Honda Accord 2.4 i-VTEC EX

Price: £24,081

Top speed: 141 mph 0-60mph 9.5 seconds

Consumption: 32.8 mpg

CO2 emissions: 141g/km

Best for: German style on a Japanese budget

Also worth considering? Audi A4, Saab 9-3, Toyota Avensis

The word "premium" is a piece of jargon that's bandied about a lot in the motor industry. Every manufacturer wants its cars to be categorised as "premium", although that's less for reasons of vanity than because premium motors command premium prices. In Europe, the premium bracket embraces Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz – and, at a pinch, Jaguar and Land Rover too. In the US it extends to the up-market Japanese brands Lexus, Infiniti and Acura, owned by Toyota, Nissan and Honda respectively. It takes a long time to win full membership of this group; Alfa Romeo, Saab and Volvo still haven't quite made it.

Anyway, Honda thinks this latest version of its Accord is a premium product and, on the merits, you'd have to say they have a pretty good case. Great paintwork, close, evenly spaced shut-lines, reassuring German-style door-closing thunk – this car has them all. And while Japanese manufacturers are Johnny-come-latelies when it comes to diesel engines, Honda's second-generation i-DTEC unit, launched with this latest Accord, is probably smoother and sweeter than any comparable power plant offered by the German manufacturers.

Our test car did without i-DTEC and came instead with the largest – at 2.4 litres – petrol engine available on the Accord, paired with an automatic gearbox. To most Europeans, a big automatic saloon with a largish four-cylinder petrol engine looks like a recipe for roughness, limp performance and poor fuel economy. So it's to Honda's credit that our car was both smooth and swift, if not particularly frugal.

So what stands between Honda's Accord and membership of the premium club, if the car itself is up to scratch? I think it may be a certain quality of anonymity, a curious thing in a product from a company like Honda that has often been a maverick or pioneer among Japanese car-makers. If I ask you to imagine what the "face" of Mercedes or BMW looks like, you will probably know what I'm talking about; if I ask you to picture the face of Honda, the chances are, you'll draw a blank. But then again, if the credit crunch is going to be as bad as the experts say it is, Honda's sort of understatement backed by substance could become very popular indeed.

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