One can supposedly get the measure of a job candidate by the way they treat a restaurant waiter during an interview; ascertain the swishness of a bar from the cleanliness of its lavatories; and establish the depth of a former lover's regard by the length of the gap between your 'hello' and their eventual response on the telephone. But what single feature epitomises a car?
If the new Honda Accord is anything to go by, it certainly isn't looks. For although the car has a distinctly mean and sporty appearance - on the outside, it's all sharp lines, muscular wheel- arches, double exhausts, handsome bulges and Mercedes-style multi-slat grilles - it often feels distinctly out of breath. Even the most powerful version, the 2.4-litre petrol manual saloon, does 0-62mph in a lengthy 7.8 seconds. And it's deliberate: Honda's press pack for the Accord states that its key customers 'don't want an actual performance car, but they do want a car that looks like a performance car'.
Nor is the interior particularly representative. The layout, equipment and styling are a complete change from the predecessor - suddenly, it's all blue-and-red back-lighting and 'floating' needles inside - but the car itself is an evolution rather than a revolution. It's bigger, more sporty-looking, grown-up and expensive than the previous Accord, launched in 2003, but is otherwise about as 'new' as New Labour.
Indeed, if any feature can be said to epitomise the Accord, it's the stereo. My posh model came with a high-powered ghetto-blaster and six-CD changer unit located in the centre console that featured 10 speakers and a sub-woofer. MP3 players or iPods can be connected via a docking point. This was superbly put together, easy to use and aurally stunning. The Lady in Red by Chris de Burgh has never sounded so fabulous.
But the overall effect was ruined by the inscription 'premium audio system' across the front. It's a fact of life that any company that plasters 'premium', 'premier', 'creative', 'quality' or 'iconic' across any product is guaranteed to be anything but premium. You'd never see Mercedes, Audi or BMW doing something so naff.
And therein lies the Accord's problem. Honda has tried hard to make it a meaningful alternative to traditional premium manufacturers, and it's a lovely car, a nice thing to look at, to be in and to drive, but it's all so try-hard and self-conscious. Ultimately, it lacks the grace, conviction and oomph of its German counterparts.
I'll take one...
High residual values.
Thanks but no thanks...
Honda Accord (2.0 i-VTEC) Tourer £20,560
Engine 1997 cc
Combined power 156 bhp at 6,300 rpm
Torque 192 Nm at 4,300 rpm
Transmission 6-speed manual
Fuel 38.7 mpg (combined cycle)
CO2 173 g/km
0-62 mph 9.4 sec
Top speed 125 mph