The 2014 Acura RLX ($48,000 Base) bows this year as Acura’s new flagship. On the heels of the NSX concept last year and the brand new entry-level ILX, this longer, leaner luxo-sedan looks nothing like the car it replaces, so we were piqued when Honda’s luxury division invited us up to Napa to take a drive. Fine wine and luxury cars. Makes sense to us.

WANT MORE ACURA? NSX Concept | MDX Prototype | 2013 RDX

Ever since Acura’s breakthrough Japanese luxury sedan, the Legend, left this earth for automotive Valhalla, Acura seems to have lost its flagship ways. The RLX is their attempt to correct them. Gone is the strange beaky grille (who signed off on that?), and those Eye of Sauron headlights have been exchanged for more spidery Jewel Eye LEDs, making the RLX more visually pleasing but, unfortunately, still leaving us wanting more… distinction.

Where Acura excels, though, is practicality and technology. Naysayers might find fault with Acura’s decision to use the V6 instead of a V8, and on paper we don’t completely disagree. They see a 400 horsepower engine as leaving power in the stable and sacrificing fuel economy — so they chose a 3.5 liter V6 with 310 hp, 272 lb-ft of torque. That was quite enough for us during the drive, providing ample oomph for the winding roads and even letting forth a subtle growl when pushed.

Attacking the back roads of wine country, there was slight body roll and some softness in the curves; it was a little disappointing, but not unexpected from a car that aims more toward long road trips and city stop-and-go than Laguna Seca. The widened stance helped flatten things a bit in the twisties, and the Precision All-Wheel Drive System (P-AWS, no longer SH-AWD, or Super Handling All Wheel Drive), which actually turns the rear wheels slightly when in a curve to give sharper turn-in and more control, lent a technological hand — though being aware of the minor rear wheel turn-in is like trying to feel your leg hair grow.

The interior instantly puts you in a luxury mindset with supportive, supple leather seats. The 7-inch display screen with haptic feedback doesn’t require a 300-page manual to navigate, unlike its competitors, and allowed us to stream music — crisp as the Napa air — through an upgraded 14-speaker Krell system. Other tech, like lane assist and second-generation AcuraLink with highway and (finally) street level traffic, was welcomed and easy to use. Interestingly enough, the system can send current info, such as speed, from the car to the “cloud” to build its database and create real-time info for other users, which seems both awesome and scary.

The styling of the RLX leaves us wishing the guy who penned the NSX — rather than marketing charts and pencil pushers — was consulted, but the strong fuel-efficient engine, high-end interior and useful technology for around $50,000 will certainly put this on lists the previous RL would never have graced. In the process, it might surprise a lot of people who thought only Germans knew how to stitch leather and build engines.

Available Spring 2013