Friday, 25 February 2011


Honda’s latest Ballade model is now available to buy from the nearest Honda dealership. The car, although not strictly new (it was launched in 24 other world markets, all outside of Europe), still looks fresh and untouched. Judging by our first impressions, the new Ballade will only have its makers and marketers to blame should it not crack monthly top 20 sales charts in this country.

Anyone over the age of 30 will remember Ballades of the early 1980s, which later gained a half Knight Rider-style set of headlights. Distributed and supported by Daimler-Benz South Africa between 1982 and the late 1990s, Honda’s Ballade was known not only as a “baby Merc” by locals, but also as a tough cookie that could last a lifetime in the right hands. The cars were not just luxurious and innovative but also highly durable. And a little pricier than direct rivals from Nissan and Toyota it must be said.

Not the new Ballade though. Offered in a single 1.5-litre SOHC i-VTEC, four-cylinder petrol, the car promises to be drivable in mid-range where most users need the power. Speaking of which, 88kW of it rubs off at a maximum 6600rpm, with peak torque of 145Nm coming in at 4800rpm. Honda seems oblivious to the turbo revolution that’s currently taking automotive engineers by storm. Nevertheless the motor carries enough grunt to satisfy the everyday user whose needs are not at all tied to how quickly a car can get between nought and 100km/h. Incidentally the slowest model will do just that in 12.2, while the fastest achieves it in 9.8 seconds as claimed by Honda. Gearboxes are either 5-speed manual or 5-speed automatic, the latter being something of a novelty in this segment.

Four models with two trims each are being sold with immediate effect. At entry is the 1.5 Comfort with a 5-speed manual gearbox and C02 emissions of 148g/km. Standard with that are things like electrically adjustable mirrors, air conditioning, a CD player with radio and MP3 compatibility, as well as a USB connection to play music from. Also fitted at factory level are safety bits such as ABS and Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA).

Elegance trimmed cars add juicy furniture like Bluetooth cell phone connectivity, six airbags and leather trim for the steering wheel. Also 16-inch alloy rims with 185/55 R16 tyres feature prominently at this level.

My little launch trip was covered in the 5-speed manual. Seats are comfortable with good quality fabric. The gear changes proved to be smooth, if not very engaging. There is a familiarity to it of course, since both the Jazz and the Ballade share the same unit. At times I was hitting highs of 180km/h on the isolated open roads with very little trouble. True, the car only had myself and co-driver as loads, but still, that is commendable.

Suspension is cut between hard-soft and soft-soft, giving ground to enough feel for the steering wheel to come alive once in a while, while getting rid of annoyingly bumpy roads. A MacPherson strut front and H-shaped torsion beam layout is the norm for the Ballade, putting it cleanly into the modern family car regime.

My main question, probably similar to yours, was “where then, does the Civic fit in?”. Honda answered that in terms of pricing, specs and overall desirability, the Civic – due to be launched in Mzansi in the middle of the year – will be placed above the Ballade.

Although they expect to move about 190 units monthly, honestly there is no reason why Honda SA cannot at the very least double that. Unless there are supply constraints at the factory in Thailand.

Honda Ballade Pricing
1.5 Comfort manual (R184 900)
1.5 Comfort automatic (R196 900)
1.5 Elegance manual (R193 900)
1.5 Elegance automatic (R205 900)

1 comment:

Senzo said...

My father had one in 1985 and it was so good. but we had an accident and wrote it off so it's gone now but it was very strong and lasted until 1997.