I also had a Sage XP 9' 5 weight many moons ago, which I thought was brilliant. Interesting to hear your comments, I suppose rod performance improves in increments, so you only notice a big change when you go back a few stages in rod development.Never fished the HLS. I know it had a really good reputation. I did have the Orvis Helios 10ft 7 weight. It was faster than Shergar being chased by a cheetah. I once picked up an Orvis Shooting Star Double hander that a feller brought along to a Prince Albert Open Day. Cheap as chips and a really really nice rod. The Sage XP range were very good rods. I did loads with my 9ft 5 weight. Very dated now though. I gave a lesson recently and my client had one. Crikey it was like going back a million years. In my own opinion though the XP was the best series that Sage ever did. Nothing they have done since has even raised a half smile from me
I sold the XP and went through a stage of trying various Winston rods from Foxons, usually secondhand ones which were quite reasonable to px.
My current 5 weight is a Hardy Zenith Sintrix which I've had for quite a few years now, and it still amazes me as a great casting tool and fishing rod. I shall resist the temptation of trying newer 5 weights!