The second-generation Legend Coupe and Sedan that rolled out earlier this year introduced a new twist to the hot-selling Japanese luxury car: an attempt at impressive styling. The old models sold well but were bland in comparison. The new Legend not only looks better than the old one, its mechanical layout and the drivetrain are new. Instead of refining an already good car, Honda essentially replaced it with what many consider to be a better one. The downside of all these changes can be found on the window sticker. The fully equipped Legend Coupe LS now is priced higher than most of its competition in what has been called the ''near luxury'' segment of the market. The increased price could mean trouble for Acura - especially with the slew of new near-luxury cars and coupes from other Japanese automakers - like Mazda's new 929 and Mitsubishi's Diamante. Consider this: The $36,725 test car price put it about $3,000 away from the V-8-powered Lexus SC 400 coupe, a car in a class all its own. ENGINE, PERFORMANCE The Acura Legend Coupe I drove for a week shattered the oft-mistaken belief that Japanese cars never break. This one did. The ''Check Engine'' light came on every time I drove the car for more than 15 minutes. It idled so rough I thought it was going to stall. When it was cold, the engine surged to about 1,500 rpm and lurched into gear when I shifted into drive. The Legend is a front-wheel drive car, but the engine and transmission layout is not conventional. Instead of sitting sideways, the 3.2-liter, 24-valve V-6 is placed lengthwise - the engine is mounted as it would be in a rear-wheel-drive car. This leaves the transmission behind the engine as it would be in a rear-wheel-drive car. Instead of a driveshaft and a rear axle, power is transmitted to the front wheels via a differential mounted under the engine. Honda claims this layout helps achieve a 60-to-40 front-to-rear weight distribution. On the road this translates into a car that is as agile as cat. The transmission, a computer-controlled, four-speed automatic, couldn't decide when to shift. Sometimes the shifts were delayed - and then the car would bump into the next gear; at other times, the shifts were smooth, but it seemed as if the computer were holding back the engine. Gas mileage was 20 miles per gallon in the city, and 24 mpg on the highway, slightly better than EPA estimates. STEERING AND HANDLING No complaints here. The Legend Coupe is mild-mannered and competent in all areas. The Legend Coupe's underpinnings are straight from the Honda parts bin. The Legend feels like a bigger, more sophisticated version of the Accord. The suspension provides a soft, smooth and easy ride in normal driving but holds the car firmly when you take a corner quickly. The rack and pinion speed-sensitive steering is quick - only 3.64 turns from lock to lock. It is also tight: The Legend responds quickly to the slightest movement of the steering wheel. The turning radius is 34.8 feet. The power-assisted four-wheel disc brakes with ABS stopped the car quickly. FIT, FINISH, CONTROLS With a few exceptions, this is the high point of the Legend. Most switches, controls and buttons radiate quality. The only area that needs attention is the air conditioning controls. The fan control switch, for instance, is small, poorly placed and not lighted, making it nearly impossible to find at night. If safety is your primary concern, the Legend Coupe comes equipped with anti-lock brakes and with driver's and passenger's side air bags. Interior space is ample. Children and small adults can ride in the rear comfortably. The front seats are excellent. They offer numerous power adjustments as well as lower back support. The test car came with the optional light brown leather interior. The test car's build quality appeared f awless. The paint finish was superbly smooth. There was a time when Acura stood far ahead of all else in the market. Now choosing a stylish mid-priced luxury car isn't so easy. However, even though the Legend is priced several thousand dollars more than its competition, its pedigree boasts bullet-proof engineering, good resale value and four straight years on top of J.D. Powers' Customer Satisfaction Index Survey and dealer service.