2021 Ballade road test

Much improved all-new Ballade delivers on all fronts. Except big brother’s promise.

We were quite happy when our new Honda Ballade test car turned out to be the midrange Elegance version. Rather than the flagship RS with all the bells and whistles, that is.

In our parlance, RS means ‘Rally Sport’ in the ’68 Camaro sense. Or ‘Rennsport’ — German for Race Sport, as Porsche and Ford still have it. This car’s range topping sibling construes RS to mean ‘road sailing’. As ‘a nod to the smooth nature of a boat sailing on water’. Shame.


Happily, Elegance fits Ballade much better, because it really is a good car all round and left us pretty impressed, truth be told. The eighth-generation Ballade has been on the market for 40 years. Some of us have to pinch ourselves to understand that it arrived in SA in ’82. That seems like yesterday! Ballade remains one of South Africa’s most recognisable car badges — Honda tells us that it’s proud of the car that best represents its evolution in this market.

We have to agree — Ballade certainly represents exceptional Honda durability, quality and reliability and the new one carries those values forward.

110 mm longer, 55 mm wider, and 10 mm lower, this version brings a ‘more athletic and dynamic’ stance’. Bearing Honda’s latest solid wing face with a bold grille design between slim headlights, it has a longer bonnet and a shorter front overhang, too. And while new Ballade carries over the old car’s rigid lightweight ACE platform over, it has a lower centre of gravity and increased interior space. ‘For improved comfort’.


We are not sure if the aim is to conquer Uber sales, but this car really does have a cavernous rear passenger compartment and a big boot too. Never mind a comfortable rear bench and the sort of leg room you’d expect from an S-Class. So it really does deliver on that perhaps understated promise of space. That’s also emphasised by a good field of view out the car.

The cabin is a high quality space brimming with premium soft-touch and accent materials too. All quite neatly rendered in a minimalistic, driver-oriented fascia that likewise ‘benefits Honda’s latest design philosophy’. Our midrange Elegance model had high-quality fabric upholstery, but the new Ballade’s cabin party trick is however its high-resolution eight-inch infotainment touchscreen.

Now packing full Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring functionality, Bluetooth and multifunction steering controls, it’s a contemporary and responsive system. Nice. We still feel a bit hen-pecked to acknowledge all those warnings every time we drive. A reminder would be cool every now and then, but every time you prod the start button? I’d be even more impressed were it not such a nanny!


That’s all backed up by automatic air-conditioning and there are power wing mirrors, power windows, cruise control and auto headlights too. Passive safety kit includes Rear parking sensors, driver, front passenger, side and curtain SRS airbags, seatbelt pre-tensioners and ISOFIX child seat anchors. Advanced anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution and what Honda calls Vehicle Stability Assist, and rear parking sensors take care of active safety.

Getting down to the nuts and bolts, Ballade ticks a good few plus boxes too. A new 89 kW 145 Nm double overhead camshaft 1.5-litre i-VTEC engine replaces the old single cam version. It bring better than adequate performance in an easy to drive package. It has a pleasant if a tad rorty engine note and Ballade cruises effortlessly at highway speeds.

Our 9.5 second zero to 100 km/h run and improved 5.5 l/l00km at 131g/km CO2 emissions add to Ballade’s versatility. Not all of us are CVT fans but Ballade’s revised Continuously Variable Transmission brings a new G-Design shift control. It has geared steps to mimimc a traditional automatic in S-mode while delivering the efficiency of a CVT, which is well and good. But then the S-mode is a bit too buzzy for our liking. And the CVT is annoying and noisy in D for Drive.

Ride is a touch hard and among our more aggressive drivers complained that the neat leather-wrapped steering wheel was too slippery. Otherwise we enjoyed cruising in this spacious and smart enough bearer of that legendary Ballade badge.


We don’t often get too carried away with back-up, but Honda deserves a mention for its top drawer five-year 200,000 km warranty (yes, there are five noughts there) and four-year 60,000 km service plan at 15,000 km intervals.

Were we to buy one, we’ probably go for this Elegance anyway. We’d just be too embarrassed to try to explain that RS in that instance meant completely contrary to what our friends would expect in the goof old Camaro, 911 and Focus sense. But we’d miss the extra kit. — Giordano Lupini

Images – Philip Makhonde

ROAD TESTED: Ballade 1.5 Elegance CVT
Engine: 89 kW 145 Nm 1.5-litre petrol I4
Drive: CVT FWD
0-60km/h:         4.44 sec
0-100km/h:        9.50 sec
0-160km/h:        24.36 sec
400m:             16.7 sec @ 137 km/h
80-120km/h:       6.27 sec
120-160km/h:      11.37 sec
VMax:             185 km/h
Fuel:             5.5 l/100km
CO2:              131 g/km
Warranty/Service: 5y 200K/3y 90K km
LIST PRICE:       R366K
RATED:            8
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