You might remember the Honda Legend as the Acura Legend — a large sedan and coupe duo the automaker offered stateside under the Acura brand. But despite morphing into the Acura RL in the mid-1990s, the Legend never quite went away in Japan, except for a couple years in the past decade. The sixth-generation Honda Legend is about to debut in just a few months, replacing a model shared with the U.S. market RLX, and it will offer quite a technological surprise, at least those who’ll be able to buy it in their home market:
Honda says it’s going to offer Level 3 autonomy in the next-gen Legend sedan, and has already received the type designation from the Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT).
“This approval enables the automated driving system to drive the vehicle instead of the driver under certain conditions, such as when the vehicle is in congested traffic on expressway,” the automaker said in a statement. “Honda is planning to launch sales of a Honda Legend equipped with the newly approved automated driving equipment (‘Traffic Jam Pilot’) before the end of the current fiscal year (Ending March 31, 2021).”
What Honda calls Traffic Jam Pilot means the sedan can perform driving tasks including lane changes, acceleration and braking, allowing drivers to take their eyes off the road. But the system still requires them to be able to assume control when needed. The Legend will be the first car in Japan the MLIT has certified for Level 3 operation, making this an important milestone for the automaker and for Japan.
Does this mean we’ll get Level 3 autonomy in the next-gen Acura RLX?
Not at all, unfortunately, because the RLX is leaving the U.S. due to slow sales, as midsize and large sedans have all suffered a decline in demand starting in the second half of the previous decade. But, this does not rule out Honda or Acura offering a Level 3 system in other vehicles in the States in the near future, even though the automaker has been notably quiet on the subject of autonomy in the recent past.
The Honda Legend joins a relatively small club of vehicles offering various types of autonomous driving. Cadillac’s Super Cruise, for example, is still considered a Level 2 system, while Tesla Autopilot is Level 2 as well. Of course, Tesla’s limited roll-out of what it calls Full Self Driving has created plenty of controversy about its safety and classification, but one thing that’s clear is its requirement of keeping alert to monitor the road technically places it below the formal definition of Level 3 systems, no matter what Tesla chooses to call it.
That’s the distinction between Level 2 and Level 3 here: Honda’s system will not require the driver to stay alert to monitor the road and all the features, but might request the driver to take over when needed.