New Cars: Honda Legend

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It is astonishing how different the Honda Legend is to the Rover 800 considering they have so many components and panels in common and, indeed, are built in the same factory. Having now driven both cars (a road lest of the Rover 825i will appear shortly) I am prepared to say that the Rover is easily the better of the two.

Assessing styling is a subjective matter, but at the Legend’s launch there was an overwhelming feeling in favour of the British interpretation of the theme. The Legend seems cluttered: there’s a mass of red plastic on the tailgate; the vestigial bulges on the side panels make the profile look tubby; the alloy wheels look curiously dated, and the roof line has a different emphasis which a doesn’t quite work. All in all they look like the Series I and Series II versions of the same model. 

Whereas the Rover’s interior is crisp, with walnut facings and suitably restrained colours and cloth, the Legend’s can be garish. One white car I drove had loud blue velour seats which were not in harmony with the rather cheap-looking blue plastic trim (for some reason blue plastic almost always looks cheap) and extra black trim over the instrument binnacle. Presumably the black panel is meant to reduce reflections in the windscreen. It doesn’t and driving into a high sun is unpleasant.

The instruments and controls are laid out differently too, and while they maintain Honda’s high standard of ergonomics to my taste they were not as clear as on the Rover, though I prefer Honda’s neater heater controls.

The first two sensations when driving is that the progressive power steering is far too light at low speeds, where it is vague, and the ride is unnecessarily soft and some surfaces, choppy. It’s as though it has been tailored to the American market and certainly Legend has softer spring and damper rates. Where the Rover is crisp yet comfortable, the Honda feels sloppy.

You need to keep the revs up when driving in both cars, but the engine is free-revving and quiet and the five speed manual gearbox is slick. The four-speed automatic transmission, however, changes gear suddenly and often, harshly. Legend comes only with the 2.5 litre V6 engine, the company preferring not to use the 2.0 litre 16 valve Rover unit.

At first sight, Honda appears to be selling its cars cheaper than Rover but when one takes into account the leather upholstery and ABS which are standard on the Rover Sterling, then it actually looks a better buy than the Legend with its special package of options. Honda does not offer ABS but the company is developing its own system.

It will be interesting to see how the Legend fares on the British market alongside the Rover. The company’s target for 1987 is 2,000 units in the UK, 4,000 in the rest of Europe, all British built.

One thing which the Honda buyer does get, and it applies to all Honda models regardless of where they are built, is that each car sold in Britain goes through rigorous inspection and testing at the company’s vast PDI facility near Swindon. This is the only reason I can see for choosing the Honda Legend in preference to the Rover 800. — M.L.