DRIVEN: Honda’s new Ballade is perfect for its intended purpose
CAPE TOWN - Since its first introduction to South Africa in 1982 the Honda Ballade has become synonymous with reliable, no-nonsense everyday driving.
And that trend looks set to continue despite a plethora of SUV options in the market with the launch of the eighth generation Ballade.
Also new to the range is the introduction of an RS model which Honda calls "Road Sailing" that essentially is the edition of some cosmetic add-ons to give a sportier look and feel while underneath it's still the same engine and drivetrain.
The well-liked previous 1.5 litre SOHC i-VTEC engine has now been replaced with an improved 1.5 litre DOHC engine with i-VTEC technology. It's slightly up on power with 89kW and the same torque at 145Nm, which it reaches at a lower engine speed of 4500rpm.
It's coupled to a revised version of Honda's Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) which now features ‘G-Design’ shift control which Honda says creates the sense of driving a traditional automatic transmission through the integration of artificial gears during acceleration, but with the enhanced efficiency of a CVT.
That may be so and even though it's one the better CVT transmissions, there's still a whine, especially under acceleration, although at cruising speeds the Ballade's noise dampening does a good job of keeping the cabin quiet. There's no plan to bring in a manual option and to be fair, I doubt very much that for the target market it will be a deal breaker.
I reckon they'll be more focussed on the aesthetics of the Ballade which certainly isn't a bad thing.
It's quite striking with a sporty look to it with a low and wide stance, long bonnet and short front overhang and as a result is 110mm longer, 55mm wider, and 10mm lower than the outgoing model.
The lower stance also improves the handling characteristics which we gave a good testing along the winding roads of the Cape Winelands.
It handles the bends with minimal body roll even when pushed hard and although the steering doesn't provide a whole lot of feedback, it's direct and very light.
The Comfort and Elegance models are fitted with projector-type halogen lights, while the RS is fitted with LED headlights and fog lights while the Comfort and Elegance models roll on 15-inch alloy wheels, the RS is fitted with 16-inch alloys.
It also gets the RS treatment with front and rear sport bumpers, boot spoiler, mesh-type grille and a different fog light housing.
The Ballade has always been a comfortable car to drive and this has now also been improved with a slimmer A-pillar and repositioned side mirrors minimising blind spots. A new seat design with fabric upholstery in the Comfort and Elegance and leather interior in the RS, makes for very comfortable seating for both driver and passenger.
It's the addition of an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system in the Elegance and RS models that makes a significant difference to the interior. It's both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible and I connected my phone without any hassle in order to use Bluetooth.
In addition the RS comes with a 7-inch TFT digital multi-information display replacing the analogue cluster and can be controlled via the steering wheel.
In a sea of SUV options it's good to see that the Ballade retains its status as a solid, well-specced, reasonably priced sedan option for family travel, whether it's for the school run or a holiday. While it's not going to rock your boat when it comes to performance, for what the Ballade sets out to do, it's almost perfect.
Ballade 1.5 Comfort CVT: R336 500
Ballade 1.5 Elegance CVT: R366 900
Ballade 1.5 RS CVT: R396 900
The Honda Ballade range comes with a five-year/200 000 warranty, as well as a four-year/60 000km Service Plan and three-year AA Roadside Assistance.