Honda's enthusiast sedan does practical differently.

Honda's relationship with the enthusiast buyer has been a tumultuous one over the past two decades. The company that once sold the S2000, Civic Si, RSX and NSX simultaneously now offers only half as many choices for American-market car buffs. Until just recently, it was only one.

Many saw this downturn in performance offerings as a sign of Honda moving even further away from its "Golden Age" roots--the years where Honda's cars were just as attractive to the car lover as they were to the mainstream buyer. More and more it seemed that Honda was building cars for people who didn't really care about them.

Fundamentally, though, what made many of Honda's early offerings so desirable wasn't the fact that they were particularly exciting cars. Instead, they were simply something that most of the offerings from the domestic competition were not--small, nimble and relatively sophisticated.

With other manufacturers improving significantly in those categories over the years, how viable is it to make a case that Honda has regressed? While it may not offer as many dedicated sporty cars as it once did, is that by itself really an indictment of the quality of its core models?

The basics
Enter the Accord Sport. It doesn't get much more "core" than the Accord. Like Camry, it's a nameplate that is synonymous with "midsize sedan." Honda offers the Sport with either a six-speed manual or a continuously variable transmission; unfortunately, we're looking at the latter.

"Sport" is more than just an appearance package or a set of anti-roll bars in this case. The Accord's 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is also tuned differently, producing 189 horsepower and 181lb-ft of torque. On paper, there's only a five-horsepower difference between this and the run-of-the-mill variant of the four-pot, but it also boasts a livelier character.

The competition
The Accord Sport is kind of an oddball. Most competitors who offer a sportier option do so with a range-topping engine. Many would draw a straight line from the Accord Sport to the Mazda6. It makes sense, as both are four-cylinder sedans designed to appeal to those who prioritize driving. The latter, however, isn't offered with a performance-oriented trim.

The experience
The Accord Sport doesn't go too far out of the way to differentiate itself. Sure, you'll find a set of 19-inch wheels on the outside and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and Sport-specific seats on the inside, but it's still basically an Accord through-and-through.

That said, we don't have many complaints about the Sport's interior. Real knobs and buttons? Count us in. The seats are comfortable and the controls are laid out in an intuitive and functional manner. We could do without the awkwardly large, straight-line gear selector but opting for the manual would address that.

The drive
For starters, let's talk about the CVT. If you're familiar with our thoughts on other recent Honda products, you know we're fairly comfortable with Honda's latest automatics. They're generally better than they have any right to be. This is no exception.

The Sport never feels slow or sluggish. Pop the gear selector into "S" and it's perhaps even a bit too responsive. The trade-off there, of course, is that you won't be achieving the Sport's 35 MPG highway rating if you're running around in Sport mode all the time. But straight-line performance is not the name of the game here. If that's what you care about, Honda still offers the Accord with its 3.5L V6.

The Sport shines is when you need to turn corners. The low curb weight afforded by the four-cylinder engine combined with the Sport's big wheels and grippy tires makes for an excellent dynamic partner. As in other models, the steering feedback leaves a bit to be desired, but that's the rule these days rather than the exception.

When you put it all together, the Sport is a throwback to the generations that made the Accord what it is today. It's sporty enough, comfortable enough, sophisticated enough and practical enough that it won't leave you wanting.

Leftlane's bottom line

The Accord has long been underrated by a large subset of enthusiasts. The Sport puts that neglect in the spotlight. While we'd rather have the six-speed manual, our CVT-equipped tester acquits itself as an acceptable compromise. And, as a bonus, it's affordable too.

2016 Honda Accord Sport with Honda Sensing, base price $25,965; as-tested, $26,785
Destination, $820