Honda blazed a trail in 1986 with its Acura luxury brand that Nissan and Toyota soon followed with Infiniti and Lexus, respectively.
Although the Legend and Integra went on sale in the mid-1980s with the brand’s genesis (no pun intended), it wasn’t until the 1990s that both took off and established their respective claims on luxury lore.
The original Legend shared its architecture with the Rover 800, which was also sold in the U.S. as the Sterling 825, but for the second generation, Acura went its own way.
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A new Honda-developed platform let designers reshape the Legend into an elongated car with rear-wheel-drive proportions. Under the hood, a 3.2-liter V-6 engine sat longitudinally, which helped create the look designers no doubt strived for.
The curvy and elegant Legend contrasted with American luxury brands that were stuck in the past: think Cadillac’s boxy sedans, and Lincoln’s bar-soap shaped four-doors—we’d rather forget Buicks altogether.
The Acura Legend, in contrast, was sexy and sleek, and it packed an interior design that never tried to recall the past or look too far into the future. It was simple, comfortable, and packed to the gills with luxuries that only today have become more or less standard on the average vehicle. Drivers were treated to speed-sensitive steering, automatic climate control, 4-wheel anti-lock brakes, heated leather seats, and even electronically controlled soft-close doors on coupe models.
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Cadillac sold its Coupe de Ville on heritage and name; Acura worked to convince American luxury car buyers this was not only the present but also the future.
Customers responded, catapulting Acura to further success in the United States. The Legend name wouldn’t stick around long, however. Acura rebranded its flagship the RL in North America, and later the RLX, while the Legend nameplate lives on in Japan.
Today, Acura finds itself in something of a transitory moment. After years of forgettable machines, the NSX is back in its showrooms and rumors of another Legend have been whispered by auto executives for a while.
The name for Acura’s full-size sedan was no doubt a lofty aspiration, but it was one that eventually came true and helped launch a now-established luxury brand in the U.S.
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