July 21, 2024

Motorweek reviews the Sterling, a lesser-known British version of the Acura Legend

If you’re not well-versed in Sterling’s lackluster four-year stint in the American automobile market, you’re not alone. The British automaker Rover made unsuccessful attempts to break into the U.S. car market twice before rebranding as Sterling. Rover collaborated with Honda to design the Sterling models based on the then-new Acura Legend, hoping that some of Honda’s renowned reliability would transfer to Rover.

Unfortunately, Rovers and Sterlings were poorly constructed in Oxford, England, while Hondas and Acuras were expertly manufactured in Sayama, Japan. Despite using a Honda engine, the initial Sterling cars brought to the United States in 1987 suffered from reliability issues, tarnishing the brand’s reputation irreparably in the eyes of American consumers, leading to its demise in 1991.

1989 Sterling 827 SLi | Retro Review

The 1989 Sterling 827 SLi was the updated, more potent hatchback iteration of Sterling’s original 825 SL sedan, featuring an enhanced 2.7-liter V6 Honda engine. Sterling aimed slightly higher in the market than Acura’s highly successful Legend, but the early Sterlings’ reliability issues prevented the brand from achieving the sales success of the Acura Legend.

Sterling sold just over 14,000 cars in 1987, their inaugural year in the United States. In 1988, Sterling sold just under 9,000 cars, while Acura sold over 70,000 Legends in the same year. Despite the increased engine sizes and power output in 1989, with sales dropping to under 6,000 units. Sales continued to decline in 1990 with just over 4,000 cars sold and only 2,700 Sterlings sold in 1991 before Rover announced the discontinuation of Sterling sales in the U.S. after the 1991 model year.

The demise of Sterling was influenced by various factors, including the entry of other entry-level luxury brands like Lexus and Infiniti into the American car market. While the Acura Legend, Sterling’s platform mate, offered unprecedented levels of quality, reliability, and affordability, Lexus and Infiniti presented even more, leaving Sterling unable to compete. As classic cars, Sterlings are unlikely to be highly sought-after, but it’s an interesting piece of automotive history to know about.


Q: What caused Sterling’s downfall in the American market?

A: Sterling’s downfall can be attributed to factors such as poor build quality, reliability issues, and strong competition from other luxury brands like Lexus and Infiniti.


Sterling’s brief and unsuccessful presence in the American car market serves as a cautionary tale of the importance of quality and reliability in the automotive industry. Despite its partnership with Honda, Sterling failed to live up to consumer expectations and ultimately faced extinction due to its inability to compete with more established luxury brands. While Sterling cars may not be collectors’ items in the future, they remain a noteworthy chapter in automotive history.

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