Watch Motorweek Test The Sterling, A Forgotten British Take On The Acura Legend

Gif: Motorweek/ YouTube (<a class="link " href="" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Fair Use;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas">Fair Use</a>)
Gif: Motorweek/ YouTube (Fair Use)

If you don’t know much about Sterling’s flop of a four-year presence in the American car market, you’re not alone. British carmaker Rover tried and failed to permeate the car market in the U.S. twice prior to masquerading as the fresh new brand called Sterling. Rover partnered with Honda to develop the Sterling models based on the then-new Acura Legend, with hopes that some of Honda’s legendary reputation for reliability might rub off on Rover.

Unfortunately that wasn’t the case, as Rovers and Sterlings were poorly built in Oxford, England, while Hondas and Acuras were expertly built in Sayama, Japan. Despite using a Honda engine, the unfortunately British build quality of early Sterling cars brought to the United States in 1987 proved to be anything but sterling, and tarnished the brand’s name beyond repair in the eyes of American consumers, leading to its demise in 1991.

The 1989 Sterling 827 SLi was the updated, more powerful hatchback version of Sterling’s original 825 SL sedan, which enjoyed an enlarged 2.7-liter V6 Honda engine. Sterling’s aim was slightly higher upmarket than Acura’s incredibly successful Legend, but early Sterlings aforementioned reliability woes prevented the brand from experiencing anything like the Acura Legend’s sales successes.


Sterling sold just over 14,000 cars in 1987, its first year in the United States. In 1988, Sterling sold just under 9,000 cars, while Acura sold over 70,000 Legends in that same year. 1989 saw the increased engine sizes and power output as documented in the Motorweek Retro Review, yet sales continued to fall to under 6,000 units. Sales continued to fall in 1990 with just over 4,000 cars sold, and just 2,700 Sterlings sold in 1991 before Rover announced it would cease Sterling sales in the U.S. after the 1991 model year.

A combination of factors contributed to Sterling’s demise, including the introduction of other entry-level luxury brands into the American car market like Lexus and Infiniti. As Sterling’s platform mate the Acura Legend offered consumers never before seen levels of quality, reliability, and affordability and Lexus and Infiniti came along offering the more of the same, Sterling just couldn’t keep up. They’re not likely to be particularly sought-after vehicles as they become classics, but it’s a great bit of automotive trivia that you now know about.

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