New Ballade no sweet song

2011-02-26 08:38

It’s been years since the first Honda Ballade entered the local scene, and nearly a decade since the last Ballade went on sale in the new car market.

The very first Ballade made its local debut in 1982. It was assembled in East London and marketed under the auspices of Mercedes-Benz South Africa.

I was excited to attend the launch of the latest generation model since I owned a 1999-spec Ballade VTEC model a few years ago. VTEC technology means variable valve timing and electronic lift control and the models were the apples of Honda’s eyes – the sportier versions of the Civic and Ballade ranges.

The second generation was launched in 1984 and by 1987 there were new 16-valve engines included in the line-up, which included the 150i, 160i and 180i Spreeline derivatives, while the 160i and 180i Luxline models were the luxury options. However, the 160i VTEC was the star-child.

They’re more desirable than hot cakes these days, especially by youngsters looking for second-hand cars, but Honda SA says they only made up for about 8% of sales back in the 1990s.

Mine was dropped to the ground with a low suspension, two-tone rear lights and smoked, angel-eye-styled headlights. But most importantly, the sound of the VTEC kicking in at 5 500rpm always gave me goose-bumps.

Sadly, the new Ballade didn’t remind me of my old model. The new Ballade is available in two 1.5-litre engine models with either five-speed automatic or manual transmissions. It shares the same engine found in the Jazz and is similar to that in the hybrid CR-Z model. It has a comfort and elegant trim choice, with the latter in the higher-specification model.
The front shares similar wedge-like traits with the Civic hatchback model. The grille shape is also similar. The rear has been chopped off a bit too much, making the car seem like an old-generation Kia. It looks squashed and stubby, and too short for the rest of the car. The short chrome trim on the boot looks almost tacky, especially on darker colours.

The body colour itself includes six options: three shades of silver, black and red, the red tending more towards maroon or burgundy.

The interior was slightly uncomfortable and for taller passengers, the front seat does not move as far back as one would hope. And the seat position also feels a bit odd. Bluetooth technology and steering controls comes standard on the elegant models, although the Bluetooth is not built-in, as in other cars. Instead, it’s attached on the windscreen panel of the driver’s side.

All that being said, its price is the highlight.

Though I might not have found it sporty enough, it makes a great affordable family car. The Ballade competes directly with the Ford Fiesta and Mazda2 sedans.

Although the Ballade’s rear seats are more comfy and have good boot space, the Mazda and Fiesta have a better interior where quality is concerned. The Ballade’s rear view mirror feels very flimsy, just like the flip-down CD-player panel, making the rest of the car seem cheap too.

The price tag comes in at under a R190 000, which is still a good buy for families looking for a modern, family sedan under the R200k mark.

Quick stats
Make: Honda Ballade
Engine: 1.5 i-VTEC manual / auto
Power: 88kW
Torque: 145Nm
Fuel consumption l/100km: 6.3 / 6.6
CO2 emissions g/km: 148 / 156
Price: R184 900 – R205 900

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