Driven - Apr 2021

Road Sailing with Honda’s new Ballade

Relative comfort and affordability are things that are seldomly mutually exclusive in the car market, particularly with the small sedan segment. Alex Shahini recently spent some time with the new 8th generation Ballade RS to evaluate the newcomers updates and how its disposition stacks it up against its competitors and predecessor. 

Japanese vehicles are revered among South Africans for their easy maintenance and indomitable reliability. While small sedan sales have been dwindling in favour of compact hatches and small SUVs, I would be certain that any number of e-hailing taxi services would comprise a selection of outgoing Ballade models in their fleet. While it may not be as popular as the primary choice found in the Toyota Corolla Quest, one of them is sure to have ferried you and your friends safely and comfortably home after concluding weekend festivities in the early hours of the morning. 

Yuishi Fukuda, president of Honda Motor Southern Africa says the new Ballade’s aim was mobility, with focus on providing the highest quality at a reasonable price. These core and entwined aspects that are crucial in the success of this newcomer in Mzansi which I feel it has hit the nail on the head with. 

The cabin for example, exudes that premium quality feel with a simple and minimalistic interior fascia, incorporating tactile touch-points and materials of high and durable quality, and finished off leather upholstery that makes it feel like a class above. This elevates the 8th Generation from the rapidly ageing interior from its predecessors and brings it into modern contention with more recent releases from Toyota and Suzuki. 

Additional comfort could be found in the overall spaciousness of the cabin for all occupants. While all RS models include a sunroof as standard equipment, my head would occasionally brush against the bulge on the headliner as a result of my forward seating position on account of my shorter than average legs. While it wasn’t completely invasive of my experience, the ample arm and legroom for passengers alludes to the cabin of a much larger car which is why entry-level additions will presumably attempt to chip away at the market share Toyota sedans dominate as e-hailing taxis. 

Fukuda placed additional emphasis on affordability and while the Ballade derivatives are slightly more expensive than their competitors, their build quality makes the additional outlay seem worth it. It will be available in 3 variations, all powered by a 1.5-litre motor mated to Honda’s revised version of a CVT. The entry level Comfort comes in at a competitive R344 300, while the better equipped Elegance is priced in the middle of the range at R375 400. Our RS variant costs just above R400 000 and is undoubtedly the flagship model with its aesthetic trim pieces and additional interior comforts that raise the overall experience. 

In the automotive world, the RS nameplate is steeped with illustrious and athletic connotations to a variety of different manufacturers that have made use of it over their histories. All instill a sense of power and an intrepid nature while behind the wheel. Honda went in a completely contrary direction to the norm with their RS abbreviation signifying Road Sailing. While this is a rebuttal to other RS models that have decorated motoring history, experiencing Honda’s RS model enables understanding behind the sheer confidence of naming the spec in accordance to the smooth nature of a boat sailing on water.

This is compliments of a smooth drivetrain and pliant suspension that negates any unexpected road discomforts. While the previous models made use of the same engine with a single overhead cam and Honda’s i-VTEC technology, the 8th Generation incorporates the use of a dual overhead camshaft which increases power slightly to 89kW at 6 600 r/min with 145 Nm available at a lower rpm of 4500 r/min. The revised engine head also improves efficiency and emissions with a claimed average combined consumption figure of 5.5l/l00km along with CO2 emissions of 131g/km. From our experience behind the wheel dominated by urban stop-start driving, we achieved just below a meagre 6.5l/100km. 

Where the drive experience falls short is its CVT and apparent engine whine at higher rpm. The i-VTEC that has become the butt of many jokes against Honda enthusiasts means that towards the higher rpm spectrum, this 4 cylinder engine produces an audible scream that channels its way into the cabin. Being in Johannesburg with a soaring altitude of 1750m and engine power significantly lower than provided ratings, the apparent mew becomes commonplace in everyday scenarios. In addition, the revised CVT undoubtedly provides high levels of comfort and enjoyment for a smooth journey but still feels out of place in comparison to a conventional gearbox with its constant adjustment in irregular traffic. To mitigate this uncommon feeling to most drivers, Honda have incorporated ‘G-Design’ shift control which simulates a traditional automatic transmission through the integration of artificial gears all the while retaining the efficiency of a CVT.

So what does the R406 100 Ballade RS provide you with and what is the final verdict? Its additional 110mm length and 55mm width from its predecessor provides the interior with a significantly more spacious stature. Also included in the price is smart entry with walk-away auto locking, rear-view parking camera and a 7-inch TFT display. On the exterior, wrap around LED headlamps and taillamps connect the strong shoulder line while all models come standard with LED DRLs that complete the chrome aesthetic on the front end. The Ballade range will include a five-year/200 000 warranty, as well as a four-year/60 000km service plan with 15 000km service intervals. For a bit more outlay in this competitive segment, the Honda provides a strong argument for high quality and comfortable mobility while retaining the authentic Japanese track record for reliability and usability. 

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