Car choices, choices... Part 3

The answer is the Honda Legend

By Julian Edgar

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As covered in Car choices, choices... Part 1 and Car choices, choices... Part 2  by now I’d spent weeks test driving cars, trying to find something that would satisfy my desire for fuel economy, ride quality and comfort over a 3-days-a-week, 150 kilometre commute on poor country roads. All on less than AUD$50,000.

And you can’t say that the mix wasn’t eclectic. By this stage I’d driven:

Current models:

- Toyota Camry (hybrid)

- Skoda Superb (diesel)

- Volkswagen Golf BlueMotion (diesel)

- Citroen C5 (diesel)

- Toyota Prius C (hybrid)

- Toyota Prius (hybrid)

- Honda CR-Z (hybrid)

Used models:

- 2010 Toyota Prius (hybrid)

- 2006 Mercedes E280 CDI (diesel)

- 2005 Lexus LS430 (petrol)

- 2009 BMW 320d (diesel)

- 2003-2004 Jaguars XJ6, XJ8 and XJR (petrol)

And I’d also considered cars as diverse as a diesel Volkswagen Multivan and Ford Falcon four cylinder turbo.

I’d also come to realise something that in retrospect may be rather obvious: to get the desired equipment level, refinement and ride quality, I’d have to sacrifice some of the fuel economy goal. (Frustratingly, the pictured BMW 320d was one car that would have matched the desired fuel economy with good refinement and equipment – but the ride quality was absolutely lousy.)

So rather than aiming for open road Five or Sixes (in litres/100km), I’d have to be happy with Eights or Nines.

So with that concession made, what car stood out? Surprisingly, the KB series Honda Legend.

Honda Legend

The 3.5 litre KB series was released in 2006 and ran for only a few years before being replaced in the 2009 model year by a slightly restyled car using a larger 3.7 litre engine.  At the time of writing, this is still the current model.

Equipment level of the KB is high with standard active noise cancellation, sat nav, reversing camera and heated memory front seats. HID headlights are fitted and the individual ignition keys are programmable to automatically set the seats, external mirrors and the steering wheel to correct positions.

Suspension is sophisticated (alloy front double wishbones and multi-links at the rear) and the brakes use 320mm front discs with big 4-pot calipers at the front and 310mm rear discs with single pot calipers.

However, specification shortcomings include the use of a 5-speed (rather than 6-speed) auto trans and, considering the size of the car, a small boot. The car is also rather heavy at 1855kg.

Priced new at $74,500, the KB Legend was seen by Honda as taking the prestige battle right up to the Europeans like Audi, BMW and Mercedes – and of course the Japanese Lexus. But as with previous Legends, it never really hit the marketing spot.

Browse reviews of the Legend on the web and you’ll be pushing to find even one that is unambiguously positive about the big Honda. “Too heavy”, “bland”, “performance only OK” – they’re the sort of things you’ll see. One Australian review said the Legend was nothing special to drive. It further said the steering was dull and vague off-centre; that the car bounces, rolls and floats on undulating surfaces; it has lethargic performance in high gears; the cabin is rather dated; and that the control system is complex and confusing.

So it was more than a bit of indifference that I approached a Legend in a Canberra used car yard - but what I found doesn’t match the original road tests one bit.

Instead here is a car with an absolute pearler of a motor (3.5 litres, 217kW, 351Nm of VTEC V6), a very sophisticated all-wheel drive system (it can vary torque both front/rear and also at the rear axle from side to side – not dissimilar to the Evo Lancers of the past), a well-equipped and tasteful cabin with plenty of room – and yes, like those road tests said, a small boot.

On the road the steering is well-weighted, the ride quality fairly good, and performance – if you’re prepared to use the motor’s full rev range – quite respectable.

Throwing the car around a Canberra roundabout I was amazed to find myself opposite-lock steering as I exited, the all-wheel drive having decided I needed plenty of power going to the rear outside wheel! But, having said that, the greatest feeling you get from the on-road behaviour is one of security and grip.

After just a short drive I liked the Honda – but should I buy one?

I drove the Honda Legend before driving the Mercedes E280 CDI, Lexus LS430, BMW 320d and the XJ6, XJ8 and XJR Jaguars described last issue. So against those cars I could say that the Legend’s fuel economy wasn’t as good as the Mercedes or BMW, its performance and refinement were worse than the Lexus, and the ride quality wasn’t in the same league as that of the Jaguars.

(And that’s one of the problems, isn’t it? If only you could pick the best characteristics of each car and put them into one glorious machine!)

But to me the Legend was a good all-rounder, falling short a little only in fuel consumption.  (The government tests say: 11.8 litres/100 combined, 9.0 litres/100 extra urban and 17 litres/100 urban. That last figure seems a bit odd – contemporary road testers seemed to average about 12.) When looking at the fuel figures I also wonder if with the car’s very good drag coefficient (Cd = 0.29), the open road fuel consumption might not come down a bit from even the extra urban figure – but maybe that’s just wishful thinking.

The Legend made the most compelling case – so I started looking for one. For a car that has sold quite poorly in Australia, there seemed to be plenty of 2006 – 2008 KB Legends around, so then I started driving them!

Starting at the cheapest, it went like this:

Location

Price

Year

Kilometres

Condition

Notes

Launceston dealer

$22,000

2006

93,000

7/10

Drove very well but had some chips and dents, interior had some marks. Full service records.

Canberra auction – pre-auction fixed price

$23,500

2006

111,000

6/10

No driving test allowed, interior and exterior in relatively poor condition. Incomplete service records.

Sydney private

$25,000

2006

101,000

8.5/10

Presented and drove beautifully; expensive 100,000km service just done.  Full service records.

Melbourne dealer

$29,000

2006

80,000

9.5/10

Presented and drove as near-new. Full service records.

Canberra dealer

$32,000

2007

61,000

7/10

Presented more poorly than low kilometres would suggest, price subsequently dropped to $30,000.

Two cars could be quickly deleted. The Canberra dealer car, despite its low kilometres and more recent year, was overpriced for its condition – even when, unasked, they dropped the price to $30,000. The Canberra auction house, where the car was available at a fixed price of $23,500 prior to auction, couldn’t be test-driven, had incomplete service records and was poorest in condition. Maybe it would go cheaply at auction – but what a risk! Two down – and a bit of a pity, that, because these were my two local cars…

The Launceston dealer car, priced at $22,000, drove very well, but since delivery price would need to include a journey on the Spirit of Tasmania ship, was unlikely to have a lot of room to move downwards in pricing. The dents and scratches were also a bit off-putting.

That left the Sydney private sale car at $25,000 (say $24,000 with a bit of haggling) and the Melbourne dealer car at – well, at what exactly? How low would the dealer go in pricing that excluded Victorian government charges (I am in NSW) but included trucking to my location near Canberra?

Their answer included the fact that they would not truck the Legend to me – they’d been bitten in the past with a trucked car arriving damaged.  Instead, they’d buy me a plane ticket from Canberra to Melbourne, put the car on a 7-day permit, and give me a full tank of fuel to drive home. That didn’t worry me at all – now, how many dollars?

The answer was a very precise $25,720.

So the Sydney private car at (say) $24,000, or for $1720 more, the dealer car in slightly better condition and with a warranty. With the dealer’s car I would also get the Legend that was in the best condition of the five I’d looked at, but at a price that put it in the mid-range of those available.

So I bought it - for what you get, it seems to me to be a bargain.

Next: living with a Legend

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