The Rover 600 commands attention for rakish good looks in ways the more demure Accord does not. And so, because the Accord is bland - a rather neutral discretion that extends to the experience of driving it - its qualities might be easy to overlook. It scores most of its points for its engine - a quiet, flexible 16-valve performer that can be stung into an athletic leap with very little prompting, and which is virtually devoid of vibration or the protesting racket of lesser power plants when the revs go up. The Accord is also spacious for the class, and modestly priced compared to much of the opposition. If it doesn't, therefore, lead passers-by to speculate on what kind of impulsive genius simmers beneath your modestly impassive visage as you sit at the wheel, it will carry a lot of you and yours around in comfort and untiring refinement - and with reassuring reserves of power and agility.
The Accord, then, has performance to match virtually all of its immediate rivals. The performance is not, however, entirely reflected in the utterly safe and predictable, but faintly spongy, suspension set-up, indicating Honda's inclination with this car to reinforce comfort over purists' handling preferences. The familiar Japanese steering that feels as if it directs the wheels by remote control doesn't help in this respect, but on long, fast journeys the ride acquires a magic-carpet ease. Safety levels are OK, with side-impact beams and anti-lock braking standardised. But you can't add an airbag to the regular model, which in a post-Mondeo age feels increasingly like cheeseparing. As an effortless, well- built, roomy performer in the mid-range of the market, the Accord is a fine car, but I'm not sure how much of its personality I'll be able to recall by Christmas. The Rover 600 promises to be something else. There, I said it again.
GOING PLACES: Superb engine, as good or better than anything in the class - smooth on pick-up from low speeds, quiet at high revs, constantly willing and undistracting, with 0-60mph in a little over 9 secs, 50-70mph overtaking speed in a little less than 9; slick gearshift, painless clutch.
STAYING ALIVE: Good, predictable handling and safe cornering, though with slight roll, and steering feels dull; anti-lock braking and side-impact bars standard, but no provision for airbags except in expensive up- range version; brake pedal feel is a bit soft but retardation excellent; visibility good, but lack of driver's seat height adjustment leaves short drivers feeling low in the saddle.
CREATURE COMFORTS: Big cabin, one of the car's major plus points, with class-leading head and leg room, though unremarkable boot space. Good, clear layout of instruments and controls; good sound system. Rather tacky plastics take the edge off attractive cabin atmosphere, but sound insulation is excellent.
BANGS PER BUCK: Metallic paint, electric sunroof, remote central locking, electric windows and mirrors all standard, but not much else except for the ABS braking system. Fuel consumption average at 25.4 miles per gallon in town, around 35 mpg on general use. Price: pounds 15,145.
STAR QUALITY: That wonderful go-anywhere, do-anything engine; interior space that beats most rivals; competitive price.
TURKEY QUOTIENT: Dull body design, lack of clear identity, no airbag unless you pay pounds 18,500 for the ES model, driver's seat height adjustment necessary for such low-slung furniture arrangements.
AND ON MY RIGHT: Ford Mondeo 2.0 litre ( pounds 14,095) - of course. Comparable, and subjectively sprightlier performance, more inspired handling, standard airbag, but noisier, and less roomy; BMW 318i ( pounds 16,100) - costlier, less well equipped, more cramped, but still much more charismatic and crisp to drive; Audi 80 2.0E ( pounds 16,255) - slower, costlier, more cramped except in the boot.
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