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ROAD TEST: Honda Ballade 1.5 Elegance
Johannesburg - The Ballade was the car that introduced the Honda brand to South Africa back in the 1980s, and it went on to become a popular seller for several generations before eventually being renamed the Civic.
In 2011 the Ballade nameplate returned here in the form of a cheaper, Jazz-based sedan that slotted in under the Civic, and it’s just been replaced by a new-generation version. Imported from India, the new Ballade is built on the same chassis as the next-generation Jazz hatchback which is yet to be launched in South Africa
Where the larger Civic competes in the Golf/Corolla class, the Ballade’s more of a price rival to cars like the VW Polo and Hyundai Accent, and the Honda’s most obvious trump card is its superior space. At 4.4 metres long it’s one of the largest cars in its segment and has notably more rear legroom than an Accent or Polo.
Its cargo hold also offers a class leading 536 litres of space (versus 389 for an Accent, 454 for a Polo, and 466 for a Chevrolet Sonic sedan), although the Honda loses out on practicality by not having a fold-down rear seat, which means bulkier objects have to be schlepped by trailer. The boot carries a full-sized spare however, which offers good peace-of-mind on our pothole-infested roads.
EASY ON THE EYE
Exterior styling’s easy on the eye. It’s nothing fancy or flamboyant, but a pleasingly modern shape that’s less bland than some rivals in the compact sedan sector.
Inside it’s a pleasant design too, for the money. The dashboard surfaces are hard plastics instead of the classier-feeling soft-touch type, but the finishes are neat and it looks far from cheap – except for there being no sound-deadening under the bootlid which shows evidence of cost-cutting. Some aluminium-look brightwork adds a bit of styling zing to prevent the otherwise black-dominated interior from looking austere.
Just two Ballade specification lines are offered, Trend and Elegance.
At a price of R195 900 the starter-level Trend comes fairly well equipped with six airbags, ABS brakes, stability control, Bluetooth/USB, hill-start assist and air conditioning among other features.
We road-tested the Ballade Elegance, selling for R220 190, which has an unusually high level of spec for this class of car including cruise control and hill-start assist, while the 7” touchscreen audio system and reversing camera are also gizmos you’d usually find in more expensive cars.
There’s several ways to get your music playing through the speakers, including USB and aux slots, and Bluetooth, while an HDMI port allows content from your smart device, including movies and images, to be played back on the large 7” display.
The touchscreen is a neat touch in this price category, as is the instrument cluster which changes colour based on how economically you’re driving. Less impressive was the prominent disinfectant-like smell that permeated the cabin, which reminded me of a hospital.
A single engine serves duty in the Ballade range, namely the same 1.5-litre i-VTEC petrol unit used in the Jazz, which is paired with either a five-speed manual (as in our test car) or CVT automatic transmission.
Outputs of 88kW and 145Nm efficiently haul the car through the urban commute, and there are no major power cravings on the open road.
In general the car’s refined and whisks along without any intrusive noises, although the engine becomes a bit buzzy at higher revs. A sixth gear, as offered in the Hyundai Accent, would probably make the Ballade a quieter cruiser and improve the fuel consumption. Our test car averaged 7.3 litres per 100km (compared to Honda’s claimed 5.9 litres) which gave the small 40-litre fuel tank a range of over 500km.
Light and unobtrusive controls make the Ballade an easy car to drive, and the commuting grind is made more stress-free by the hill-start assist which prevents roll-backs. The five-speed gearshift’s a little notchy, especially when the car’s cold, but the low mileage of our test vehicle may have been a contributing factor and it might loosen up with a few more kays on the odo.
Ride quality is good and bumps are soaked up efficiently. The handling’s neat too and the car sweeps obediently through tight turns, with the electric power steering feeling easy to turn without being artificially light.
The Ballade has a long-standing reputation here and although it’s been demoted to slot in under the Civic, it competes very strongly in the compact sedan class.
It’s a Polo-sized (and priced) car with Jetta-like legroom, along with high spec levels that include a reverse-parking camera and glamorous touchscreen display. That makes it good value for money even though it’s one of the pricier cars in its category (see below). -Drive Times
BALLADE VS ITS RIVALS
Ballade 1.5 Elegance
88kW and 145Nm, R220 900, six airbags, ABS, cruise control, 3-year/100 000km warranty, 4-year/60 000km service plan, stability control.
Hyundai Accent sedan 1.6 Fluid
91kW and 156Nm, R210 900, six airbags, ABS, 5-year/150 000km warranty and 5-year/90 000km service plan (no stability control).
VW Polo sedan 1.6 Comfortline
77kW and 155Nm, R221 700, four airbags, cruise control, ABS, 3-year/120 000km warranty (service plan and stability control optional).
Chevrolet Sonic sedan 1.6 LS
85kW and 155Nm, R198 600, four airbags, ABS, 5-year/120 000km warranty and 3-year/60 000km service plan (no stability control).