THE 1991 HONDA Accord SE sedan is the neighborhood sweetheart who would have made a good spouse. It's perfect. Does everything right. It's likable. But it's not a car that I'd want to run off with.

It's boring.

This is a hi-honey car with no kiss, no hug, no squeeeeze. It's "How was your day?" with no intention of getting a negative or controversial response. It is predictability as virtue, and it assumes, because you bought it, that you are equally predictable -- no surprises, good or bad.

Geez, I hate the Accord, but feel guilty for doing so, because it's a car I ought to love. Some version of the Accord has made Car and Driver magazine's "Ten Best" car list for nine consecutive years. In 1989, the Accord became one of the best-selling cars in the United States, with 362,707 sales. Thus, anyone who dislikes the car must be a bit daft, right?

Maybe so. I dunno. All I know is that from a $20,000 "special edition" sedan, I want more than predictability, durability and reliability. I can get that from cars, foreign and domestic, costing half as much.

No, no. For that kind of money, I want fun, grins, smiles. "Hi, honey" just doesn't get it.

Background: The front-wheel-drive Accord SE (Special Edition) leads the lineup of 1991 Honda Accord automobiles. Other Accords include the base DX, the slightly better appointed LX and the decidedly upscale EX. The DX, LX and EX models are available as two-door coupes and four-door sedans. A Honda Accord station wagon is also on sale in 1991.

Complaints: The sheer lack of imagination and feel in the new Accord's interior and exterior styling. Honda's publicists call that styling "traditional." I think "boring" is a much better fit. What bugs me is that Honda is the same company that produces the super-stunning Acura NSX sports car. Why not give a little of that magic to the dowdy Accord?

Praise: Excellent compact-car engineering. From its four-wheel, double-wishbone suspension to its one-piece, rattle-free instrument panel, the five-passenger Accord SE is an engineering marvel. Still, the problem for Honda is that many of the Accord's competitors offer comparable quality -- often at a lower price.

Head-turning quotient: Marginal, at best.

Ride, acceleration and handling: The Accord SE's ride is terrific. The car's wishbone suspension, coupled with large hydraulic shock absorbers and a front stabilizer bar, smooths out the bumpiest of roads.

Acceleration is a whiny, groaning affair at speeds under 45 miles per hour. But the revs at higher speeds are a completely different story. The Accord SE zooms along expressways, which presents something of a decent balance: The car bumbles along in neighborhoods, where you shouldn't be going fast, anyway. It streaks along the highway, where the ability to get up and go can get you out of trouble.

The Accord SE is equipped with a 2.2-liter, four-cylinder, 16-valve engine rated 140 horsepower at 5,600 rpm.

Sound system: Four-speaker AM/FM stereo radio and cassette, Honda installed. Very good.

Mileage: About 25 to the gallon (17-gallon tank, estimated 415 miles range on usable volume of 87-octane unleaded gasoline), mostly highway, running with four occupants.

The Accord SE comes with a standard four-speed automatic transmission, which means it consumes slightly more fuel than Accords equipped with five-speed manual gearboxes.

Price: The base price of the Accord SE is $19,795. Dealer's invoice price is $16,628. Price as tested is $20,070, including a $275 destination charge.

Purse-strings note: Some dealers out there still play the markup game on Honda Accord models. Don't play it with them. The overall car market is soft. The Accord's competition -- including the Mercury Sable, Nissan Maxima, Mazda 626 and Buick Regal -- is tough. You can bargain.

Warren Brown covers the automotive industry for The Washington Post.