A rather interesting notion was posed at the launch of the new Honda Ballade today. Turns out you’ll struggle to find a person in South Africa who doesn’t know someone who owned one of these iconic vehicles. My grandfather had two; both were as reliable at the hills and rather fun to drive.
The Ballade was first introduced to South Africa in 1982 and actually got off to a rather slow start. Only 1510 units were sold in the first year of production – an amazing fact given Honda dealerships were eventually moving 1000 units a month in the early 90’s. This iconic car was sold in South Africa until 2001 when Honda South Africa followed the international trend with the Civic nameplate taking over the sedan mantle.
Over time, the Civic sedan has not only grown in size, but has also become increasingly sophisticated, which has elevated it to a more upmarket segment. This has opened the door for the return of the legendary Ballade badge, adorning a compact, well-equipped, high-quality sedan that has been designed to occupy a similar market position as its illustrious predecessor.
To the car then and straight away you’ll notice two things. Firstly this is definitely a Honda – it is very much in keeping with the Japanese based operation’s family image. Second, it’s pretty damn good looking – contemporary, fresh, young even.
This Ballade truly is a compact sedan, but don’t be fooled into believing interior space is compromised by its dimensions. Some clever design and engineering sees the little Honda punching far above its weight for cabin and boot space.
For example I pushed the front seat back far enough for my legs to be outstretched, then hopped in the back only to be surprised by the amount of leg room I had to spare. All this is thanks to a mid mounted fuel tank (as opposed to under the rear seats) and a longer than would be expected wheel base.
A 1.5 litre i-VTEC motor (as found in the Jazz) is the only engine available across the range. Typical of all Honda engines this little four pot needs to be thrashed in order to get full enjoyment of the 88kW on tap. 0-100km/h is dealt with in a respectable 9.8 seconds and the Ballade will go on to a top speed of 185km/h.
There is the option of both a manual and automatic gearbox. Having spent most of the day in the automatic I’ll admit it wouldn’t be my first choice. Remember though that I’m 25 years old and like to drive fairly enthusiastically. Furthermore the auto is R12,000 heftier on the wallet and my wallet is thin enough as it is.
Road manners are dealt with by a MacPherson strut-based setup at the front while the rear has an H-shaped torsion beam configuration. Driven hard the Ballade has a tendency to understeer, as do all cars of a similar nature. What is unusual however is the subsequent snap into lift-off oversteer, something I imagine is caused by the mid-mounted fuel tank leaving little weight over the rear axle.
The options list for the Ballade is a rather short document, largely because a majority of the features come standard in both the Comfort and Elegance models – including a tilt-adjustable multi-function steering wheel, cruise control, air-conditioning, a trip computer and integrated USB and MP3 auxiliary connections.
A full range of safety systems, such as ABS and EBD (Electronic Brake Distribution), are also standard as well as five and seven airbags respectively which give the Ballade a five star safety rating in the Australian NCAP.
The best and most important factor the Ballade has going for it however is the price. Starting at R184,900 this Honda comes in as a proper bargain for a vehicle that punches far above its weight in terms of size and specifications. Look out, the Ballade is back.
Photo Credit: Honda SA