With its new '99 3.2 TL, Acura regains the momentum it had all those years ago with the debut of the legendary Legend.

Since then Acura has:

Bought a sport-utility from Isuzu rather than create its own.

Switched a perfectly decent name like Legend and its other cars to alphanumeric monikers such as RL, TL and CL. That's what BMW and Lexus do and Acura wanted to make sure it was a follower and not a leader.

Produced an odd-looking, under-powered car like the CL coupe and failed to quickly update its entry-level model, the Integra.

The new TL helps erase those past mistakes. It's a fabulous car that's priced to make a deep stab into the territory where BMW 328s, Lexus ES 300s and Mercedes C280s roam.

Even if price was the only story here, it would be a significant one.

This new TL sedan comes in two variations: a $27,950 extremely well-equipped version and a $29,950 extremely well-equipped version with a satellite navigation system.

Last year, Acura sold a 2.5 TL and a 3.2 TL priced at $30,700 and $33,150, respectively. That means the 1999 model costs $2,750 to $5,200 less than the 1998 version.

Instead of just being a price-buster, the 3.2 TL is a sensuously styled, refined luxury sedan. It's fast, not quick. And it's not a driver's car in the way that a BMW 3-Series is. Like all the new TLs, our test model came equipped with Honda's SportShift transmission. It allows you to drive with automatic shifting while stuck in traffic and to do a little flipping up and down on the gears, a la a manual shifter, when you're looking for driving fun.

The 225-horsepower, 3.2-liter VTEC V-6 is a version of the one that Acura uses in the CL coupe and Honda puts it in its upscale Accord. In the TL, it's a smooth, strong powerplant.

From its elegant front end to its sheered-off rear, the TL turns head. Viewed from the side, this might be the best-looking car in its class.

On the inside, buyers will find all the requisite luxury touches, from bunched leather seats to strips of fake wood in front and back. For an extra $2,000, buyers can add Acura's satellite navigation system.

Although based on the Accord's chassis, the new TL has a wheelbase that's lengthened by more than an inch. That and a much more rigid frame results in a better ride. The longer wheelbase also means more room for back-seat passengers.

Unlike its BMW, Lexus and Mercedes counterparts, this near-luxury sedan is built in America, at one of Honda's Ohio plants. That accounts for some of the price reduction.

Options are few on the TL -- heated seats, a moonroof, leather and wood trim, an in-dash CD player, anti-lock brakes and a traction control system are standard fare. Others do offer side-impact air bags, while Acura does not.

Acura expects the new 3.2 TL to significantly boost sales over the previous model. With all-new near-luxury cars on the market in 1999 from BMW, Volvo and Saab , it'll be a tough task. But, for the first time in recent memory, Acura has a car that seems up to the challenge.