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MOTORNET: More than meets the eye

MOTORNET: More than meets the eye

SCOOP MOTORNET with Karl Ferguson
Images by Neil Mackenzie -

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It would be easy to dismiss the latest Honda Legend as just another attempt by a Japanese carmaker to get a slice of the luxury car territory. After all, the paying public is spoilt for choice when it comes to luxury sedans and it’s generally the Europeans who dominate the segment, with Lexus being the notable exception. What’s another one joining the ranks you might well sigh. But don’t be so hasty.

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Admittedly, the Legend has been missing from the New Zealand line up for a while now, and its relatively recent return could have gone largely unnoticed by many. Yet, even though the Legend is unlikely to ever be a volume seller here, it is a car that will attract some interest, and for the right reasons.

Mind you, that’s not likely to be due to how it looks. Depending on the observer, the styling is conservative and unimaginative at worst, handsome and quite modern at best. And while it has more presence than its Accord siblings – this is helped by its larger dimensions – it’s unlikely to be a head turner at the traffic lights. Even so, many will correctly identify it as a Honda thanks to the styling treatment that’s both reminiscent of Legends past and the current Honda crop of cars.

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Inside, the Legend is as you might expect. In fact, it’s a great deal like other Hondas I have driven except that this car has more of everything… more leather, more gadgetry, but most of all, more luxury. The seats are large and comfortable, everything is made from quality materials and thoroughly screwed together. You know instantly this is a car that will still be free of creaks in 20 years time. Equipment wise, there’s everything from an electric blind and sunroof, to electrically retractable wing mirrors and LED lights that give the cabin a classy hue at night. Oh, and it has a frighteningly good stereo.

Inevitably, there’s a sizable LCD screen to display not just the satellite navigation (admittedly, a $4k option) but also everything else the car is capable of, which is plenty. There’s a ‘BMW-esque’ i-Drive controller to help you navigate your way through the options menu which I found maddeningly fiddly so no different from any other car manufacturers system in this regard.

So far then so predictable for a car competing in this class. But then you notice something interesting – there are twin paddles nestled discreetly behind the steering wheel that fit the tips of your fingers brilliantly. When you start the engine, it has a note more crisp and sporting than you were expecting. And a quick perusal of the specification sheet will also reveal the Legend is sporting all-wheel-drive, and not just any old system, but Honda’s oddly named ‘SH-AWD’ system or Super Handling All Wheel Drive. It’s different in that it will direct up to 70 percent of the engine’s torque to the front or rear axles as required – which is important in that it can give this otherwise innocuous sedan a rear wheel drive feeling, and it shows in the dynamic stakes.

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At first, there’s a degree of hesitation when hustling through corners. It’s a car that takes some getting used to partly because of its weight and size, and partly due to how it feels, and yet it consistently over delivers, never feeling as soft or as heavy as you might expect, and retaining good speed and composure throughout the execution.

The steering, although Honda-light is pretty well weighted, though for a car with this much promise, the feel is dreadfully muted and it should really weight up more when being pushed.

The 3.5 litre V6 manages to do the business, though it has to work pretty hard. And why they couldn’t dial more character into the engine note at speed is beyond me. It never feels especially fast, and yet it gathers speed quickly. Neither is kick down as sharp as you would like once you get into the driving groove, and I am surprised by the lack of a six speed box given this is virtually standard on many competitors – in some cases, even seven ratios are included.

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All of which rather leaves me scratching my head. How does a car so seemingly pigeonholed present in real life as something quite different, an enigma even. It may not have the precision or sense of purpose of a 5-Series BMW, but then it’s larger, roomier and has a sumptuous ride by comparison. With an average consumption of 16 litres/100km around town, the Legend certainly likes a drink. I can imagine a school maam writing ‘must do better’ on its report card, though in fairness, the average began to drop quickly once on the open road, and its official combined fuel figure is under 10 litres/100km.

It impresses in passenger space, and while I didn’t spend much time there, the back pews are generous both in head and leg room (although the electric motors under the front seats constrict toe room) and are genuinely comfortable. The boot is cavernous.

The Legend’s likely biggest Achilles heel is almost certainly its very close stablemate – the Accord V6. The Accord may not have all the fruit, but starting at $42,000 for the reasonably well equipped entry level model – the Legend is a comparatively eye-watering $92k – an extra $50k ask seems like a lot, especially given the Accord’s trade off of only 15kWs is compensated by a weight reduction of close to 250kgs.

To truly be a success it probably needs to be sharper, both in the steering and pricing departments and it could do with a few more herbs to really take the fight to the European brigade. And soon it might. A facelifted model is about to hit showrooms which will see the Legend gain an additional 200cc and more power, updated styling and extra goodies – though no price reduction sadly. Keep in mind too that Honda is a company that has branding and marketing down to a fine art, and it is entirely possible that the focus group that helped shape this car has things pretty much where they wanted them. Whether that’s enough to put punters behind the wheel is something only time will tell.


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