Although it is a car, the Acura Legend has performed more like a roller coaster.In March 1986 what proved to be the first of the new wave of Japanese luxury cars appeared when Honda unveiled its top-of-the-line Acura line and its Legend sedan. Toyota's Lexus and Nissan's Infiniti followed. With a midyear start, Legend accounted for only 25,062 sales that year. With a full year on the market, sales more than doubled, to 54,713, in 1987 and jumped to a record 70,770 in 1988. Price, competition, a lousy economy and a luxury tax caught up with Acura, and Legend sales slipped to 64,638 in 1989 and 53,666 in 1990. They took an upturn to 65,689 in 1991 when the second-generation Legend appeared, then fellto 49,926 in 1992. We test-drove the 1993 Acura Legend LS sedan, and while it may have a roller coaster-like history, it has a luxury sedan-like grasp of ride and handling, comfort and performance. What the Legend doesn't have is a grasp of reality-not when you look at the window and see a $36,800 sticker staring backat you. Having tested the new Lexus GS300 sedan ($37,500, Cartalk, April 4), we've gotten used to driving cars with price tags that exceed many workers' salaries. But that doesn't mean nibbling at $40,000 doesn't cause the heart topalpitate. To silence critics who claimed the Legend was no more than a dolled-up Honda Accord (and remember, when Acura started doing business some of its dealers hid an Accord behind the building to sell to shoppers who grew faint after viewing the Legend window sticker), Acura gave it a hefty price tag. To set the record straight, the Legend isn't a dolled-up Accord, at least not since the second-generation sedan made its debut. This is a classy sedan loaded with all the creature comforts, but not really $36,800 worth of them. The Legend is powered by a 200-horsepower, 3.2-liter, 24-valve, V-6 engine teamed with a four-speed automatic transmission. It's a peppy yet fairly quietcombo. The Legend LS seems a bit quicker off the line than the Lexus GS300 because the Legend is pulling 3,500 pounds, the GS300 3,700 pounds. But the GS300's 3-liter, in-line, 220-horsepower six-cylinder is a touch quieter than the Legend's engine. However, neither car has the quickness of the Infiniti J30 sedan with its 3-liter, 24-valve, 210-horsepower V-6. Worse yet, the Legend doesn't have the J30's $34,400 price tag, either. The fuel-efficiency rating of 19 m.p.g. city/24 highway is superb for a carthat offers the power and amenities of the Legend LS. But the rating must havebeen made after the Environmental Protection Agency visited Disney's Fantasyland. The fuel gauge moves much, much faster than 19/24 would indicate. Another Legend positive is the standard speed-sensitive power-steering system that automatically adjusts to vehicle speed and thus increases or decreases power based on whether you are slipping int o the parking space or scooting into the passing lane. Honda has long set the industry standard for power steering and the system that makes cars more nimble and limber regardless of the maneuver or the size of the machine. A big plus for the Legend LS is that driver- and passenger-side air bags are standard, as well as four-wheel anti-lock brakes. The insurance industry also will be happy that the LS comes with bumpers that are supposed to reduce,if not eliminate, most damage in those 5 m.p.h.-or-less parking-lot run-ins with poles or other bumpers. A nifty feature of the LS is placement of the trunk-release button under the armrest on the driver's door. It's easier to release the trunk in the LS than in many other cars, which require you to reach down to the floor. If those armrests above the trunk-release button were a bit thinner, however, the driver would enjoy some needed extra legroom. The large armrest and the flat-sided design of the car- unlike the more rounded aero approach among its Japanese rivals-cramps the legs. Standard equipment includes power windows, door locks, seats, dual mirrors and sliding sunroof; air conditioning; cruise control; AM-FM stereo with cassette and eight speakers; heated seats; illuminated entry; rear-window defroster and side-window defoggers; leather interior; telescoping steering wheel; digital clock; single cupholder that pulls from the armrest; intermittent wipers; 15-inch, all-season Michelin tires; and front and rear stabilizer bars. A lot of features, but the price tag has gotten too hefty. The Lexus GS300 is more luxurious and quieter than the Legend LS. The Infiniti J30 is more luxurious, quieter and peppier than both. Among domestics, the Cadillac Seville STS sedan is equally luxurious, and with its V-8 engine, Seville is considerably quicker than the Japanese luxury cars. The Cadillac also features a suspension system that allows you to drive it more aggressively than the Lexus, Acura or Infiniti. However, at $42,740, the Seville STS is also much more expensive.
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