Honda moves up a class with its latest Ballade
RS stands for ‘Road Sailing’ but at these prices it may not be plain sailing for new Honda sedan
Honda SA has launched its new-generation Ballade, a sedan that’s followed a circuitous path to become the car of today.
The original Ballade was the car that introduced SA buyers to the brand back in 1982 but when it was eventually renamed the Civic, Honda SA retired the Ballade nameplate for 10 years. It was reintroduced in 2011 as a compact sedan that bridged the gap between the Jazz and Civic, competing against the VW Polo Sedan, Toyota Corolla Quest and Hyundai Accent in the more budget-orientated B segment.
As the latest Ballade has grown in size, Honda has decided to pitch it as a price competitor to C-segment sedans such as the new-generation Toyota Corolla and Mazda3, and there’s also in-house rivalry as the range-topping Ballade is priced only R13,000 less than the entry-level Civic.
It’s offered in three variants priced from R336,500 to R396,900, all powered by a 1.5l petrol engine paired with front wheel drive and a continuously variable transmission (CVT); no manual is available.
Alongside the regular Comfort and Elegance grades, Honda has confusingly endowed its most expensive Ballade with an RS badge, a red one at that. It’s a moniker normally denoting fire-spitting performers such as the Ford Focus RS and Porsche GT3 RS, but in the humbly powered Ballade it’s a purely cosmetic package with sportier-looking front and rear sport bumpers, a boot spoiler, a mesh-type grille and unique fog light housings.
Honda says the badge stands for “Road Sailing” which refers to the smooth road-going nature of the vehicle.
Quite what buyers will make of this discordant labelling remains to be seen, but the car did deliver the promised smooth ride when I drove it at the Cape Town launch last week. It displayed good long-distance waftability while serving up tidy handling through snaking roads such as the iconic Franschhoek Pass.
The 1.5l i-VTEC petrol engine carried over from the previous Ballade has seen the introduction of a dual overhead cam for improved efficiency and reduced emissions. Power has increased by 1kW to 89kW, while peak torque stays the same at 145Nm but is now delivered at a lower engine speed of 4,500rpm.
While there’s no hint of RS-like excitement, the Ballade delivers easy-going commuting pace and doesn’t feel underendowed. The two-pedal car is effortless to drive in the grind of traffic, but under acceleration on the open road it drones away with the typical high-revving characteristic of CVTs, particularly when ascending hills.
The cars are fairly well stocked with modcons. All Ballade variants, from the baseline Comfort specification, come with ABS brakes, stability control and six airbags as standard safety features. Electric windows, cruise control, automatic air-conditioning and auto headlights are all standard fare across the range.
The Comfort and Elegance have cloth seats and analogue instrument panels while the range-topper offers leather upholstery and a digital multi-information display. The RS also adds items such as keyless operation, rear-view parking camera, LED headlights, and an electric sunroof to the spec sheet.
Elegance and RS models have a large touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality, while the baseline version makes do with an old-school audio system.
The RS, in addition to its leather seats, has cowhide on the steering wheel and gear lever to perk up the cabin, but the hard plastic dashboard doesn’t radiate the plush feel of rivals that have soft-touch surfaces.
At 110mm longer and 55mm wider than the previous Ballade, the newcomer has a roomy family-sized cabin that compares favourably with the C-segment sedans it is pitched against, and it is substantially larger than a Polo Sedan and a Hyundai Accent.
But trying to position the Ballade in a more premium segment may be a hard-sell for Honda, particularly as it has a more natural rival in the Toyota Corolla Quest, which offers similar size and specifications, a more powerful 1.8l engine, and is priced between R262,000 and R334,000.
Ballade 1.5 Comfort CVT — R336,500
Ballade 1.5 Elegance CVT — R366,900
Ballade 1.5 RS CVT — R396,900
Includes five-year/200,000km warranty, four-year/60,000km service plan and three-year AA Roadside Assistance.
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