Lerato Matebese spent a week in the new B-segment sedan Honda Ballade to see how it stacks up against its rivals.
Honda SA was probably one of the automotive manufacturers hardest hit by the tsunami that ravaged Japan in 2011.
Production was severely affected, which meant the company’s then stock of Ballades stock that was destined for South Africa was grossly curtailed.
As a result, the company took a considerable knock in its sales. This gaping hole that saw a slight recovery only in 2012 when stock supply came back on stream. The Ballad played a pivotal role in South Africa because it was the company’s entry-level model before the advent of the Brio range.
Honda recently launched the latest variant of the Ballade and, with it, a great number deal of convenience items.
I must say the frontal styling that looks as though it was lifted off the current Civic sedan, complete with the chrome-like looking horizontal bar and with the floating emblem.
The rear is reminiscent of the previous-generation Accord with its slim-design light clusters. While styling a sedan can prove somewhat of a challenge for manufacturers, the overall design of the Ballade is anything but offensive.
Moving inwards reveals a very well-laid-out cabin, but perhaps even more significant is the huge amount of passenger space. Head and legroom, particularly in the back, is quite generous and could accommodate an average-sized person with ease. Boot space at a generous 536l is certainly one of the Ballade’s best-selling points.
The interior appointments are also noteworthy, including the fairly intuitive touchscreen facility that liven-up the cabin’s ambience.
The seats in our Elegance variant were similar to those found in the Jazz and offer excellent comfort and adjustability. I enjoyed the ergonomic feel of the multifunction steering wheel, but missed the lack of the rake adjustment — it is adjustable only for height.
Tactile quality is on a par with vehicles at this price level and there was little in the way of rattles and squeaks, an indication of a well-put-together cabin.
Under the bonnet lurks the familiar 1.5l i-Vtec engine that powers the Jazz. Allied to a five-speed manual gearbox, it offers fairly decent performance, but our model, which has done only1 500km, felt a little lacklustre in when getting to higher revs, and the transmission operation felt notchy in first and second gear.
I suspect that with more mileage things should smoothen out somewhat on both accounts.
There was a pungent smell in our test car that was difficult to button down, and even the air-freshener supplied by the manufacturer had its work cut out.
That aside, there is a great deal to like about the vehicle, including ranging from the acres of space available for passengers and luggage. Competing in a sedan segment that includes counts the Kia Rio, Hyundai Accent and the Volkswagen Polo, it is perhaps safe to say that the competition in the segment is rather stiff.
However, in its defence, the Ballade comes with a well-kitted and spacious interior, and a thrifty if not quite sprightly engine. Ride quality is, at worst, acceptable, while road and wind noise are pronounced on the open road at the national speed limit.
Handling is predictable and not far removed from the Jazz in the way it manages to be composed on rutted road surfaces and the like.
In a segment that is largely driven by value, it is certainly interesting to see that manufacturers are putting a great deal of effort into on their B- segment cars, with some of the infotainment technology being noteworthy.
The previous-generation Ballade offered a well-packaged proposition that was keenly priced and a worthy alternative to the likes of the VW Polo sedan.
The new model, in essence, takes things further by adding more space and equipment levels to the value cocktail.
This , which bodes well for buyers looking for a quality sedan with good convenience levels.
However, both the Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio come similarly specified save for a few items, while the Accent is priced from R195 900 and comes with a 150000km warranty.
The Kia is a little down on power, but from a styling perspective and a price of R202 995, it is the one I would gladly drive away in.
Engine: 1497cc inline four cylinder
Power: 88kW at 6000 rpm
Torque: 145Nm at4600 rpm
0-100km/h: 9.6 seconds
Top Speed: 185 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 5.9l/100km CO2: 140g/km
-Lerato Matebese: Ignition Live