Photo courtesy of Honda

Critics have accused Honda Motor Co. of losing its essential goodness — a design and engineering intelligence that traditionally has placed Honda above most other manufacturers of mass-market automobiles.

The critics are wrong. They are confusing overall change in the global automobile industry with alleged corporate slacking.

Over the past several months I’ve been going through Honda’s 2013 models, including those of its Acura luxury division. My conclusion: Honda remains Honda — a car manufacturer of impeccable quality, outstanding safety and common sense. If Honda now seems less able than its once highly acclaimed self, it is only because its rivals have greatly improved their game.

That, of course, means Honda must work even harder to maintain a high level of consumer esteem — a task at which the company has seemed to flounder in the last four years, especially in 2011, when its efforts were hampered by an earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

But “flounder,” in this case, does not mean Honda ever turned out poor products. It means the company continued developing and producing good cars, but automobiles that were not as attractive, in terms of styling or standard features, as those produced by its rivals.

My so-far-partial tour of Honda’s 2013 products, including this week’s subject car, the 2013 Honda Accord Sport sedan, tells me that Honda is ready to reclaim its top spot, in terms of quality design and engineering, in consumer share of mind in the mass market.

The Accord Sport is an exceptionally well-done front-wheel-drive midsize family sedan. “Sport” here indicates the car is one step above the base Accord LX. Both cars are powered by a gasoline-injected 2.4-liter in-line four-cylinder engine (185 horsepower, 181 foot-pounds of torque) expressly designed for people seeking economy in a midsize sedan.

“Economy” here does not mean “cheap” in exterior and interior design or materials; both are excellent. Nor does it mean meandering road performance, although drivers seeking more zip in their go would be better off getting an Acura ILX or a Honda Accord EX-L or with a 3.5-liter V-6 (278 horsepower, 252 foot-pounds of torque).

Choosing one over the other involves trade-offs in price, nearly $7,000 more for the EX-L V-6 over the Accord Sport, and fuel economy, a city-highway combined four miles per gallon less for the EX-L V-6.

It is a matter of consumer choice, but a choice that involves no trade-offs of safety, comfort or outstanding build quality. The Accord Sport comes standard with fabric seats, but they are high-quality, comfortable and easily cleanable (I spilled a milkshake) fabric seats.

The instrument panel is ergonomically sensible — easy to read and use. The interior itself is handsome, albeit conservative. Hint: Drivers seeking more oomph in the Accord Sport should refrain from using the green “Econ” button on the instrument panel, which reconfigures engine functions and slows things down a bit. Also, this column recommends buying the car with the standard six-speed manual transmission instead of the optional continuously variable automatic model.