(first posted 6/24/2013) Naming cars can be a difficult challenge. Some names are very unfitting; Ford’s Aspire, for example, was the exact opposite of anything ever aspired to. Another misnomer is Lacrosse: Buick named a non-sporty car for a sport about which their average buyer has no clue. On the other hand, if ever there has been one car deserving of its name, it is the Acura Legend. Forgive my boldness, but I believe the ’91-’95 Acura Legends represent the best design ever offered by a Japanese brand.
The Acura Legend was the first Japanese luxury car to be sold in North America. Toyota and Datsun/Nissan had pushed upward with Cressidas and Maximas, but the Legend was the original–a full-fledged Japanese luxury sedan launched under a new brand created specifically as a premium make.
The original Legend was produced from 1986-1990, with styling mostly inline with that of the 1986 Accord: Stretch the Accord a bit in every direction, add composite headlights, and you pretty much had the ’86 Legend sedan. Although not a realistic competitor to say, a Mercedes S-Class, the Legend was every bit what Honda wanted–a larger car with the kind of luxury features and prestige to keep upwardly mobile Accord owners under the Honda umbrella, yet appealing enough to lure buyers who wouldn’t consider a Honda-branded product. The formula worked, and by 1988 the Legend was the best-selling luxury import in the U.S.
The Legend’s success verified the market potential for Japanese luxury brands in the U.S., and in 1989 Toyota and Nissan followed Acura’s lead with their respective Lexus and Infiniti brands, both of which had larger and more lavish V8 flagships. Acura had to update the Legend to remain competitive.
The second-generation Legend arrived as a 1991 model. Bigger, more technologically advanced and considerably more upmarket, the 1991-1995 Legend would never be mistaken for a Honda Accord. Its long, low-slung hood blended into a beltline that swept up at the rear windshield to meet a high trunk lid with an integrated spoiler. The styling was complemented with short front and rear overhangs, flared wheel arches, and a formal roofline, making the new Legend simply breathtaking.
The coupe was even more a sight to behold, with its narrower grille and slimmer headlights leading to a rakish rear roofline and very dramatic rear end. Instead of following Lexus and Infiniti and moving to rear-wheel drive and V8 power, Acura kept its FWD V6 formula.
The sole power train for all models was an all-new SOHC 3.2-liter V6, now longitudinally mounted for improved 60/40-weight distribution. Making 200 horsepower and 210 lbs-ft of torque, it was mated to either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. Although that may not sound like much power (in comparison, a 2013 TSX four-cylinder makes 201 hp), it was very competitive 20 years ago, with a 0-60 time of 7.5 seconds for the manual-transmission coupe.
While all models were comfortably appointed, the LS was the top dog. Standard features included heated leather seats, genuine burled walnut trim, automatic climate control and dual airbags, to list just a few. Coincidentally, the LS sedan was the best-selling Legend model throughout this generation’s run.
Nineteen ninety-three brought a higher-output version of the 3.2 and standard six-speed manual to all coupes. Making an additional 30 horsepower, this “Type II” engine, combined with the coupe’s six-speed, upgraded brakes, and suspension, was also available on sedans in a new GS trim level. GS sedans also received the coupe’s body-color grille and sporty 16-inch, five-spoke alloys.
Legends are few and far between in my neck of the woods. However, my recent trip to San Francisco proved a pleasant surprise, with numerous sightings of Legends in good condition. I was truly relieved to discover that there are still plenty of Legends out there.
Our featured CC is an LS sedan, in Canterbury Green with a taupe-leather interior. This exterior color was always my favorite–something other than the 50 shades of gray available on today’s luxury cars. Canterbury Green was offered from ’93-’95. The rear badging was changed for ’94, with new block letters spelling out LEGEND in the center of the trunk lid. So I’ll call this one a ’94. Coincidentally, I recently found a ’94 LS sedan for sale at a Honda dealer in Seattle. It had the same color combination as the one in San Francisco, so it’s only appropriate to use the great interior photos.
Legends have also played a more personal role in my life. While I was growing up, our neighbors across the street owned a black-on-black leather one for some time. In elementary school, my friend’s mother owned a ’91 or ’92 Legend, in Rosewood Brown. I had the good fortune of riding in it several times. It was eventually passed down to my friend’s older brother, and later to my friend himself, as a first car. We’ve lost touch since high school, but I believe he still drives it today.
After the appropriate five-year life cycle, the Legend was redesigned for 1996. The 1996 redesign is probably one of the biggest disappointments in the history of automotive redesigns. In a very evolutionary approach, it kept the overall footprint and many components of the ’95 but melted away all of the Legend’s sculpted lines, aggressive demeanor, in the process stripping it of any specialness, sportiness or personality.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, the car wasn’t even called Legend, but “3.5 RL”, denoting its engine size and “refined luxury”. This change to alphanumeric names over individual nameplates was supposedly to create greater brand association with Acura–but honestly, how many people didn’t know the brand of a popular model that had been on sale for a decade? I can just see that crackpot conversation among product planners: “A research analyst told me not enough people know the Legend is made by Acura. What shall we do?” “I know! We’ll change its name to random letters, and then give it a generic redesign so no one will mistake this Acura for a Legend. Problem solved!”
