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The Acura Legend: History, Generations, Changes

All things Acura Legend on Automobile.

Aaron GoldWriterManufacturerPhotographer

Acura Legend Essential History

In the late 1980s, three Japanese automakers created new luxury marques for sale primarily in North America, an effort to maximize per-car profit in the face of voluntary limits on Japanese exports of cars to the United States. Honda was the first, its new-for-1986 Acura subsidiary beating Toyota's Lexus division and Nissan's Infiniti brand to American shores by three years.

The First Acura: The Legend

The flagship Legend was the first of two Acuras to be introduced, the other being the compact Integra hatchback. (Like the Integra, the Legend was sold as a Honda in other markets.) The Legend sedan was a big car by Honda standards, nearly a foot longer than the contemporary Accord, though only an inch and a half wider.

Acura Legend Gets Honda's First V-6 Engine

Under the hood was something American buyers had never seen from Honda: A V-6 engine. Its displacement (2.5 liters) and output (151 hp, 154 lb-ft) seem modest by modern standards, but with multi-port fuel injection and four valves per cylinder—though only one camshaft per cylinder head—it was a thoroughly modern engine at a time when the domestics were still using carburetors and pushrods. While most of the industry was using MacPherson struts and beam axles for their front-wheel-drive cars, the Legend had a four-wheel independent suspension with double wishbones up front and (somewhat ironically) struts out back. Other luxury cars were automatic-only, but the Legend offered a manual-transmission option for its entire model run.

Initial reviews were good, with the Legend drawing praise for its sharp handling, fuel- and space-efficiency, and its well-designed interior, which was classy but not overly-adorned. Of course, at the time there weren't many cars to which the Legend could be compared.

1987 Acura Legend Coupe

Acura added a two-door Legend coupe for the 1987 year, and our colleagues at MotorTrend liked it well enough to name it their Import Car of the Year in 1987. The coupe had a double-wishbone rear suspension and its V-6 was bored out to 2.7 liters for an increase of 10 hp and 10 lb-ft. The Legend sedan got the bigger engine in 1987 and the double-wishbone rear suspension in 1989.

1991 Acura Legend: The Second Generation

Acura introduced an all-new second-generation Legend for the 1991 model year. This was a bigger car, with six more inches of wheelbase and length, and its styling was far slicker. The engine was enlarged to 3.2 liters and delivered 200 hp and 210 lb-ft. In an effort to address complaints about a lack of low-end torque, Honda fitted a novel variable induction system that changed the routing of air through the intake manifold in three distinct RPM-linked phases. Unlike the first-generation Legend, the new car's engine was mounted longitudinally, raising questions about whether Acura intended to fit a V-8 or all-wheel-drive. The company demurred at the time, and we now know neither would come to pass.

The End of the Acura Legend

Of course, by now the Legend did have competition. Writers praised its lower price compared to other big Japanese luxury cars, as well as the continuing availability of a manual transmission. However, many lamented the lack of opulence compared to the Lexus LS400 and Infiniti Q45, as well as Honda's steadfast refusal to fit a V-8 engine or send power to the rear wheels.

In 1993, the Legend coupe got another power bump to 230 hp and 206 lb-ft, with a six-speed manual as the standard-fit transmission. This powertrain came to the sedan in the form of the 1994 Legend GS. The 1994 models also saw some minor styling changes. The end came in 1995, the last year for the Legend; it was replaced by the new-for-1996 3.5 RL.

Acura Legend Highlights

The Legend coupe was the first Acura to be fitted with a driver's airbag. It was optional for the 1987 model year and became standard on both the coupe and sedan for 1989.

Though Acura enlarged the Legend for 1991, they saw sales potential for a vehicle that fit in the first-generation Legend's footprint. The result was the new-for-1992 Vigor, which was similar in size (and, arguably, style) to the original Legend. It was powered by an unusual a longitudinally-mounted five-cylinder engine. Lexus enlarged the second-generation ES to the same general dimensions, and Infiniti followed in 1992 with the similarly-sized J30.

Acura Legend sales for the first three years of production were higher than sales of the Infiniti Q45 over its entire 18-year run.

One of the 1994 styling changes was that the "Legend" name was now spelled out in large letters across the trunk lid. This led at least one British publication to refer to the car as the "Leg End".

Acura Legend Buying Tips

The Acura Legend has not garnered much collector interest, but as one of the few large Japanese luxury cars offered with a manual transmission, and given its light, Honda-like demeanor on the road, perhaps they aren't getting the recognition they deserve. Unlike its competitors, Infiniti never went in for unusual high-tech features like hydraulic suspensions or four-wheel-steering, so Legends are fairly straightforward cars. It's safe to buy a high-mileage example, but bear in mind that Acuras were frequently bought by aging Honda buyers, and there are still some gently-used low-mileage examples to be found.

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Acura Legend Quick Facts

  • First year of production: 1986
  • Last year of production: 1995
  • Total sold: 477,931
  • First year base price (1986): $19,898 (sedan), $22,458 (coupe)
  • Last year base price (1995): $34,160 (sedan), $38,100 (coupe)
  • Characteristic features: Front-wheel-drive, independent suspension, longitudinal engine (2nd-gen)
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Acura Legend FAQ

When did Acura stop making the Legend?

The Acura Legend ceased sale and production as of the 1995 model year. It was replaced by the 1996 3.5 RL.

Will Acura bring back the Legend?

Acura registered the Legend name in 2019, spurring speculation that it intended to bring the name back on a replacement for the slow-selling RLX, though Acura may have merely been protecting the name against use by a rival. Automakers tend to favor alphanumeric names when they want to increase brand profile (buyers will refer to their Acura RLX as "my Acura" but their Honda Accord as "my Accord"). Given Acura's current market position, it's likely it will continue to use alphanumeric names rather than re-use the Legend name—for now, at least.

What replaced the Acura Legend?

The Acura Legend was replaced by the 1996 Acura 3.5 RL, which was itself replaced by the 2004 Acura RL, and then the 2014 Acura RLX.

Are Acura Legends good cars?

The Acura Legend relied on more conservative engineering than its Lexus and Infiniti rivals, which kept the costs down, though many critics accused the Legend of not being as luxurious, prestigious, or innovative as the Lexus LS400 and Infiniti Q45. However, the Legend was a more driver-oriented car than the softly-sprung Lexus and delivered a good drive without the complexity of the Infiniti. The Legend earned a reputation for meticulous build quality and outstanding reliability, so yes, we would say that the Acura Legend was a very good car.