I had been confined to Gauteng for almost 8-months but finally, I was about to walk down the aisle – of an aeroplane – once again. The flight was eerily empty and I felt like an extra in a horror movie; you know the one that gets killed first by the ominously mysterious forces of darkness whose only real purpose in the film is to give the viewer sleepless nights and nervous thoughts about the safety of taking a shower!
Arriving in Cape Town, my driving partner for the 2-day event asserted his masculinity and informed me that we would be driving the range-topping Honda Ballade RS first. Then he flashed his customary cheeky grin at me before graciously offering to pack my luggage into the car, and whisking them away before I could respond.
The all-new Ballade represents many generations of Honda innovation at its best– Dinesh Govender, Honda GM of Automobiles and Corporate
TRUSTED & FAMILIAR BRAND PLATE
The Ballade is one of my all-time favourite products from Honda. It was first launched in 1982 and won the hearts of many motorists, quickly becoming an iconic model in the South African motoring arena. Now, almost 40 years later, the Ballade remains one of South Africa’s most recognisable brand names and re-enters the local motoring fray with 3-models as follows:
- Comfort – which offers an entry-level spec grade
- Elegance – which offers a mid-level spec grade and the
- RS – range-topping spec grade
“With a strikingly sporty and sophisticated exterior design, exceptional interior space and an extensive list of high-tech features, the all-new Ballade represents many generations of Honda innovation at its best,” states Dinesh Govender, Honda GM of Automobiles and Corporate.
The Honda Ballade falls within the C-Segment and competes against the Toyota Corolla, Mazda 3 and VW Polo sedan.
The new Ballade boasts an athletic and dynamic look and is built on the same platform as its predecessor. However, it is larger than its out-going sibling and sits 1100mm long, 55mm wider and 10mm lower than the previous derivative. It has a long bonnet and short front overhang giving its sculptured body shape the appearance of low and wide stance.
The Comfort and Elegance models are equipped with projector-type halogen headlights, while the range-topping RS model is fitted with LED headlights and fog lights. All models come standard with LED daytime running lights and distinctive LED taillights that wrap around the side of the body to accentuate the vehicle’s aerodynamic design.
The Comfort and Elegance models are equipped with 15-ich alloy (w)heels, while the RS model gains 16-inch alloys. The flagship RS model is further differentiated through the addition of exclusive RS design elements including front and rear sport bumpers, a rear trunk spoiler, a mesh-type grille and unique fog light housing.
Incidentally, Honda uniquely defines ‘RS’ as ‘Road Sailing’, which the manufacturer likens to the smooth nature of a boat sailing on water. RS, as executed by Honda, does not mean dynamically sporty driving. Rather RS, in Honda-speak, refers to the aesthetics of the vehicle – boot spoiler, sunroof, faux carbon-fibre diffuser and honeycombe grill.
INTERIOR STYLING & CONVENIENCE
Inside, the Ballade is surprisingly spacious. Rear legroom is quite impressive however headroom could be a bit of a challenge for those who are accustomed to reaching objects in high-standing cupboards.
In the Comfort and Elegance models, occupants are greeted by high-quality fabric upholstery on the seats, while those opting for the Ballade RS, will enjoy premium leather upholstery. The all-new Ballade’s interior is modern and driver-oriented reflecting Honda’s less-is-more design philosophy. Clearly the brief to designers was for them to focus on driver-oriented ergonomics, as is evident in the vehicle’s comfortable seating position which allows for easy access to the various vehicle controls.
Electrically operated side mirrors and windows, cruise control, automatic air-conditioning and auto headlights are all standard features across the range.
The flagship RS model gains a host of additional features and technology such as smart entry with walk-away auto-locking, a rear-view parking camera, electric sunroof, and an all-new intuitive 7-inch TFT multi-information display replacing the traditional analogue instrument cluster. This allows the driver to easily adjust the contents displayed on the instrument cluster via controls on the steering wheel.
The latest-generation Ballade offers a host of standard safety features across the model range. Active safety features include an advanced Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) which allow for more effective vehicle control. Rear parking sensors are standard on all but the base Comfort model, while the Elegance and RS models gain a reverse parking camera for added convenience.