Not surprisingly, the RL never matched the success of the Legend–not in sales, nor in following. Aside from being the first car to offer an in-dash GPS system in 1997, very few enhancements were made over its run. A 1999 face-lift gave it a slightly more upscale look, but it was far too little and too late for a rapidly aging design that was still to see five more years of production. By that point the RL was selling less than 10,000 units annually, barely an echo of what the Legend achieved.
Changing names doesn’t reduce confusion, it only creates more. I just don’t see any justification for dropping a nameplate that had developed such a loyal following and sold so strongly (it was the best-selling luxury import nameplate for six consecutive years, 1988-1993). I wonder if Acura management knew how un-legendary their new flagship was in comparison with the outgoing Legend. If they did, then perhaps it actually made sense to drop the name it could not live up to. Either way, I think RL secretly stood for Real Letdown.
A much-belated redesign finally occurred for 2005. The 2005 RL was a good car in its own right, even if no one bought it. And I think it captured much of the specialness of the ‘91-‘95 Legend, with its graceful lines, aggressive stance and elegantly appointed interior. Power was up a considerable 75 horsepower, to a total output of 300, and the RL was the first model to debut Acura’s sophisticated Super-Handling AWD system. Its interior featured a dramatic sweeping dash, with attractive materials and numerous high-tech features.
Had the 2005 RL been introduced in 2001, it would have been perfect. But by 2005, higher beltlines, sweeping rooflines and ever-taller trunks were in, and the 2005+ RL looked small and outdated very soon. That impression was only solidified by the 2009 TL, which had grown to nearly the same size as the RL, and now offered essentially the same features for around $10,000 less. Once again, the RL faded into the mist, selling fewer than 5,000 from 2008 onward. When I purchased my TSX this past September there wasn’t a trace of RL to be seen at the Acura dealership; it was neither mentioned in any sales literature, nor was a single example present on the lot.
Its new RLX successor, while nicely appointed and technology-laden, is rather plain looking. Like the original ’86 Legend, it looks too much like an up-sized Accord. It’s still a decent automobile, but lacks the vigor of the 1991-95 Legend.
Often, Acura is criticized for not being on a par with BMW, Mercedes, and even Lexus in terms of luxury and performance. The criticism, while true, is unfair because Acura isn’t their direct competitor. It’s naive to think a $36,000 TL will match a $52,000 E-Class in every area. But not every luxury car buyer needs a track-ready, 400-hp RWD blitzkrieg. As evidence, the bulk of Lexus’ sales come from the ES and RX, both of which are front-wheel drive and heavily related to lesser Toyotas.
Acura has always offered its own take on luxury: reliable Honda components and build quality along with more upscale features and technology. It’s a formula Acura has stuck with since 1986. There is no denying Acura’s take on luxury is not for everyone, perhaps not even many. Had they kept the Legend name and continued its upmarket direction, Acura would probably be a more respected brand today. In any case, it’s a good thing that there are lower-tier luxury brands which, like Acura, offer more than enough luxury, but without pretense.
And I love my Acura. It is a solid and impeccably built, well-rounded machine, with the right balance of sportiness and luxury for me. Today’s Acuras may not be as legendary, but there’s still a justifiable difference between the features, performance, and material quality of a regular Honda.
And on that rather personal tangent, one last look at our Legend. Simply beautiful, truly a Legend.
Never seen one in the metal being in the UK but it’s Rover Sterling relative was quite common though it’s a long time since i saw one.The early Legends look nice but the later ones look to much like a Lexus.
Honda Legend, actually the Acura brand is non existant unlike Lexus which has had models unique to it Infiniti, Acura, & Eunos do not actually produce cars they merely money harvesting schemes, This racket is as old as motoring itself, Henrys model T was badged as all sorts of unlikely things around the world, the Japanese have refined it somewhat. the early ones were great a friends mother cant be got out of her 91 coup’e but if anything goes wrong they get dumped cheap, repairing the electrical faults in Hondas can make autoelectrical workshops wealthy Did you really think those problems Rovers had were unique to them?
Yes, the electrical problems were unique to the rovers. The rovers had a lot of unique english wiring in them. The Acura/Honda versions had all japanese wiring and there are few known, common electrical faults in Legends. Main Relay and the electronic side of the VSS are the only ones I know of.
my favorite is the first gen legend coupe. v-6, 5spd leather guts and a/c. A friend of mine had one in champagne with tan leather, that thing gobbled up the miles and was very comfortable while doing it. Any generation of legend is very hard to come by in my neck of the woods and the ones that come up for sale are usually first gen sedans that have led a very hard life. If I could find one I would take a 94-95 coupe with a manual, black on dark grey. I think the only thing I would do to one is add a slightly bigger factory wheel and tire combo because I’ve always thought the stock items didn’t fill the wheel wells. Maybe something like this.
I have a 1994 Legend L Coupe Auto 118K 2 Door, in Black Tan Leather inside for sale in Southern CA
The first two generations of the Legend were, well, legendary. They hit a sweet spot where nobody else was at the time – upscale, intelligent, high quality cars with all of the benefits of a Honda plus some comfort and prestige.
