The Acura Legend, sold as the Honda Legend outside the U.S., Canada, and parts of China, was a luxury vehicle sold from 1986 to 1995 as both a sedan and coupe. It was the first flagship sedan sold under the Acura nameplate, until being renamed in 1996 as the Acura 3.5RL. The 3.5RL was North American version of the (KA9) series Honda Legend. In Japan, the Legend was only offered at Honda Clio dealerships. The opportunity for Japanese manufacturers to export more expensive models had arisen with the 1980s voluntary export restraints, negotiated by the Japanese government and U.S. trade representatives, restricting mainstream car sales.
When the Legend made its appearance into the market, rival companies in Europe, Japan and North America took notice, and quickly introduced or revised current products that could be compared to it. Toyota began development in 1983 with the F1 project, the code name for a secret flagship sedan effort that became the Lexus LS, Nissan updated their premium flagship the President initially introduced in 1966, and in 1988 Lincoln took a new approach to the venerable Continental offering for the first time a front wheel drive sedan with a V6 engine. Chrysler reintroduced the Chrysler Imperial in 1990 also using a V6 powered front wheel drive sedan and an extended wheelbase, and General Motors introduced the GM H platform (FWD) and GM C platform with FWD. Audi took a fresh approach to the 100 and in 1994 introduced the A6, and BMW introduced the BMW 5 Series (E34) in 1988.
Honda introduced the model in Japan on October 22, 1985 to be their premier luxury model and in North America in 1986 as the top of the line model for its then-new Acura lineup. Sedan models came to the market first, powered by a 151 hp (113 kW) 2.5 L C25A V6, with coupes making their first appearance in 1987, powered by a new 161 hp (120 kW) 2.7 L C27A engine. Sedans received the new engine for 1988.
The Legend was the first production Honda vehicle to offer only a SOHC V6 engine worldwide. The Legend was a result of a joint venture with Britain's Austin Rover Group called Project XX that started in November 1981 with the Austin Rover-Honda XX letter of intent signed by the two companies to replace the Rover SD1 and to provide a luxury vehicle for Honda. The Rover Company had a long established reputation as a luxury car in the United Kingdom and Europe, demonstrated with the Rover P6, and Honda wanted to introduce a luxury car for both domestic Japanese and the United States markets. The joint development produced the Legend and the corresponding British version was the Rover 800-series, of which only the top of the range version - the Sterling - was sold in the United States in competition with the Legend.
Rover also wanted to return to the American market when they had reportedly sold only 1,500 cars in 1971, and a brief return in 1980, selling 800 Rover SD1s by offering the Sterling. The Sterling name was used in France instead of the Rover name.
The Legend won Car and Driver's Ten Best three years in a row and Motor Trend's Import Car of the Year for 1987. Manual-equipped models could sprint to 60 mph (97 km/h) in under 8 seconds and reach a top speed of 135 mph (217 km/h). Sedan models had a coefficient of drag of 0.32, while coupes were only 0.30. The combination of relatively light weight, low belt-line, responsive engine, and double-wishbone suspension made the Legend a driver's car that is still enjoyed by enthusiasts decades after the production of the first generation car stopped.
When the Legend was introduced, Honda's newly established luxury car division just for the Legend was called Acura, using the advertising slogan "Precision Crafted Performance", and the Legend was offered with one factory installed option, the choice of transmission used, and one trim level. In the 1986 sales brochure, the Legend's full name used was "Legend Touring Sedan". The vehicle was virtually identical in luxury content to the Japanese market V6Zi, but was identical in size and the longer overall length of the top level V6Xi to comply with United States crash standards, using the larger 2.5 V6 engine. The Technics supplied 80W four speaker cassette tape stereo offered four user programmable equalizer settings, and was equipped with a dual diversity antenna, meaning it had a conventional extendable power antenna and an embedded antenna in the rear window. One of the novelty items was a simple volume control rocker switch and a pre-set radio station channel selector installed on the instrument binnacle within reach of the right hand; the opposite side of the instrument binnacle had a button to open, tilt or close the standard equipped glass moonroof with sun shade. The North American Legend was not offered some of the items offered in Japan, such as automatic, one touch climate control, and 100% wool cloth interior in brown. Blue interior was shared with Japan and North America, but brown was not offered in North America, and "sand gray" was offered instead. Exterior colors were matched to only one interior color choice and leather was not offered. Due to the success Honda had with the Legend, it served as an inspiration for the Subaru Legacy with which it shares many visual resemblances and dimensions both inside and out. There are also some appearance similarities with the 1988 Lincoln Continental.
In 1989, the sedan received some minor tweaks, upgrading to the one-piece front headlamps already in use in Japan since the 1986 introduction, a revised front bumper, trunk lid, tail light cluster, and an upgraded double-wishbone rear suspension, with a new alloy wheel appearance. By that time all Legends came equipped with a driver airbag and 4-wheel anti-lock brakes. Other features such as power driver's seat memory for 3 positions were added. High-end LS models featured a trip computer and electronic vehicle monitoring system in the center console and a Bose sound system. It was also joined by the Acura Vigor which set the stage for the larger second generation Legend introduced October 1991.
For the 1990 model year, all Legends came with body-colored side mirrors. Legend coupes had a revised body-colored front grille, new red & clear tail lights, and improved front seats. LS model coupes also received a trunk-mounted lip spoiler. All LS models featured burlwood interior trim. Production of the first generation models ended in 1990 as a second generation version became available for the 1991 model year.
From the exterior, there are only superficial similarities between the Legend and its Rover 800/Sterling cousin. Both cars share the 2.5L and 2.7L Honda engine and automatic transmission. The core structure and chassis design is also common to both cars, however the Rover version has its own exterior panelwork, interior and electrical systems. The Rover was also offered with a 2.0L in-line 4-cylinder engines in tune with European tastes, however the Legend was only available with V6 power regardless of market. In Japan only, Honda installed a turbocharger with variable geometry in the Legend with the smaller 2.0 L V6, called the "Wing Turbo" for model year 1989.