To commemorate the launch of their new Flagship Sedan, Acura sent DRIVEN correspondent James Lamdin to Napa Valley, California, to get behind the wheel and drink some wine.  In that order. 

Here’s what he has to say:

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When it launched in 1986, no one thought Acura could work in the US marketplace.

At the time, the luxury automobile category was the exclusive province of the European brands, and the Japanese were known for their small, affordable compacts.

Acura, a division of Honda, was setting their sights on being the first Premium-category Japanese brand available in North America.

And despite all odds, they pulled it off.

Twenty-five years of success aside, sales of their flagship model, the RL, were abysmal in the past few years.

This new release, the all-new RLX, is their attempt to keep themselves in the game.

And it looks like they’ve pulled it off.

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It’s certainly not a pretty car in any classical sense; the RLX has a futuristic design highlighted by their all-new Jewel Eye LED headlights.

With an incredible dual stacked array with 10 beams of light emanating per side, these lamps are the defining characteristic of the model and frame the new grille design well.

The rest of the car is, well, pretty Japanese-looking: flame-surfaced paneling and a restrained design.

But it wasn’t until I was handed the keys and hopped into the driver’s seat that I got a true sense of what this car was all about.

It wasn’t until I was handed the keys and hopped into the driver’s seat that I got a true sense of what this car was all about.

The dimensions are similar to a midsize sedan, but it’s got more interior room (particularly in the back seat) than many full-size luxo-barges.

The fit and finish on the interior—the leather-wrapped dash, the control panels, the trim and upholstery—is incredible, better perhaps than any Japanese car I have ever been in, and comparable to many of its (more expensive) German counterparts.

Combined with an impressive audio system by ­­­­­­­­­­Krell and an intuitive touchscreen display and navigation system, there is no question that the RLX has returned to the head of the pack in providing the best value in the luxury segment.

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These days, Acura is going after the “restrained luxury” angle, and they’re doing it deliberately. Since 2008, luxury auto buyers aren’t necessarily spending less, but they are keeping their automobiles longer, and straying from the ostentatious.

The RLX is clearly designed as an answer for people with some money to spend, but who don’t have any desire to flaunt it.

The RLX is clearly designed as an answer for people with some money to spend, but who don’t have any desire to flaunt it.

As I motored away from the Solage Calistoga Resort into thousands of acres of vineyard, I was impressed by the lack of road noise, clarity of the audio system and excellent all-around visibility.

All top marks in the ride quality department—this is clearly an automobile designed from the ground up to be user-friendly and comfortable for long trips.

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And that’s all well and good, but leather and wood are nothing without a good engine behind them.

And that’s all well and good, but leather and wood are nothing without a good engine behind them.

Packing a 3.5-liter direct injection V6 with 310 horsepower coupled to a front wheel drivetrain, the specs didn’t leave me hot and excited, so as soon as the navigation system found me a twisty stretch of tarmac aptly named “Canyon Road,” it was time to put my foot down and see how it danced.

The RLX is a far cry from a number of high-performance sports cars I’ve driven in terms of handling prowess; it maintained its composure and took to the challenge eagerly, without leaving me wanting for power.

At one point, a hotfoot in a new Subaru BRZ actually pulled over to let me pass.

With sport mode engaged, the transmission shifts through the steering column shifters were faster and precise, and allowed me to pilot the big sedan fast and without drama.

At one point, a hotfoot in a new Subaru BRZ actually pulled over to let me pass…

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Despite hammering through the skinny switchbacks like a younger man with no sense of mortality, perilously close to hundred foot drops and rock walls, the RLX never lost its composure or footing.

This is due in part to the innovative P-AWS (Precision All Wheel Steer) system, giving the front-wheeler much better handling than it should have according to science.

There was virtually no torque steer, although there was a bit of noticeable body roll.

The seats, although comfortable, did very little to support me laterally, and I found myself ass-bracing against the door on a few sharp corners to stay planted.

Rumor has it that a 370hp Sport-Hybrid RLX is coming in the fall—I hope that along with the extra power come some seats with more bolster.

Unlike a number of high-strung luxury sport sedans on the road today, the RLX immediately calms itself down after a period of aggressive driving, and settles comfortably into a more typical driving rhythm without begging to be flogged the whole time (try and drive an M5 serenely and you’ll understand what I mean).

In fact, it is a wonderful cruiser, heavy and balanced and with a power band that works for any situation you’d ever encounter in real-life driving.

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My overall verdict, after returning to the resort three hours later, is that the RLX may quite simply be the best tool for today’s job.

My overall verdict, after returning to the resort three hours later, is that the RLX may quite simply be the best tool for today’s job.

It is high-tech without being techy, it is luxurious without being gaudy, and it is sporty without being high-strung.

Ultimately, reflecting the demand of today’s consumer mind-set, the RLX just makes sense…