I think the biggest problem has been that the sweet spot moved. The LS400 and the Q45 moved the bar on what Japanese luxury cars are supposed to be. The more recent RLs, while nice cars, were playing above their division. For the kind of money they were charging, nobody wants a 3.5L V6 driven through the front wheels. That has been done to death at much lower price points. When a guy pays “special car” money, he wants a special car.
The recent RL has been sort of like the later Imperials. Fine cars, but very similar under the skin with the lesser-grade cars. You pay more and its trimmed nicer, but that’s about it.
Did those 90s Legends suffer from the Honda glass transmission syndrome? This could account for these becoming much more thin in the field than old Lexus LS400s.
Electrical problems seem to plague big Hondas I was offered one for $300 it kept getting flat batteries the owner had had enough it was breaking her trying to get it fixed, The guy who did buy it spent a grand getting it sorted out only to have something else fail. Golden rule with hondas if anything goes wrong sell the car, or it will turn in to a money pit, My friends mum had her car repeatedly fixed under warranty its fine now 20 years down the track but new it was rubbish, you get lucky or you dont pre 1990 Hondas were great since then not so .much.
The 90’s legends did not suffer from “glass transmission”. The 91-95’s automatics, and their 5 and 6 speed manuals, are very stout trannies. The auto’s start to suffer if you add a lot of extra horsepower.
On the other hand, the 1st gen 86-90 legend’s automatics were glass. The G1’s 5 speed manuals were pretty stout.
I really like that second gen Legend. I agree it’s a great design. I’m not quite ready to agree w/ best Japanese design ever. Just off the top of my head, I’d need to at least include the Toyota 2000GT, Lexus SC coupe, 2nd gen MR2, Datsun Z,and even Previa somewhere in the conversation.
A type II 6MT coupe or GS sedan is definitely on my wishlist
But 100% absolutely agree the 3rd gen redesign was the biggest fail. Second gen scion xB comes close. But the Legend was grade-A pooch screwing.
Very unusual choice for a CC Brendan, but very interesting write-up! My favourite line: “It’s still a decent automobile, but lacks the vigor of the 1991-95 Legend.” Very subtle nod (and pun!) to the ’91-’95 Honda Vigor which shared the Legend’s platform!
The Legend was still sold as the Honda Legend here in New Zealand until its demise sometime in the last year or three (I thought Honda NZ still sold it, but it isn’t on their website currently). Of course we get the JDM used imports too, and that bolsters the numbers a tad. The earlier Legends were reasonably popular here, the later ones less so as they struggled to find an identity and a place in the market.
Nowadays, regardless of year, owners struggle to give them away – NZ$1400 will get you a decent ’91 sedan, and the solitary coupe – a tidy ’95’ – on Trademe is currently selling at NZ$510… Even the 96-97 sedans struggle to go for more than a couple of thousand. Buyers get a lot of car for their money at that, but I think too many Kiwis can’t see the reason for the later Legend’s existence – especially when the ’05 initially launched here at over NZ$90K and is now worth maybe 12K…
Personally I like the styling of the first two generations. Having had a mechanical nightmare Accord that cost me thousands means I wouldn’t go near one – even though Dad was a Honda mechanic. But you sing the Legend’s praises well, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading the article! 😉
Thank you very much! Yeah thought I’d go for something different. This was always one of my favorite cars and I’ve been wanting to write this for a while but couldn’t find a nice one to photograph.
If you want to read more about Legends, Tyson Hugie’s drivetofive website is not to be missed. Although he is currently spending more time with his ILX, already with 42K on the clock, Tyson has a Legend with over 500K, most of which he’s put on himself. His blog features a slew of other Legend owners and their cars and is nicely put together.
At least it’s not a Lincoln. :^D
Never drove a Legend but always like the later coupe and particularly the protruding grille.
So sad that Acura joined the lemming parade to boring alphanumeric model names. Bring back the Legend!
I think they should have kept the Legend name as well. It was a simple title that said it all in a way no letters or numbers could have. The president of a company I worked for in the late ’80’s had one as a company car, and everyone liked it. Though I’m not a big Honda fan, I could live with an Acura quite easily.
Really great cars… I’ve wanted a 6-speed Coupe since I was 13 years old. The sedan is nice too, but that chopped off rear is just too f-ing cool. I agree completely that Honda was crazy to mess with a good thing and dump the Legend/Integra names. I really don’t know how much better of a name there is for a Japanese car than “Legend”. The last Acura I was really head over heels about was the 3.2TL Type-S from ~2000. I’ve liked some newer ones as well (RSX, TSX), but they never grabbed me the same way as the classics. I do have to admit I’m loving that RL dashboard shown here, though!
Both 1st and 2nd generation Legends were immensely popular where I live and are still seen very frequently. For whatever reason, they’ve always been associated with drug dealers (probably because they’re appealing to drug dealers – the name is undoubtedly part of it). I’ve always been amused by that, but it’s also probably the one thing that has prevented me from turning my crush on them into a steady relationship.
