For a start, the actual knob is milled aluminium, small, and sporty. A good start. Then comes the change. From cog to cog there is a sharp click-clack: direct, precise and with no wobble. You can slam it home aggressively or flick it lightly with one finger.
It was the first thing I noticed about the car and generally, as first impressions count, mine was 'This car has been seriously well engineered'.
Then I drove it to Geneva and back, with a little help from some fellow Fleet News' staffers. Last impressions as I got out of the car after our 1,600-mile round trip across the continent: 'This car has been seriously well engineered.'
It is not just the precision- engineered gearbox that impresses. The 2.0-litre model we previously had on test felt underpowered, but the 2.4-litre 186bhp i-VTEC fits the car much better, and like all Honda variable valve engines, wails maniacally and likes to be revved very hard – maximum power is delivered at almost 7,000rpm.
Mix in direct steering, which is still a little too light but not as bad as some previous Hondas, a stiff chassis and decent grip and you have a car that is set up for fun. These are the sort of cars that are doing the business in the upper medium sector at the moment: Ford Mondeo, Mazda6 and BMW 3-series to name a few sport-orientated models.
Throttle response is pin sharp, although the drive-by-wire system seems to have something of a on-off switch, which does not help smoothness at low speeds. The Type S we had comes with part-leather sports seats, cruise control, six CD player and proved to be a comfortable and able cruiser for all passengers – the smooth French autoroutes and steep motorway sweeps through the Alps proved that. Just whack it into sixth, stick on the cruise control and settle back in the supportive seats.
Behind the wheel
Honda expects the majority of drivers for its Accord to be males in middle and upper management, aged between 40 and 50. This means Honda is looking for about 18,000 units sold in the UK annually – its biggest European market – whereas the old Accord's record was about 22,000 units. Quality not quantity is what the new Accord is all about.
The quality shines through in the interior. Although the hard plastic switches and knobs lack the ultimate top-notch touch of the German big three and some of the panache, the Accord is put together faultlessly, with some liberal use of carbon fibre effect to add to the racy feel.
It certainly feels a cut above the Ford, Mazda and Vauxhall efforts in the sector which means that, from Honda's point of view, its product sits exactly where it wants to. Its residuals are a cut above as well: 40%/£7,550 after three-years/60,000- miles. That's premium upper-medium territory.
So on to the competition in that sector, sitting between the volume brands and BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi. The Accord is as stylish a car – in a hard-edged Japanese way – as the more curvaceous Alfa Romeo 156 and feels better built than the new Saab 9-3.
At £19,095 on-the-road a 9-3 2.0t Linear is £500 more expensive while a driver would need to go down to a BMW 316i SE to get near it on price. If I really couldn't afford to go any higher for a better-specced 3-series, the Accord would be my choice of the three.
Model: Accord 2.4 i-VTEC Type S
Engine (cc): 2,354
Max power (bhp/rpm): 187/6,800
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 164/4,500
Max speed (mph): 141
0-62mph (sec): 7.9
Comb fuel consumption (mpg): 31.4
CO2 emissions (g/km): 214
Transmission: six sp manual
Fuel tank capacity (l/gal): 65
On sale: now
Price (OTR): £19,095