Although competent, Honda's offering lacks the special X-factor that elevates it into the hallowed grounds of the luxury sector of the market
Alas, more mythical than Legendary Incomplete packaging means the Legend cannot compete eye-to-eye with rivals in the luxury sector

FOR THE luxury sector, Toyota has Lexus and Honda has Acura.

The Acura nameplate is used in the United States, but elsewhere, like in Singapore, the Japanese reckon that the Honda nameplate is strong enough to compete with the established marques in the luxury market without resorting to launching a whole new brand.

Whether or not the Honda brand has that sort of sparkle, its flagship model, the Legend, certainly does not. And calling it an Acura RL, as it is known in the US, has done little to hide the fact.

Not that the Legend is a bad car, mind you. It is actually quite a good one, in a lot of respects.

But in this sector of the market, where the competition is more intense than the final round of the Miss Universe pageant, the Legend falls short because it fails to rise much above mere adequacy.

Unless, of course, it is size you are after, in which case the Legend is far more than adequate. In fact, the Honda is one giant of a car and is actually longer than a BMW 7 Series.

Thankfully, its styling does conceal its bulk, much to the credit of Honda's designers, and it carries its size without looking clumsy.

Once you try and slip it into a parallel parking spot, however, it suddenly seems as big as the Titanic. Parking it is more stressful than trying to park the car you took your driving test in.

Inside, the Legend is similarly huge. Your passengers could have Michael Jordan's legs, Moses Lim's bum, Irin Gan's neck, Ang Peng Siong's shoulders, or any other dimensions, and still have room to spare in the back.

As few luxury car buyers seem to know, big cars need big engines, and the Legend packs a hefty 3.5-litre V6 under the bonnet. Honda makes some fairly frantic high-rev screamers, but the Legend's motor is not one of them.

Instead, it is laid-back and softly-tuned, producing plenty of torque but only about as much power as a good 3-litre engine.

Even if you stomp on the accelerator, the Legend leaves traffic lights lazily. But once it gathers momentum, it picks up speed with all the drama of an elephant that has just been prodded in the rear with a javelin.

It cruises and overtakes effortlessly as well, and while it is not as eerily hushed as a Lexus inside, it is quiet enough for flatulent passengers to have no hope of remaining undetected.

The counter-balanced engine is always smooth and cultured, too.

The Legend hangs on well around corners, but its bulk becomes obvious if you try and hustle it through tight bends over-enthusiastically. Its German rivals are much more nimble, and the Legend prefers to be driven at a more stately pace.

On the other hand, you get a smooth enough ride to allow even the most corpulent of passengers to complete journeys over bumpy roads with nary a bodily jiggle.

For all its refinement, power and size, however, the Legend's single largest failing is a chronic lack of glitter. Being in one is like being in a plush, up-sized Honda Accord.

True, its equipment list is long, with all the goodies luxury cars are expected to allow their owners to brag about, like headlamp washers, four airbags, an eight-speaker sound system, electric seats and steering-wheel adjustment, electronic climate control, extra controls for rear passengers and so on.

But in certain areas, it smacks of cheapness. Some of the interior wood panels are fake, and the stalks feel like those in the Honda City.

Most of all, the Legend just lacks the star-quality that makes other executive cars as objects to desire. It is hard to imagine anyone lusting after one of these things.

Most of this would be excusable if the Legend were, relatively, modestly-priced. However, Honda asks just under a-quarter-of-a-million dollars for one, which is money that crosses into Lexus territory.

The Lexus ES300 is nowhere near as large, but it is more satisfying to drive. It is a smidgen more refined, just as superbly-built, and even though it is cheaper by tens of thousands, it scores highly on the test that the Legend would have trouble getting a passing grade on - it makes the neighbours turn green.

The only luxury cars able to match the Legend's size are the BMW 7 Series, Merc S-Class and Lexus LS400. But all of them cost substantially more, so perhaps the Honda is worth considering if you intend to spend most of your time in the back seat.

Or if your rear-seat passengers cannot stand each other and need the room to keep from slaying one another.

Otherwise, as far as flagships go, this Honda is really more of a tall tale than a Legend.

FAST FACTS

Honda Legend

Price: $229,888, including COE

Engine: 3,473 cc 24-valve V6

Power: 200 bhp at 5,200 rpm

Torque: 285 Nm at 2,800 rpm

Gearbox: Four-speed auto

Top speed: 220 kmh (estimated)

0-100 kmh: 9.2 sec (estimated)

For enquiries: Call Kah Motor on 841-3333 or 339-9880