I can 2nd that, when ever we had an Acura of this vintage on the lot, the type of people that would come in to look at it were questionable at best…..
“Thats quite a lovely tatoo you have across your face m’am……..”
I’ll 3rd that. Definitely true, also with Integras and the Lexus LS. And of course with dark-tint windows. I actually saw a vintage-’96 RL in a less reputable town the other day with curtains on all windows, including the driver’s and front passenger’s.
There’s a definite litheness about the Legends that’s lacking in all their successors. it really does seem like a luxury car informed by Honda’s design philosophy—luxury without excess (sadly, when I put it that way it’s less surprising why they changed the formula).
Nice write-up! I almost never see these in the wild here – except for a silver gen-1 Legend driven by an elederly gentleman who lives in the neighboring village. The gen-2 was certainly a substantial upgrade in the looks department, although it almost looked a bit too massive for my taste when it came out. I was surprised to read it was still V6/FWD though, for some reason, from its looks alone, I always naturally assumed it was a RWD “sport sedan”. Is it just me, or is there a hint of E32/E38 7-series when you squint just a bit?
You probably thought it was RWD because it has so little front overhang, due to its longitudinal engine mounting. It very much has the stance of a RWD car.
That’s the exact reason I would give too. And I think it is that short front overhang that makes the car look so great. Something lost with its sucessor.
Nice write-up on a nice car. The gen2 Legend was definitely a high point in the large Acura, and a very appealing car on many levels. There’s quite a few around here still, probably ex-California cars, like all the W-124s.
Thanks! Yeah California weather is a lot less harsh on cars than Massachusetts. My neighbors’ black Legend, which must have been a ’91 or ’92 because I remember the wheels, was already developing rust by the time they traded it in for a Passat circa 2004.
These were available in Korea with a Daewoo badge, believe it or not. And they all seemed to be in this color. This was the product of an optimistic, albeit credit fueled time in the company’s history. They had just embarked on a technology sharing joint venture with Honda, and the Arcadia (the local name for the car) was to be the flagship, an intended harbinger of great things to come. It all came tumbling down with the 1997 Asian meltdown slash “IMF crisis”, the bankruptcy of Daewoo, and the subsequent fleeing abroad of Daewoo Chairman Kim Woo Choong, wanted on a myriad of charges related to securities irregularities, embezzlement and fraud. He was on the lam for several years before returning in ’06 to face the music.
It all conspired to drive Daewoo back into the arms of GM, from which they aspired so vigorously (pun not intended) to be free of.
These cars are still around here in surprising numbers, implying a high survival rate since they were never that popular to begin with. This in a land where ten year old anythings disappear fast. Most Koreans with money went with the national champion, Hyundai and it’s Mitsubishi-based Grandeur. Well, this car could run circles around it, but it mattered little. One final point, even as 15-20 20 year old used cars (last produced in 1998), they still command relatively decent money, especially for something with a Daewoo badge. It’s stablemates from that era have negative value, meaning you actually have to pay someone to take it off your hands.
That’s interesting. It’s amazing the effect a simple badge engineering job can have on the public view of a car.
I think a part of my soul just died with this revelation. What an abomination, besmirching such a fine car with the mark of Daewoo!
EDIT: Gaahh! http://autokatalog.yauto.cz/daewoo-arcadia-27935/
Have driven both first and second generation Legends, love them both. Definitely one hell of a mistake on Honda’s part do do the name changes. Right up there with Lincoln in wisdom.
And, as much as I like them, if given the chance to buy one as a long term keeper and collectible, I’d much rather have a Stirling. There’s something about a British car . . . . . . .
Regarding choices, decisions and the mainstream in luxury automobiles: Once again it says something regarding my personality that, should the day come that I can actually afford a true luxury car, I’m going to go looking at Acura or Jaguar long before I’ll consider Mercedes-Benz, BMW (my last choice, by the way), Audi or even Cadillac. I love the subtlety of Acura where you’re riding in something luxurious, comfortable, without screaming at the top of your lungs, “Look at me, I’ve got a luxury car!!!!!” All the while being very quiet that I probably leased it because I couldn’t afford to buy it.
(I firmly believe that luxury brands should neither be allowed to be sold as leases or financed. You want one, you walk in and write the check for the whole amount. Period. You can’t write the check? Go drive a Chevy, Ford or Toyota.)
I really hope that Honda can keep making a profit at Acura and continue to follow the quiet front wheel drive line that they’re doing, and that everyone with a keyboard is pillorying them for. Because some people prefer their luxury without shouting.
The featured car could be a twin to my ’95 “L” sedan, now sporting 136,000 miles. I’ve had the car for 11 years, (bought at 70K mi.) and can honestly say it’s been the most trouble-free, rewarding car I’ve ever owned. I agree with Paul that the car looks like a RWD because the front wheels, especially, are positioned forward, not like so many front-drivers today that advertise their origin by having way more overhang ahead of the front wheels than behind them. It’s subtle but effective. The long (114″) wheelbase gives a great highway ride, there’s plenty of room in the back seat and the trunk, and torque steer is slim to non-existent. With all that, it still carves the curves with authority and returns about 24-25 mpg at a constant 70 mph. Other than normal maintenance, which I entrust to my local Acura dealer, I’ve never even had to change a light bulb or a fuse in 65,000 miles. The only other Acura I’d consider? a ’91-’93 NSX. Now, if Publisher’s Clearing House will just come through…
That first RL wasn’t helped by coming out with the dullest wheels ever. They look like generic aftermarket units from the Walmart discount bin.
