STELLENBOSCH - Honda hasn't so much launched a new-generation Ballade as it has – thanks to acts of God and crocodiles – rebooted the model. In 2011, soon after announcing the Ballade name would return to SA after a 11-year hiatus, not only did the tsunami in Japan severely disrupt component supply, but the factory in Thailand was swamped by a flood – so much so that crocs were observed swimming among the factory jigs.

The result was a big delay in delivery and with very little stock available, the Ballade never got enough traction in the SA market. With this next-generation car, however, Honda is looking to put all that bad luck behind it. And thanks to this tidy little B-segment sedan, it should. Here's why...

1. It looks good
Wearing a grille that indicates Honda’s design language for future models, the Ballade sports a profile not unfamiliar among cars of this ilk. Spun off a hatch as they always are, you're looking at cab-forward, high-booted wedge. In the Ballade's case, the car’s crisp lines and prominent side scallop are bookended by two chrome strips – a bold band mid-grille and a more subtle highlight between the rear light cluster. Typically of Honda, the Ballade's design is one of functionality with a little eclectic flair to keep things interesting.

2. It drives well
The previous-generation's four-cylinder 1,5-litre petrol engine again does duty in the new car. Still putting out 88 kW and 145 N.m at 6 600 r/min, it's been tweaked a little and feels both peppier and delivers its torque at lower revs (Honda claims its more efficient too). Mated to this free-revving i-VTEC powerplant are an option of two gearboxes - a CVT (with paddleshift and seven “virtual” gears) and a five-speed manual. There are pros and cons of both and choice would depend on your driving style. With a light right foot, the CVT will give you better fuel economy, but as they all do, it drones under acceleration. 
The manual, on the other hand, is a precise, short-throw unit that gets the best out of the lively engine. The downside, of course, is that you'll use more fuel.

It was in the manual version that we tackled the Helshoogte pass above Stellenbosch – its sweeping turns ideal to test the dynamic handling. The car has been set up to be neutral and predictable. There’s more than enough mechanical grip for a car of this type and even when pressed there’s plenty of communication before anything lets go. There’s also enough electronic wizardry to keep things in check – it comes with Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) as standard incorporating both traction control and electronic stability control. There are also six airbags as standard – dual front and curtain.

3. It’s surprisingly big inside
Built on Honda’s new small car platform that underpins the new Jazz (to launch here mid-year) and the Vezel compact crossover SUV, the new Ballade is 45 mm longer at 4,4 metres and the wheelbase has increase by 50 mm to 2,6 metres. It’s also 5 mm taller at 1,47 metres.

That means a genuinely surprising amount of rear passenger space. Trying the sit-behind-yourself test, my driving partner – a good six-foot something – got out the driver’s side and could comfortable sit in the passenger seat behind the driver. He’s knees still a had a few centimetres breathing space as did his head and shoulders.

Honda have also increased the boot by a claimed 30 dm3 up to 536 dm3. The boot aperture compared to the outgoing model is also larger, making loading an easier affair.

4. And it’s well specced
This surprisingly big inside interior is also a surprisingly well-specced place to be. Cloth upholstery is standard and the dash and side bolsters are furnished in plastics of varying types – from sprayed matte silver to shiny piano black. They’re not quite the soft touch plastics you’re find in more expensive cars but Honda have combined them in a way that doesn’t quite look as cheap as some of its competitors.

The Trend and Elegance models also get a superb integrated USB and Bluetooth infotainment system with a 180 mm colour touchscreen that’s intuitive and easy to use. The best part is that you can upload many of your iPhone/iPad apps, including a nav app that negates the need for any proprietary built-in nav system – usually a very expensive option.

In the R195k to R235k price bracket, Honda’s Ballade is in a very competitive market segment battling the likes of Hyundai’s Accent, Kia’s Rio sedan, the Polo sedan, and Toyota’s old-Corolla-based Quest. In this company the Honda is not the cheapest but it makes a very strong argument for being very good value given it’s specs, interior space, looks and of course, Honda’s acclaimed engineering and build quality.

Specifications*
Model: Honda Ballade 1.5 Elegance manual
Engine: four-cylinder petrol
Capacity: 1 497 cm3
Power: 88 kW @ 6 600 r/min
Torque: 145 N.m @ 4 600 r/min
0-100 km/h: 9,6 secs
Fuel consumption: 5,9 L/100 km
Top speed: 185 km/h
CO2 emissions: 140 g/km
Price:  R220 990
*According to the manufacturer.

Full Pricing:
Honda Ballade 1.5 Trend                       R195 900
Honda Ballade 1.5 Trend CVT                R210 500
Honda Ballade 1.5 Elegance                   R220 990
Honda Ballade 1.5 Elegance CVT            R235 590