Honda Sharpens Its Ballade

Eat Sleep Drive Repeat

11 November 2020

Even adds an RS model

In a nice bit of symmetry, Honda recently launched the 8th generation of one of their oldest models alongside a brand new model - Ballade and WR-V were recently unveiled in South Africa.

Almost a by-word for “no nonsense”, the Ballade has never been the first choice of those who want a bit of excitement from their daily driver. Dependable, yes, safe, certainly. Exciting… not particularly. That’s something that Honda is looking to change, with a mix of sleeker, more aggressive styling, and what initially seems like a very surprising addition of an RS model to the range.

Bigger in every direction by comparison to the previous generation, the new Ballade also features Honda’s new “wing” design that spans the entire front edge of the car. Add the RS’s LED headlights, and the Ballade begins to look just a little bit sporty, helped by its slick profile with short front and rear overhangs. Square on from the rear, the LED tail light design is the stand-out feature, but isn’t enough to detract from the car’s oddly tall stance.

The Ballade RS also gets chrome door handles, a boot spoiler and 16-inch wheels, where the lower spec Elegance and Comfort models do without the extra plastic and run on 15-inch alloys.

A fairly minimalist interior is dominated by an 8-inch touchscreen in the RS and Elegance models, below which are three controls for the automatic climate; one step below that are a pair of USB connections and a 12V power outlet. A sunroof perches above the RS driver’s head, while a 7-inch TFT screen displays driving information virtually. Elegance and Comfort models get analogue dials with an LCD sandwiched between them. Standard spec across the range includes climate control; RS and Elegance models get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, while rear park distance control with reversing camera are part of the RS package.

Powering the entire range is Honda’s 1.5 4-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol motor. Based on the previous generation’s engine, it replaces the single overhead cam setup with a DOHC arrangement and i-VTEC technology. Honda claims that the increase in power (now 89kW /145Nm) comes with improved efficiency and emissions. Matched to a CVT gearbox, it’s a competent package with the kind of power that’s neither annoying nor exhilarating, allowing the Ballade to deliver a good drive in traffic while being able to keep up easily on the open road. The RS is fitted with shift paddles which help the gearbox disguise its CVT-ness to an extent, but plant your foot for an overtake or a burst of power, and it will chase the revs in a very CVT-way, complete with stressed engine note.

So, if there’s no performance advantage to be had in the RS, what’s the badge all about then? Instead of a designation of power, Honda has instead chosen to transmute the acronym to “Road Sailing” as an indication of the top spec Ballade’s smooth ride. And… It’s a fairly accurate description! On a relatively short drive on the model launch, the RS soaked up varying tar surfaces and undulations with no stress at all, reacting quickly but smoothly to changes in the road. Handling was confident, and the comfort level was added to by a thick-rimmed leather steering wheel and very comfortable leather seats.

The new Ballade has stepped up its game almost completely - more stylish, with up-to-date tech, a very comfortable interior and drive that’s mild-mannered but still enjoyable. There will be some disappointed voices asking why there’s no turbo power, which is valid; that said, the Ballade RS is a competent all-round package that offers a dose of value.

Ballade 1.5 Comfort CVT
R336 500

Ballade 1.5 Elegance CVT
R366 900

Ballade 1.5 RS CVT
R396 900