I do like the Legends however. A friend of mine had a 1st generation coupe that got written off in a collision with a moose. Peeled the roof right back like a sardine can.
I was convinced they were hubcaps until I looked closer.
I remember test driving one of these when they were new. I was shopping for my parents. They ended up finding the Lexus much more comfortable and have stayed with them ever since. It has been the perfect relationship. But I always thought the Legend was handsome without being flashy; which appeals to my personality.
Acura is an interesting case of screwing around with success. When the cars came out, they sold in droves to people who loved the cars, which were well built, reliable and really nice to drive. Then buff-books crapped all over the cars for various reasons and Acura held out against it for a couple of generations. Finally, Honda gave in and we got the RL, which was not nearly as nice a car as the Legend.
They held out longer with the TL. The cars up until 2008 sold very well to very happy owners but the TL adopted the “unique design language” the buff books always screamed for. The result was the hideous conglomeration that was the 2009 TL.
I drive a 2000 TL and it embodies all the good things about early Acuras: good handling, reliability and visibility combined with a car that has plenty of power. I love the conservative styling of the car.
I love the ’99-’08 TLs. How you described yours is how I feel about my 2010 TSX. I know it has some of that “unique design language” in the form of the grille, although I think it looks much better on the TSX than the ’09-’10 TLs. I like my TSX because the rest of its styling is conservative (relative to 2010 cars) without being boring. And of course… the power. I never regret going for ultra-rare V6.
I forgot the RL even existed until this article. I forgot it was even a descendent of the Legendary Legend. My maternal grandparents had first generation Legend when I was little; Bright red, saddle leather interior, it was one of my favorite parts of the annual Colorado visits with them. They bought that car(as well as a first gen Integra) new in 87 or 88 and kept it through the second generation Legend’s timespan, so when my Grandpa decided they needed a new car, the 96+ RL was at dealerships and he ended up buying an Infinity instead. They ultimately sold the Legend to their neighbor and that car is still going today. My Grandpa still holds that as the best car he ever owned, at least it sounds that way when he talks about it.
Such a shame, same with the TL that got butchered a decade later. Acura today only seems to only move respectable volume on gawd awful bitch boxes like the MDX. Acura is definitely on the Lincoln trajectory. When CUVs fall out of fashion they’re doomed.
I loved my Legend. I had one for a few years back at the turn of the millenium. A bit of an odd car for a 21-year-old, but I thought it was great. Mine was a JDM Honda Legend, a ’91 coupe. It had the leather interior and real wood trim. That thing had plenty of room for passengers and the trunk was massive.
I used to do a lot of camping, and there was plenty of room for all of my gear. Around that time I also had a couple of friends that were at college in Palmerston North, about 320 miles from Auckland. My friends and I would sometimes go visit them, and the Legend made for a great tourer.
This was a pretty active period of life for me, so I did quite a bit of travelling in that car, and it was always great. It had sufficient power for overtaking on country roads, handled very well, and was reasonbly quiet and comfortable. About the only bad word I could say is that it struggled a little on very tight twisty roads, a product of it’s length, FWD nature and weight distribution, but I am talking really tight roads here, all the main highway stuff was sweet as.
I had a few problems with it, the rear ball joint wore out, and the air con compressor siezed and needed reconditioning. Apart from that though it was a great car.
I even took it to the Honda club drags one year. The scrutineers were very impressed when they opened the bonnet to find it so light, and commented “carbon bonnet?”. I pointed out the gas struts. I guess they hadn’t seen them on their Civics, Integras and CRX’s! Unfortunately the weather wasn’t too good that day, and the track was damp, but I managed a best time of 16.23 at about 147kmh. I beat an Integra in the first round then got slayed byt a 10-second CRX in the second. Oh well, at least I won the award for best burnout! It was pretty easy in that car, TCS off, park break on, into drive, foot on gas, smoke until well done!
Eventually my youthful exuberance spelt the end of that car. One day leaving a party at a friends place I put on a bit of a show doing some burn outs and handbrake (well park brake) turns and it all went bad and I put it sideways into a tree……. that car was well bent, but I limped (crabbed) it back to my friends place, parked it in the driveway and sold it off to a dismantler. I took the karma, didn’t claim insurance, and just moved on, at the end of the day I was just thankful that I hadn’t injured anyone, damaged anyones property other than my own, and the police hadn’t gotten involved. A sad end, but I suppose and inevitable one, given my bullet-proof attitude and stupidity. I did a lot of growing up catching buses for the next couple of years while I saved for another car, and I’ve never hooned like that again. Remember kids, the track is the only place to race!
