While the Honda Ballade enjoys a strong historical association with local buyers, the latest model is every bit a contemporary car, featuring advanced technology in every sphere.
All models are powered by the same 1.5-litre i-VTEC 16-valve petrol motor that powers the Jazz. It puts out 88kW at 6600rpm and 145Nm at 4800, with Honda claiming a 0-100km/h sprint time of 9.8 seconds at the coast in manual guise and combined fuel consumption of 6.3 litres per 100km.
There are two specification levels, each available with either manual or automatic transmission - or both are five-speed 'boxes.
The Comfort spec kicks off the range at an affordable price and is well appointed with the things you'd expect, like aircon, remote central locking, i-pod compatible four-speaker sound system and electric windows and mirrors. It also includes some things you don't expect at entry level, like a multi-function steering wheel and cruise control.
The flagship 'Elegance' model starts at R193 900 and adds 16-inch alloy wheels, front foglights, chrome door handles, leather-trimmed reach-adjustable steering wheel, Bluetooth hands-free functionality and curtain airbags (in addition to the front and side bags that you also get in the base model).
Step inside the new Ballade and you're greeted by a design that's fairly sporty by segment standards and I particularly liked the overlapping layers on the dashboard. The build quality is impeccable in typical Honda fashion but if I must nitpick, many of the surfaces appear to be from the low-budget catalogue.
The cabin is spacious enough by segment standards and getting comfortable behind the wheel is a cinch. Once moving, I was impressed by the solid feel of the short-throw gearstick as well as by its smooth operation. In fact, everything feels that way and it's a very effortless experience all round.
As for the steep power curve, it's not something you feel too much driving through town and pouncing between robots it felt brisk and effortless. However, you do need to work this engine hard on the open road, with hills and overtaking manoeuvres requiring a change down to fourth or third but if you work the gearbox the Ballade delivers more than ably on the performance front.
The features list includes a tilt-adjustable multi-function steering wheel, cruise control, front and rear electric windows, electrically adjustable door mirrors, manual air-conditioning with cabin filter, flat-folding rear seats (60/40 split) and a trip computer, as well as a full-featured four-speaker audio system with RDS-compatible CD receiver with integrated USB and MP3 auxiliary connection.