Passive safety is provided for by driver, front passenger, side and curtain SRS airbags as standard across the model range. In addition, all models are equipped with seatbelt pre-tensioners and ISOFIX child seat anchors.
“The all-new Ballade is a product for our Honda loyalists and Honda fans alike, who have grown up with the brand in their households and who appreciate the inherent values and qualities associated with owning a Honda,” Govender says.
ENGINE & TRANSMISSION
When I realized that the new Honda would probably still come fitted with CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) my heart sank and I was about as happy as a deflated balloon. CVTs are really not my thing. Come to think of it I don’t think I’ve ever seen the words ‘CVT’ and ‘excitement’ ever used in the same sentence. They tend to be whiny, monotonous, high-pitched, headache-inducing driving companions. Imagine getting your toddler a happy meal but driving off before collecting the toy – yeap, that’s my general demeanour when driving anything CVT related.
That said, the new Ballade is fitted with a revised version of Honda’s Continuously Variable Transmission which features ‘G-Design’ shift control. This 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.
The all-new Ballade is a product for our Honda loyalists and Honda fans alike, who have grown up with the brand in their households and who appreciate the inherent values and qualities associated with owning a Honda.– DINESH GOVENDER, HONDA GM OF AUTOMOBILES AND CORPORATE
The new Honda Ballade still features a 1.5-litre petrol engine but unlike the 1.5-litre SOHC i-VTEC unit in the outgoing Ballade, the latest model has a new and improved 1.5-litre DOHC engine (with iVTEC technology). The Ballade’s new heart, beats a slightly higher power output of 89kW and 145Nm of torque.
WOMAN AT THE WHEEL
When it was my turn at the wheel, I had the look of a toddler who had discovered not one but two toys in her happy meal! I was awe-struck by the on-road stability of the new Ballade, which I attribute to its low centre of gravity. The engine didn’t feel at all underpowered and believe me, I pushed our test unit as far as I safely could, just to see when the engine would start to complain. I also couldn’t believe the CVT wasn’t screaming blue murder and I wondered if it would tell me where to get off if I prodded it long and hard enough.
Thankfully I didn’t place any bets on such an eventuality because I would have been out of pocket. The new Ballade took my ‘abuse’ in stride and didn’t as much as a murmur in defiance.
The highlight of the drive for me though was the revised CVT, which had me doing a hypothetical moon-walk, backwards in my head. Not only is it as silent as a radio during load-shedding, but I was also pleased with its quick responsiveness. It didn’t go on an infuriatingly endless hunt-for-the-right-gear which CVTs tend to do.
Although I was extremely impressed by the Ballade’s drive and performance, I am still not ready to give it my all. The launch took place at sea-level where most vehicles put their best foot forward by default. The real test will be when I get the Ballade on test in my natural habitat, Gauteng, which is at a much higher altitude than Cape Town. At that point, we will know for sure if I can fully recommend the new Ballade as the newest member of anybody’s family.
FUEL EFFICIENCY AND CARBON EMISSIONS
You would think that after driving as hard as I did, the new Ballade might have emptied its tank in silent revenge but it didn’t. Honda claims a combined fuel consumption figure of 5.5-litres per 100km which I am inclined to optimistically accept at this point. I will have a better sense of what the efficiency might be when I drive the Ballade in Gauteng and in a more mild-mannered way.
According to Founder of Green Building Design Group and Green Mobility Guru for Driving In Heels, Songo Didiza, the carbon emissions of 131g/km in the new Honda Ballade is quite impressive. “There are motorcycles with higher carbon emissions than this”, she added.
The colour line-up for the new Ballade includes a new Platinum White (Pearl), Radiant Red (Metallic), Lunar Silver (Metallic) and Modern Steel (Metallic)
Based on its performance at launch, I give the Ballade a confident 7 heels out of 10
WARRANTY AND SERVICE PLAN
For additional peace of mind, the Honda Ballade range comes standard with Honda’s five-year/200 000 warranty, as well as a four-year/60 000km Service Plan with 15 000km service intervals. Customers also have the reassurance of three-year AA Roadside Assistance.
Ballade 1.5 Comfort CVT R336 500
Ballade 1.5 Elegance CVT R366 900
Ballade 1.5 RS CVT R396 900
Go to @heelsandhorspowermag (Instagram) for on location images of the launch.