It’s true that Lexus sells more FWD ES and RX models than anything else, but the point of Honda offering a RWD V8 flagship would have been as a statement of intent. Consider what would have happened if Toyota had introduced the Lexus brand in, say, 1988, and launched only with the ES250: It probably would have sold okay, since the Camry was doing well and people were willing to spent a little extra for a fancier version (especially if Toyota had made the V-6 a Lexus exclusive), but it wouldn’t have made the cover of magazine after magazine and rattled the Germans’ cages. It would probably have hovered in somewhere in the middle, in the same awkward limbo in which Volvo and Saab eventually found themselves — which is exactly what happened to Acura.
The dilemma that faced the Legend (and the Saab 9000, for that matter) is that while it was a very competent car, it was ultimately less a luxury car than a big, plush family sedan of the Ford Granada Scorpio/Opel Omega variety. There’s really nothing wrong with that, but for that class of cars to thrive, there has to be a reasonable amount of breathing room between D-segment (Accord/Camry/Vectra/Mondeo) sedans and the more expensive brands. The Legend was a great deal when the most expensive Accord sedan was $17K (and had four cylinders) and the cheapest U.S. Mercedes was a $27K 190E with a 2.3-liter four and no great abundance of interior space.
Unfortunately, 10 years later, the 3.5RL was over $40K and priced uncomfortably close to the 5-Series and E-Class without any stand-out selling point other than being fully equipped and probably a little cheaper to live with. Beyond that, for about $15,000 less you could get an Accord EX V6 that was about the same size as the late first-gen Legend, using basically the same engine and offering most of the same features. That’s a very trick spot to be in.
This is an excellent write up. I owned two 1991 Legends. No electrical problems. I sold one at 275,000 miles, the other at 350,000 miles. They are both still on the road here in town with their new owners. But, Acura lost it’s way and lost me as a customer. I bought my wife a Mercedes C240 to replace the Legend, then a C300 later. No comparison. My previous boss owned 6 Mercedes vehicles. Now I know why. BTW, I drive an AMG E55.
Brendan, we can narrow down the year range of the Canterbury Green Legend sedan you’ve featured to 1994-1995 based on the trunk emblem configuration and the front fascia. Whereas 1993’s had a single “A” badge near the trunk keyhole, in 1994 they moved to the spelled out L E G E N D that we see here.
Very nice write-up concerning a very deserving subject! Love your TSX V6 too – those wheels are one of my favorite designs to ever come on any Honda or Acura. I’m currently in a 2013 ILX 6-speed but my pride and joy is the 522k-mile 1994 Legend LS coupe 6-speed that someone above mentioned. Keep up the great work!
Thanks for the helpful info and the complements! I love the wheels on my TSX too. They’re really eye catching. I love that Legend coupe!
I updated the article. Thanks again!
Looks great! Come visit AZ and I’ll throw you the keys to the Legends! I also have a matching 4-door GS 6-speed.
That’s sick! They make a perfect pair!
If there was ever a car that exemplified the sophomore jinx it was this. The fender blisters on the first gen were somewhat forced but I got the car. The second gen had that long trunk to create a fake cabin forward look. Another styling gimmick that replaced originality were the separate taillamps. Maxima got them too. The weirdest thing was when the Camry got them midcycle.
Never liked the Honda low speed engine rumble in either the gen 1 or gen 2.
As I recall, the fender flares of the first-generation car were added because the V-6 ended up wider than its original specifications, an embarrassing foul-up not only for Honda, but also for Rover, which was building the 800 series on the same platform. Rover, however, opted to redo its body sides rather than simply extend the wheel arches.
The one with the beak (TL?) is an uglified euro accord. Arent they all rebadged hondas now?
Loved these Legends. I remember when my wife and I got a ’91 Integra, we spent time checking these out and thought that it would be a great “someday” car. Sadly that day never came, as the products became so bland and the great image Acura had at that time was lost. Seeing the first RL jarred my memory as I had truly forgotten it. What an utterly boring successor (both name and car) to one of Japan’s finest of the era.
My neighbor down the street has a red second gen coupe that’s in great shape. I always admire it when walking the dog.
No mention of how the first generation Legend V-6 had so little torque, that owners and potential customers were screaming at Acura to do something about it. So, when the improved the engine in the Legend, what did they do with the old torqueless one, they stuck it in the first generation V-6 Accord.
The change to generic names was due to the fact that too many potential customers were shopping for a new “Legend” or “Integra” and not a new “Acura.”
My sister had both a gen 1 and gen 2 Legend sedan. She loved them both. The gen 1 was a 1987, silver, cloth interior. The gen 2 was Seattle Silver, LS. Beautiful car. To this day she talks about how much she loved those Legends. In 2002 she bought a brand new TL, white with tan leather. Loved that car too. She now drives an Infiniti. Acura has lost so many loyal buyers due to their product name screw-up and boring designs. Shame on them.
When I was shopping for a college car in the early 90’s I was dead set on finding a used 87-88 Gen 1 LS coupe. I easily looked at 100’s as Gen 2 came out and people were trading them in and listing them in Autotrader. The local Acura dealer was trucking them in from FL in droves- apparently flood cars and they kept trying to get me to buy an Integra instead. This went on for months and school was starting soon, they called one day and had the perfect car so I went to look at it. It was an 86 blue on blue base sedan with water damage and rear wheel well rust. I ended up at the Lincoln dealer that night and bought my 88 Lincoln Mark VII LSC (that I still have).
