By: IOL Motoring Staff

Johannesburg - Three years after resurrecting the Ballade nameplate in South Africa with a rebadged Honda City, Honda is upping its game with a bigger and better Ballade.

It's still based on the City, albeit the very latest version which is 45mm longer and 5mm taller than the previous model. Best of all, the extra space has been squeezed into the place it where counts the most - between the axles. The 50mm-longer wheelbase allowed Honda to endow the Ballade with even more cabin space. In fact, Honda claims that rear legroom is on par with a larger D-segment sedan, while boot space grows to 536 litres - also comparable with many larger saloons.

There's a lot more to the new Ballade than just space though - it comes to the party with a smarter interior with plenty of modern gizmos.

NEAT CABIN

Jesse Adams attended the launch in Gauteng on Tuesday and was suitably impressed:

“The new interior is a massive improvement with soft-touch padding in places where the old one featured cheap, hard plastic.

“It's also easy to see neat touches such as an instrument cluster that changes colour depending on how economically you drive, that have trickled down from the more expensive Civic range.”

Two trim levels are available, with the base Trend model offering the basics like air conditioning, electric windows and mirrors, remote central locking and a USB/Bluetooth audio system.

SMART FEATURES

Opt for the flagship Elegance and you're treated to a multi-function steering wheel, cruise control and a seven-inch touchscreen display for the audio system, which has eight speakers in this guise. The touchscreen offers gesture-based control and has an HDMI port that allows pics, video and audio data to be accessed from compatible smartphones and devices.

The safety bar is set high across the bar, with both Ballade grades fitted with six airbags, active head rests, Vehicle Stability Assist and hill-start assist.

MORE FRUGAL

While the new Ballade has clearly taken a technological stride you could be forgiven for thinking, at first glance, that it has remained stagnant in the engine compartment. After all, the new one is still fitted with a 1.5-litre i-VTEC normally aspirated petrol engine that, as before, develops 88kW and 145Nm.

Yet Honda has done some serious tinkering to reduce internal friction, improve economy and create a flatter torque curve. Honda claims a 5.9 litre per 100km combined consumption figure for the manual model.

CVT CONUNDRUM

On the self-shifting front, the previous model's automatic transmission has made way for a lighter and more efficient CVT gearbox, which has its pitfalls as Adams explains:

“This gearbox does suffer from that typical slipping clutch sensation that some of us dislike so much,” although Honda has fitted a device that helps mitigate this on pull-offs at least.

The manual 'box still appears to be the best bet though, and Adams describes it as an excellent manual “with a snickity, high quality action that some pricier performance cars would be jealous of.”

Expect to see the new Ballades in local showrooms from the beginning of June, with prices starting just shy of the R200K mark, and including a four-year/60 000km service plan.

PRICES

1.5 Trend - R195 900

1.5 Trend CVT - R210 500

1.5 Elegance - R220 990

1.5 Elegance CVT - R235 590