of intent, demonstrating just how serious the company is about the car. The engine was a fuel injected 2.5 litre V6, transversely mounted and driving the front wheels.

For the time, it was a both sophisticated and complicated and owed nothing to any other Honda engine - the engineers began with the proverbial clean sheet of paper. Basic design parameters decided the layout - it had to develop 120 kW, so the capacity was pegged at 2.5 litres; it had to be smooth and refined, which meant six cylinders; it had to be compact and light, which meant a 90 degree V6 with single overhead cams.

It was the need to keep the engine small and light which most tested the Honda engineers' abilities. The 90 degree configuration, while the most compact, had an inherent vibration problem due to uneven firing intervals - and to get the required power output the engine needed four valves per cylinder. To solve the vibration problem even firing intervals were achieved by using crank pins with a 30 degree offset. And a complex swing arm finger cam follower system was devised to operate four valves from a single camshaft.

Using Honda's own Formula One derived PGM-FI fuel injection system the engine developed 120 kW at a high stepping 6000 rpm and 213 Nm of torque at 4500 rpm. The power was transmitted to the front wheels via five speed manual or four speed automatic transmissions and equal length drive-shafts. The auto featured an electronically controlled lock up clutch which operated on second, third and fourth. Detail design included the use of tapered roller bearings to support the differential gears as a means of cutting final drive gear resonance.

The suspension was as sophisticated as the engine. Up front was a double wishbone layout basically similar to that of the Prelude and Accord and incorporating nearly 9mm of caster trail for increased high speed directional stability. At the rear was a clever low friction strut system. The coil spring was mounted inboard and separately from the strut/ damper assembly, thus effectively halving the side loads placed on the strut and reducing friction on the damper piston rod. The system also allowed the strut to be angled inwards to increase camber change; and forwards to counter lift. Other features included forged radius arms to reduce toe-out and bump steer during cornering.

The Legend's rack and pinion steering followed typical 1980s Honda practice in having variable power assistance, while the braking circuit incorporated Honda's own anti-lock brake system. The packaging was as impressive as the underpinnings. Longer than a Falcon, wider than a Commodore, the Legend staked a legitimate claim in the luxury car class. The 2760mm wheelbase was 40mm shy of the longitudinally engined W124 Benz, but 88mm better than that of Saab's impressive transverse engined 9000. And the Legend had plenty of creature comforts. The only options were transmission and paint colour - everything else, from air-conditioning to electrically operated glass sunroof to central locking to power windows to electrically adjustable driver's seat, was standard.

Compared to the Competition

When compared to the price of Toyota’s Supra and Mazda’s RX-7 Turbo, the Legend's $46,850 price tag was not in the stratosphere – but it was still quite expensive for a Japanese car. But you needed to compare it to the Germans, which were clearly in its sights. At the time the 5 Series BMW retailed at a starting price of around $60,000, and the W124 Mercedes started at $75,000, which made the Legend very good value for money, provided you didn’t need the badge cache that the others provided. We decided to see what was available in 1986 for the kind of money the Legend was retailing for – and we found the Volvo 760 sedan at $53,718 760, Volvo 740 Turbo at $48,736, Saab 9000 Turbo 16 at $53,950, Audi 100 sedan at $48,015 and BMW 525e Executive at $53,900. The Legend was cheaper than any of these, while being their equal in engineering quality, and being as beautifully screwed together as any of the Europeans.

That V6 engine, for example, was smooth, quiet and impressive – a little short on low end grunt and having a torque peak of 213 Nm at 4500 rpm which was a little too high for a 1389 kg motorcar, particularly one fitted with an automatic transmission - even if it was a state of the art electronically controlled four speed unit. The Legend therefore felt sluggish at times, with a standing 400 metres time of just under 18.0 seconds which was good by 2.5 litre mid 1980 standards, but unremarkable when compared with the identical time posted in the four cylinder 2.3 litre 97 kW 1375 Mercedes-Benz 230E. The need to constantly use plenty of throttle through the traffic showed at the petrol pump too. For a high-tech four valves per cylinder fuel injected engine Honda's V6 was extraordinarily thirsty.