3 years later I was at an auction looking for a 4 door car (was hoping the Merkur Scorpio would hold no interest- surprisingly it did) and I came home with an 89 Rover badged Sterling 827 SLi Vitesse. Drove awesome and I was able to keep up with my lead foot brother all of the way home who had by now engrained in me a sense of V-8 snobbery and supremacy.
The only thing that I really remembered about Sterling before that was when they ran an ad that said that if you found a similarly equipped vehicle for less, they would buy it for you. Lexus had just premiered and I thought *for sure* I had them with the ES250. I ran home for weeks after school thinking there would be one in the driveway- then I received a letter from them a few weeks later that the Lexus did not have “frost guard warning”, therefore did not qualify. 🙁
When I found out that the Rover was the same drivetrain as the Legend coupe I was elated- and it was far sexier and more practical being a 5 door hatchback and insurance considered it a “station wagon” so insurance was 1/3 that of the Lincoln. Had the Rover for 5 years until it was totalled by a drunk at 10 am in the morning.
Flash forward a few years and I was at a charity auction and an 89 Legend L sedan came up as a donation car and there was NO INTEREST. I snagged it for $500. It took a bit of clean up and minimal work, but it was a 1 owner 30k car! Too nice for a beater so I ended up selling it for a huge profit after a few months of problem free driving.
Always liked the dash of the Gen1- especially the fingertip controls for the radio and sunroof. I still look for Gen1 Legends earnestly. I personally never took to the Gen2- they seemed very bland and didn’t have the bulky stature/ presence of the LS400/ Mercedes. I used to kid someone that I worked with with “should we take my Lexus or your Honda?” She soon got rid of the Legend for a BMW and her husband who had a sweet Gen2 GS-R Coupe dumped it for a Hyundai Tiburon, replaced in a year with an Infiniti G coupe. I was still interested in them (secretly) and liked the Gen3 style, but couldn’t justify the price in my head.
I was all sorts of confused when they went to the Alpha numeric designations, especially the RL and TL so in my mind it became RL (Really Legend) and TL (Thinks it’s a Legend). That’s also about the time that the Acura brand faded away for me.
Sorry for another “nostalgia book posting”.
i have to tell you how much i truly appreciated and enjoyed reading such a thoroughly explored and documented discussion on the origins, life, and still contemporary times of a TRUE LEGEND in automotive design, exquisite form and function. Always enamored by the styling of this car since it hit the streets, and have had my milano red coupe for years! UNQUESTIONABLY, the best car I have ever owned….and I work for MBz btw.
simply an iconic, timeless fusion of intelligent sport luxury…i can’t…let me repeat…i can’t say enough about these cars which no doubt live up to their legendary name….’91-’95.
heroes die LEGENDS LIVE FOREVER !!!
I take issue with the idea that the 2nd gen was not just another upsized accord. It took all of its lines directly from the 4th gen accord just as the 1st gen legend did from the 3rd gen accord.
That said, the 4th gen accord is automotive design excellence and the 2nd gen legend is the perfection of that design language.
There was no doubt some similarities between the designs of the two. After all, the Legend was sold as a Honda in Japan and Australia/NZ, so a little bit of styling unity was required. The Vigor/Inspire also shared some of these characteristics.
The small following of us legend owners are a pretty loyal group. As an owner of three, a pearl white ’94 LS auto coupe with 62k miles, a black ’95 LS 6 speed coupe with 39k miles, and a Sherwood green ’94 GS 6 speed sedan with 92k miles, I guess you can say I have a soft spot for these cars. They have soul, sadly unlike newer Honda products.
The 6 speed coupe
Both in the past and to this day I very much like the second gen. Legend. It seem to have more “presence” than the first gen. Seems in many ways to be the “high water mark” for Acura. Sadly, I suspect Acura is no longer considered by many new car buyers. I do kinda like the 2005 and up RL, the TL of around 2002 and the original TSX, with a manual trans.
Great article! The 92 Legend LS sedan was my first car and I loved everything about it. Unfortunately, it was totaled in a rear end collision. I am now the proud owner of a 98 3.5RL which I have learned to love as much as my original Legend. I still find myself wanting my old Legend back on occasion.
PS. Over the past five years Ive tried to bring back some of the “Legend’s sculpted lines and aggressive demeanor” and reverse “the process of stripping it of any specialness, sportiness or personality.”
Looks great! I’ll admit that original RL was not a bad car in any respect, and with the right trim elements and wheels, it can look quite wonderful. Glad to hear from another happy Acura owner!
