Business Maverick


Emotional recall – The new Honda Elevate

Emotional recall – The new Honda Elevate
The new Honda Elevate. (Photo: Honda SA)

In the hotly contested local crossover market, with manufacturers going all-out to boost sales, has Honda managed to Elevate itself in the segment?

I once had a smart-ass friend who liked saying: “If it doesn’t have a mother, you can fix it.” He was intimating that people are far harder to repair than things like cars and toasters, because we humans are bewildering beings, made all the more difficult to mend because of our complex emotions. 

When it came to my first car, an olive green second-hand Honda Ballade with those winking eyes, I would have begged to differ. 

She was a moody dame. There were days when she refused to start; on other days, she took to the key like a dream. She was in the habit of having nervous breakdowns in far-flung places, refusing to budge no matter how much I coaxed her. And she left many mechanics scratching their heads, unable to find what ailed her. I concluded that sometimes she simply didn’t feel like driving.

I decided to stick with the Honda badge when my temperamental Ballade was stolen.

My second ride was a later-model blue Ballade who behaved impeccably until a 10-tonne truck decided to cut me off at a robot – sending her to the car graveyard. After that, I switched to a VW Golf.

However, first cars hold a special place in our memories and, so, whenever I’m invited to a Honda launch, I’m hit by a flood of emotions.

A couple of weeks ago, I got to test-drive the new Honda Elevate, a subcompact SUV manufactured in India and built on the same platform as my first two cars, the Honda Ballade.

honda elevate

The Elevate shares the same platform as the Honda Ballade. (Photo: Honda SA)

It’s no secret in the industry that, over the past few years, Honda SA has been clawing for local market share due to dwindling sales.

Its only significant seller by volume is the budget sedan, the Honda Amaze, and so the brand will be placing its hopes on the Elevate.

Its new child will draw guns against rivals like the Toyota Urban Cruiser, the Suzuki Grand Vitara, the Kia Seltos, the VW T-Cross, the Hyundai Creta and perhaps even the Chinese-based Chery Tiggo 4 Pro and Haval Jolion.

Manufacturers love to come up with lofty descriptions for their new kids, and when it comes to the Elevate, Honda has reached into the motoring thesaurus, tossing words like “empowerment”, “liberation”, “exploration”,  “aspiration”, “transformation” and “evolution” into the PR mix.

Inside and out

When it comes to looks, the Elevate, with its enlarged grille – accented by a chrome strip that links its LED headlamps – is a pretty handsome fellow. The chrome door handles add an attractive touch and the roof rails give it a sporty vibe, although these are purely for cosmetic purposes, so don’t even think about attaching your mountain bike to the roof.

The Elevate measures 4,312mm in length and has a 2,650mm wheelbase. 

It reminds me a bit of the larger, newly updated CRV. 

Inside, like most of its competitors, it has that “value-for-money” compact crossover feel.

The cabin is utilitarian with some hard-wearing plastics on the dash, but softer touch material can be found on the doors. However, at this price point, you can hardly expect expensive leather and chrome. Besides, there’s a trend these days to offer more “animal-friendly” materials in the cabin.

Even the seats in the pricey new BMW 5 Series are made from “veganza” – a buzzword for vegan-friendly leather.

And so the Elevate feels on-point with its “eco-friendly” faux leather seating. 

honda elevate

The Elevate with its purely cosmetic roof rails. (Photo: Honda SA)

Tech-wise, there’s the latest in connectivity via the infotainment system.

I found the Bluetooth, wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay simple and intuitive to set up. 

Thankfully, Honda has chosen to keep conventional buttons which makes it easier to access stuff like the automatic climate control. 


The new Elevate is powered by a 1.5-litre naturally aspirated 4-cylinder petrol engine that produces 89kW/145Nm.

Among its competitors, almost all employ a similar 1.5-litre engine, although both the Toyota Urban Cruiser and Suzuki Vitara (which are essentially the same car) have 12kW less power and 7Nm less torque than the Elevate.

The petrol-powered Kia Seltos uses a 1.6-litre engine which offers fractionally more power at 90kW and just 3Nm more of torque. 

The Elevate is available in either a Comfort or Elegance trim grade. 

When it comes to gearboxes, the Comfort offers a 6-speed manual while the top-of-the-range Elegance uses a CVT (continuously variable transmission).

There’s generous standard equipment in both trims.

Even the “entry-level” Comfort comes equipped with things like keyless entry, an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen and 16-inch alloys. 