Behind the Wheel

Dynamically the Legend was a supreme disappointment. For a car designed to take on the best from Europe the Legend remained inscrutably Japanese in terms of its suspension behaviour. The double wishbone front suspension looked the goods on paper – but on the road it was underdamped and under-sprung and transmitted too much road shock through the steering. The rear suspension worked much better, although there, too, the spring and damper rates were simply too soft. On anything other than a freeway, therefore, the Legend floated and wallowed like a beached whale. You could almost hear the car talk – “Hey Bro – I’m Beached Az”. If you threw a few corners into the equation the resultant weight transfer would cause massive amounts of understeer. And if it was rough you would feel the front suspension crashing through the steering wheel.

With the automatic transmission and the lack of low end torque the Legend was definitely fast in, slow out through twisty stuff. If a manual version had of been available you would have probably been able to balance it better, but at least the excellent four wheel discs were up to the job, even if it was possible to outsmart Honda's anti-lock braking system. From behind the wheel the Legend is uninspiring and uncommunicative – and of particular note was the ultra-light steering, variable assistance not-withstanding, which offered very little feel.

On the Inside

There is one area where the Legend did impress dynamically, however, and that was ride comfort. That long wheelbase and soft springing made for smooth, silent progress at gentle speeds through the city and suburbs. The Honda impressed in other ways, too. The interior was generously proportioned, with enough room for four adults. Presentation was typically Honda, with high quality plastic and velour throughout, and a myriad of thoughtful touches such as the adjustable top seat belt mounting points and electrically operated driver's seat. All the little extras you expected in a Japanese car, even in the 1980s, was there, but the overall effect was Germanic rather than Oriental.

The Legend's interior not only looked good - it worked well economically. The simply presented analogue instruments were easily read at a glance; headlight, wiper/washer switches were at your fingertips; and minor controls were logically placed. The cruise control switches, for example, were located on the steering wheel boss and could be operated without shifting your hand from the wheel rim. The air-conditioning system featured two large twist switches - one controlled an infinitely variable speed fan; the other mixed hot and cold air - plus push buttons to direct air flow. It was simple, easily understood and effective. The Legend's exterior styling wasn't quite as precise, however. To our mind it looked too much like an Accord, particularly in profile, even if in the metal it looked quite different. Part of it was sheer size - by Japanese standards this was a big car, although in truth the Legend was a little deceptive as the large bumpers front and rear added the extra overall length and width measurements.

Externally there was more chrome than was the norm during the 1980s. The Legend had a fussier front and rear end, with distinctive wheel arches designed to improve airflow around the wheels. There were some neat touches, too, from the almost flush side glass, to the windscreen wipers which remained out of sight and, more importantly, out of the airflow when not in use, thanks to the hidden rain gutters. By conventional Japanese standards the Legend was anything but ordinary, particularly in the context of Toyota's Crown and Nissan's 300C. But the Toyota and Nissan were not the standards by which the Legend was judged. Honda's flagship had to stand on its own against cars from Stuttgart, Munich, Ingolstadt, Gothenburg and Trollhattan. It came very close too. We think it did not quite make the grade as a fully-fledged, legitimate competitor for the Europeans. Rather, it remained a cheaper Japanese alternative that came very damn close. But you may disagree. The comments section is below.

Legend Turbo

In 1989, Honda upgraded the C20A V6 engine used exclusively in the KA5 series Legend with a variable geometry turbocharger calling it the "Wing Turbo" Japanese TV commercial to address the modest power available from the previous engine with variable length intake manifold used in earlier models. The turbocharger compressor housing had four vanes made from heat resistant Inconel alloy surrounding the turbine wheel on the air intake side that would fluctuate based on engine load and transmission gearing above 2,000 RPM to allow for increased airflow into the engine as needed. The turbo compressor could generate as much as 450 millimetres of mercury (8.7 psi) of boost, and was paired with a water cooled intercooler installed inside the intake plenum between the cylinder banks to produce 140 kW (190 PS; 188 bhp) net at 6000 RPM and a maximum torque of 24.6 kg·m (241 N·m; 178 lb·ft) at 3500 RPM.

According to an excerpt originally printed by Automotive Engineering dated January 1989 "The movable wings are positive pressure- and vacuum-operated, their angle changes are controlled by an eight-bit 36-kilo byte computer that also manages fuel injection. Positive pressure to the wing actuator is supplied by the turbo's supercharge pressure, controlled by a frequency solenoid valve, and negative pressure is generated by intake vacuum and accumulated in a reservoir which is also solenoid controlled. The CPU is fed signals including boost pressure, intake temperature, coolant temperature, throttle opening, engine RPM, and vehicle speed. The Wing Turbo is not fitted with a conventional wastegate.