I’ve owned a lot of cars in my life . . . presently approaching 200. In all of those, I have only owned TWO that I LOVED. One was a 1966 Lincoln with suicide doors that I bought when I was 15 and drove to high school for two years. I’m nearly 50 and I still own that car. The other was a dark green 1989 Acura Legend. I bought that car with 100K miles on it, the timing belt had just been replaced so I didn’t need to do anything to it. It has a sweet 5spd tranny in it that a blast to shift. I had so much fun in that car!! I had it up to 129mph once and it was just as solid at that speed as it was at 50mph. I put another 150K miles on it and I had ONE problem. I was driving to the store one night in the rain and suddenly the Legend just died. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong and took it to the local Honda/Acura garage (not a dealer – just a guy working on cars). I can’t remember what specifically happened, but it was a recalled part. The mechanic suggested I send it the receipt for his work to Honda and see if they would reimburse me. I thought this a ridiculous exercise on a used car with over 100K miles on it, but did it anyway AND HONDA SENT ME A CHECK!!! I LOVED driving that car! I would get between 25-30mpg driving at speeds between 70-90mph. In fact, I could easily take a 50mph corner on the highway at 90mph and the Acura acted like “MORE PLEASE!!!” I think it LOVED being tossed into a corner as much as I loved tossing it there!! That was a great car – I was so disappointed in my choices for a replacement and I looked forever as the miles kept climbing. At 255K I decided I was pressing my luck. I sold my 89 and bought a 94 that looked EXACTLY like the first car featured in this article. It was a beautiful car, but I liked the racier look of the 89 better. Both had an aggressive looking nose, but from the side you could see that Acura was really being influenced by the LS400 (that would REALLY happen when Acura came out with the RL that looked a lot like the LS400 – especially from the side). Anyway, performance wise the 94 was NOTHING like the 89 – other than having excellent seats. It was still a great car – but tossing it around wasn’t the same AT ALL. Just like Toyota did to the second gen ES, Acura did to the Legend – giving it a softer, more “American” ride while sacrificing handling. I bought the 94 with under 50K on it. At just over 100K it started to fall apart. EVERYTHING seemed to be going wrong, so it went away. I drove an RL, thinking I would continue with Acura, but it was bigger and cushier than the 94, so I wound up with a new Scion tC that reminded me of the 89, tho it never felt as smooth or refined as that first Acura.
I know exactly what happened to your car when it died. I had the same thing happen on my 1989 Civic. It was a part of the ignition system called the igniter. There was a recall for these to be replaced. When it went out on my Civic Honda reimbursed me for both the repair and the towing.
I’ve always loved these, especially the coupe. I do wish Acura had kept using the longitude-FWD arrangement.
Caught this 1993 (Honda) Legend 3 years ago. Dressed in black, very nice.
There was a fad around the turn of the millennium of car companies hiring people from the proessed-food/soap/whitegoods industries as brand or marketing managers. Acura wound up with one of these who considered it unacceptable that “Integra” and “Legend” had higher brand recognition than “Acura” and forced a switch to alphabet soup. Acura sedan sales never recovered, and they had a lost decade-and-a-half that only the early appearance of the MDX followed by the wholesale shift to crossovers saved them from.
Hindsight being 20/20 it would’ve been better to keep the model names and take the opportunity of the 2008 crash to phase out the Acura brand and its’ separate dealer network, but nobody saw that coming until it did.
Here we are on 1 June 2019 and still talking about the Acura Legend. Wait!
Make that talking about the Acura Legend again!
“Trademark Filing Suggests Acura Legend Could Make a Return“
23 May 2019
Is the “Return of the
KingLegend about to actually happen?
You can’t buy that level of aesthetic pleasure for any price today. German styling pretty much died with German intellect during reunification. This car was clearly influenced by the ‘surface tension’ ideal that used to create BMWs you didn’t have to be told you should admire. Acura followed it up with a few true beauties like the first TSX, but eventually chased the tasteless buyers who routinely turn their cars in ever twenty-four to thirty-six months.
The mark of a great car is that it can still engender passion and enthusiasm 25 years after it ceased production. Old guys like me never forgave Acura for abandoning the Legend. I still want a second gen Legend Type 2 coupe! With a six speed manual, of course!
Since the writer mentioned the ineptness of Buick naming it’s not sporting car after a sport (LaCrosse) it seems worth adding to the legendary LaCrosse naming story (see, I TRIED to tie this in with the “Legend” theme). Originally, this car was to be called the LaCrosse in the US and Canada… until someone alerted Buick that “lacrosse” was slang for… masterbation, in some parts of Canada. It was re-cristened the Regal.
What a beautiful car! Relaxes me to see it. Just perfect.
Thank you for writing up this vehicle.
I depend upon other’s love for some brands so that I can learn about them too. There are so many brands over the past 120 years, we can’t know about all of them, or love them.
That is why I thank you for your interests. Luckily for all of us, there are more than enough brands around the world to keep Curbside Classic a great place to read, learn and share.
Maybe, one day, thanks enthusiastic stories from Curbside Classic, I might just see an Acura and look twice.
Wonderful article with good insight…
BTW a good friend Tyson Hugie has more than 7 90’s Acuras including several Legends that he drives regularly and takes excellent care of.
If anyone is interested in his cars and frequent road trips u can hit him up on his blog:
Have a 91 coupe for sale. Runs good. Passed colo emmisions i work for acura cant find parts anymore 720 5697500