The standard safety systems include ABS with EBD, electronic stability control and dual front and side airbags.

The Elegance offers more premium elements like an electric sunroof, a wireless charging pad, LED fog lights, 17-inch alloys and six airbags instead of four.

The boot space is generous for this segment, leading its class with 458 litres of load bay capacity. I was pleasantly surprised by the rear-passenger space, which can easily accommodate two adults and a child.

honda type-r

The Honda Type-R hot hatch is a finalist in SA’s Car of the Year competition. (Photo: Honda SA)

The drive

On the launch in and around the Cape Peninsula, there were only  automatic 1.5 Elegance models on test. I’m always a bit sceptical of CVT transmissions because of the inevitable drone that accompanies hard acceleration.

However, I would imagine that the target customer is going to do a lot of city driving and will probably barely notice my bugbear.

The benefit of the CVT is seen in fuel returns and on our launch route I managed to achieve 6.7 litres/100km, on par with the manufacturer’s claimed fuel consumption figures.

This is a segment not known for offering exciting engines, but along the route there was never a feeling that the Elevate was short of power.

The drive felt smooth, well-planted and energetic, with almost zero discernible road noise.

When it comes to taking the Elevate off-road, I imagine that being India-built – where roads are pretty hazardous – this crossover will do well on gravel.

Honda produces quality cars and is known for its after-sales service. Its current local lineup includes the newly launched Elevate, the budget Amaze, the 7-seater BR-V, the HR-V, the refreshed Fit (the old Jazz) and the newly updated CR-V. And then, of course, there’s the Civic “beast”.

I have just returned from Gauteng after doing jury duty for the SA Car of the Year, where I got to take Honda’s halo model, the hot hatch Civic Type-R, on a few laps around the Zwartkops racetrack. 

After spending some time inside one of this year’s firm favourites, with its 235kW turbo engine and magnificent short-shift 6-speed manual gearbox, I was left with a pumping heart and glittering eyes. It was an emotional drive. DM


Honda Elevate 1.5 Comfort – R369,900
Honda Elevate 1.5 Elegance CVT – R429,900


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Mark B B says:

    On what planet can faux-leather – a plastic with nasty off-gassing characteristics and PFAS – be considered eco-friendly? Real leather is a natural by product of the many animals harvested every day – and provides a significant secondary industry for many drier areas that augments income from meat, wool etc. Yes – some old tanning chemicals were nasty, but modern and vegetable tanned skins are not at all bad – a truly sustainable industry – woth a lot more to SA, than imported faux plastic leather

  • John Patson says:

    When I read “enlarged grill,” I immediately think “overheating problems discovered at prototype stage.”
    If the Ballade can cope with an ordinary grill, why not this Elevate?
    It is probably a quarter tonne heavier than a Ballade, but even so that does not explain it.

  • Rob Rhodes-Houghton says:

    It is with a lot of emotion that I recall owning six manual transmission Honda Ballades and or Civics without ever having a problem of any kind, only to be convinced by the dealer to now purchase a Honda Ballade RS CVT. On both long trips, one in June and one last week, after approximately 400 km the CVT system has “stopped working” – no gear engagement at all with “Transmission System Problem Paddle Shifting Not Available” appearing and flashing Transmission System Indicator. The car is 11 months old with 9144 km. Once the car has cooled down, the problem goes away. After the first occasion, Honda Ladysmith and Honda West Rand both said there was nothing wrong with the transmission system and the hydraulic fluid was apparently replaced. After the second occurrence, Honda Tzaneen at first claimed that the problem was contaminated fuel! However, after several days of arguing they notified me that the gearbox will be replaced but no ETA on a new gearbox. I now sit in Johannesburg carless, having flown back from Hoedspruit, with little to no communication or assistance from Honda. NOT IMPRESSED!

    • John P says:

      CVT gearboxes are nothing but problems, non repairable and out of warranty a fortune to replace. The large majority are made by a Nissan subsidiary in India and the badge on the bonnet is meaningless, they are all noisy, have poor acceleration under load and above all, they overheat and break. Genuine Toyotas, that is those that are not rebadged Suzukis, have a different CVT box with a separate pull off from stationary gear system and they don’t break often.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

We would like our readers to start paying for Daily Maverick...

…but we are not going to force you to. Over 10 million users come to us each month for the news. We have not put it behind a paywall because the truth should not be a luxury.

Instead we ask our readers who can afford to contribute, even a small amount each month, to do so.

If you appreciate it and want to see us keep going then please consider contributing whatever you can.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options