The 1999 Honda Accord EX four-door has styling as bland as the Sonata's, but it's more than a step up mechanically. The 2.3-liter, 150-h.p. 4-cylinder is very lively, the 5-speed manual very smooth, the 25 m.p.g. city/31 m.p.g. highway mileage rating very attractive.

One major gripe: the seat bottom stops less than halfway down the thigh, which may be the design of choice for a bar stool, but not for a car seat that needs to provide long-distance comfort.

Too bad the seat was so skimpy, because ride and handling is most pleasant. The suspension system smooths road abrasions Sonata lets filter through.

Decent price: $20,900 that requires only a $415 freight charge to motor away with such standard equipment as variable-assist power steering; four-wheel disc brakes; anti-lock brakes; keyless entry; AM/FM/CD-player with six speakers; air conditioning with cabin micron air filter; cruise control; power locks/windows; trunk pass-through rear seat; power plug; body-colored power mirrors and side moldings; tinted glass; alloy wheels; 15-inch, all-season tires; and power moonroof.

Wonder why Accord vies with Camry for nation's best-selling car? Look at the base price and the list of standard features, which defines value. Imports made their mark in the U.S. by keeping the standard equipment list long, the option list short, and Honda seems to be going back to its roots with this Accord.