On idling and steady-state cruising that do not require supercharging, the movable flags--or wings--which are fully opened, allow exhaust gas to enter the enlarged nozzle area and pass through the turbine smoothly with little resistance. At the beginning of full acceleration, the wings close fully, reducing the nozzle area through which accelerated gas enters and strikes the turbine blades forcefully, gaining boost quickly. When maximum boost is obtained, the movable wings begin to close gradually, until the vehicle reaches a desired cruising velocity whereby the wings open fully. The nozzle area varies continuously according to operating and load conditions."

The turbo was installed just above the automatic transmission unit; a manual transmission was not offered. This engine was only offered in Japan using the shortened sedan bodystyle, labeled as "2.0 Ti Exclusive" and "2.0 Ti". The engine was used for just one year, due to the introduction of the second generation Legend in 1990 with the much larger C32A V6, and as such Wing Turbo sedans are extremely rare. Much of the research on this engine contributed to the VTEC C30A V6 engine used in the 1990 Honda NSX. The Legend Turbo can be identified as sharing the front grille with the all new 1990 Honda Ascot with a "turbo" badge attached to the grille on the bottom right hand side.

Honda Legend in the USA

When the Legend was introduced, Honda's newly established luxury car division just for the Legend was called Acura, using the advertising slogan "Precision Crafted Automobiles", and the Acura Legend was offered with one factory installed option, the choice of transmission used, and one trim level. In the 1986 sales brochure, the Legend's full name used was "Legend Touring Sedan". The vehicle was virtually identical to the Japanese market V6Zi in terms of luxury equipment offered, but the same size as the V6Xi using the same 2.5 V6 engine and the longer overall length to comply with United States crash standards. The Technics supplied 80W four speaker cassette tape stereo offered the ability to customize equalizer settings with four memory positions, and was equipped with a dual diversity antenna, meaning it had a conventional power antenna and an embedded antenna in the front window.

One of the novelty items was a simple volume control rocker switch and a pre-set radio station channel selector installed on the instrument binnacle within reach of the right hand; the opposite side of the instrument binnacle had a button to open, tilt or close the standard equipped glass moonroof with sun shade. The North American Legend was not offered some of the items offered in Japan, such as automatic, one touch climate control, and 100% wool cloth interior. Blue interior was shared with Japan and North America, but brown was not offered in North America, and "Sand Gray" was offered instead. Exterior colors were matched to only one interior color choice and leather was not offered on either the steering wheel or upholstery, unusual for a luxury car of the time.

Honda Legend in Europe

The Honda Legend was introduced for the 1987 model year and was virtually identical in equipment offered and vehicle dimensions to the North American model, with one trim designation called the V6-2.5i. This means very few options were available other than the choice of transmission, and an air-conditioning system identical to the North American version. The Europeans were offered an optional "Special Equipment Pack" that offered cruise control, aluminium alloy wheels, a driver's seat with power lumbar support, height, fore/aft and reclining adjusters, adjustable rear headrests, a 4 speaker stereo system provided by Philips and headlight wipers. Front and rear mud flaps were standard in undisclosed countries but not all. The radio volume control rocker switch and preset radio scan button installed on the instrument binnacle was not offered.

Honda Legend Coupe

The Legend Coupe was introduced February 6, 1987, which shared the double wishbone suspension and powertrain setup from the moderately improved sedan for the 1987 model year. Incidentally, the Japanese coupe was both longer and wider, which increased its tax liability, yet it had a shorter wheelbase by 2.2 in (56 mm). Starting with the introduction of model year 1988, the trim level "Exclusive" was introduced, offering genuine wood trim provided by Tendo Mokko on the dashboard and center console with a very large selection of available wood type and hues to choose from, automatic headlights, headlight washer/wipers, separate rear passenger climate control, and chrome-plated power folding mirrors and door handles with infrared remote keyless entry.

October 14, 1988 saw a minor restyle offered for the interior and dashboard, to provide a more luxurious appearance in comparison to the Nissan and Toyota uplevel sedans the Legend was competing with. Due to the success Honda had with the Legend, it served as an inspiration for many vehicles from multiple manufacturers, including the Subaru Legacy with which it shares many visual resemblances and dimensions both inside and out.
Honda Legend

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