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Honda Ballade is back on song!

2011-02-19 12:28

PLAYING BALLADES AGAIN: Honda SA has reintroduced its Ballade range of sedans again - mainly because somebody already thought of City...

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Honda
Model 2011 Ballade
Engine Transverse 1497cc 16V four-cylinder with variable valve timing.
Power 88kW @ 6600rpm
Torque 145Nm @ 4800rpm
Transmission 5spd manual / 5spd a/t
Zero To Hundred 9.8 - 12.2sec
Top Speed 185km/h
Fuel Tank 42 litres
Fuel Consumption 6.3 - 6.6 litres/100km; CO2 manual 148g/km, a/t 156g/km
Boot Size 506 litres
Steering Rank-and-pinion with electric power-assistance
Airbags Comfort model 4, Elegance 6
Tyres 175/65R 15" / 185/55R 16"
Front Suspension Macpherson struts
Rear Suspension Torsion beam axle
Service Intervals 15 000km
Service Plan Four years or 60 000km
Warranty Three years or 100 000km
Price R184 900 - R205 900

Les Stephenson

‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!’ And indeed that’s the thinking behind the reintroduction to South Africa of the Honda Ballade – a car that was called the Civic in other markets and today the rather mundane City.

As Honda’s marketing manager Graham Eagle pointed out at the cars’ launch at the snazzy Melrose Arch hotel in Johannesburg this week, the name Citi is well associated with VW so the rebirth of the Ballade solved two problems at one go.

“A legend returns,” Eagle said. And for those of you who are too young to remember or never heard the tale in the first place, the Ballade arrived in South Africa back in 1982 when Mercedes-Benz was looking for a small car to complement its own products.

It was a 1.3-litre unit, assembled under licence at the Mercedes plant in East London, and further models with gradually growing engines arrived in 1985, 1989, 1992 and 1996 until, eventually, more than 170 000 units were delivered in SA.


Eventually the relationship between Merc and Honda dissolved when the Japanese company took over all Honda operations in SA, including motorcycles, engines and generators, and in the year 2000 the name Civic returned as a hatch and sedan in family and sport guises.

The name Civic continues but, as Eagle added: “The Ballade joins the Honda SA line-up as an extremely well-priced and equipped alternative to established compact sedans. With its modern styling, sophisticated technology and upmarket features, it is clearly a premium offering in this segment. The impressive space, packaging and aggressive pricing will extend its appeal even further.”

The new car shares its engine, suspension and general running gear with the Civic hatch, the Jazz, the 1.3-litre Insight hybrid and the 1.5-litre CR-Z hybrid and comes in two models, the Comfort and the Elegance – each with the 1.5-litre i-VTEC engine capable of 88kW at 6600rpm and 145Nm at 4800rpm.


The choice of five-speed manual or five-speed auto (the latter with shift paddles on the steering wheel) is yours and the prices (including the CO2 tax indicated in brackets) are:

Ballade 1.5 Comfort - R184 900 (R2 394)
Ballade 1.5 Comfort a/t -196 900 (R3 078)
Ballade 1.5 Elegance - R193 900 (R2 394)
Ballade 1.5 Elegance a/t R205 900 (R3 078

A four-year or 60 000km service plan and three-year or 100 000km warranty are standard across the range and service intervals are 15 000km. Such prices stand up well against similarly established products from Toyota, Ford and Mazda.

HUGE LUGGAGE SPACE: The back of the wedge-shaped Ballade has a boot big enough to stand suitcases upright - even with a full-sized spare wheel.

The Ballade is assembled in Thailand at one of Honda’s highest-tech plants and is exported to 25 countries – including is “home” market, Japan. The plant also assembles the Civic and CR-Z and is the company’s third-largest in the world.

The car has scored five stars on Australia’s European-based NCAP safety rating.

Eagle believes the established equity in the Ballade brand and its reputation for quality and reliability have oiled the way to “an unprecedented number of inquiries” about the car and he’s looking to sales of as many as 200 a month – personally, after driving the car for a couple of hundred kilometres, I reckon he’s being coy...

And that’s despite an unfortunate “recall” announcement on Friday that covers the 1.5 i-VTEC engine shared by the Jazz mini-MPV and the Ballade (Fit and City in other markets) that has been in use for about 15 years without a problem.


While the recall affects the Jazz inasmuch as a rocker spring in the engine must be replaced, it does NOT affect the current Ballade – the fault involved springs fitted during the 2009/2010 model years. Jazz owners will be contacted in due course; Honda SA heard about the recall on Friday, at the same time as Wheels24.

It has already been corrected in the Ballade but about 2500 Jazz units will need attention – though not, apparently, urgently. The spring’s failure merely causes a strange noise and its there only to suppress vibration.

So, upfront and honest about that, now back to the Ballade and what it’s got... or not.

AUSTERITY DRIVE: Flash isn't really in Honda's lexicon so while the fascia ain't fancy, there really isn't anything missing in terms of accessories and equipment.

Conservative good looks are obvious. The Ballade is handsome rather than flash and along with that comes (at least up on the Highveld where it was launched) a certain lack of dash. Eagle was also upfront about performance: the car was designed as a city (remember the name...) car so acceleration in traffic was the focus of the engine/gearbox rather than carving mountain passes.

The gearing tends towards low and the off-the mark urge sufficient; top speed is 185km/h for the manual and 180 for the auto but if you want to play boy-racer look elsewhere look to the Honda Civic hatches or the way more expensive Civic Type R. The more conservative among you will, anyway, be looking more at resale values and fuel consumption – the latter, Honda says, is 6.6 litres/100km.

The higher price of the Elegance models is mainly because of the addition of extra crash bags, 16” alloy wheel rims instead of steel and a Bluetooth communications solution. The standard-items list is – considering the cars prices – darn good. It includes...

A boot not constrained in size by the 42-litre fuel tank (that’s slung out of the way under the cabin floor, improving handling and stability) and so deep enough to take large suitcases vertically. Its VDA volume is 506 litres despite there being a full-size spare wheel under the floor to match the other four.

Then there are power mirrors and windows, multi-function steering wheel (buttons for audio and cruise control), aircon, CD/radio with USB and MP3 connections, fold-flat rear seats, IsoFix child-seat anchors, anti-lock brakes, stability control and electronic rear/front balance brake-pressure control and emergency braking assistance.


The Elegance model adds two extra crash bags, oddments trays under the rear seats and fog lights, as well as the items already mentioned. Both models also have a multi-function info display under the speedometer to monitor your fuel consumption.

Honda products usually tend towards the austere – I’ve already said flash isn’t their thing – so while the fascia might not set a geek’s heart aflame everything is there with sensible-sized buttons and easy-to-read info on the radio and instrument panels.

The seats at first felt hard (was numb-bum syndrome not far away? I wondered). Truth is that after 200km my driving partner and I agreed: firm does not mean uncomfortable in the Ballade.

So: a comfortable ride, good (if conservative) looks, a long list of goodies that don’t cost extra and a reputation for quality and longevity that can only be earned (in this case over three decades). I’d be happy to be showing one off in my driveway.

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