Ford Ka review
by David Finlay (2 February 2009)
The second-generation Ka is a new model in more ways than one. Its very successful predecessor, introduced back in 1996, was based on the Mk3 Fiesta which first appeared seven years before that, and used an engine which dated back to the 1960s.
This one is bang up-to-date, though it's also less of a Ford. It's built by Fiat, in the same Polish factory which also produces the 500, and although the styling details are very different you can see how closely related the two cars are by mentally superimposing one on top of the other - it doesn't look as if it would take much effort to turn the Ka into a clone of the 500, or vice versa.
Which car you prefer will probably depend on your views on the 500's appearance. If you think the Fiat is impossibly cute, as I do, then the Ka has a fight on its hands; but if you consider the 500's 1950s-pastiche appearance to be a shocking piece of effrontery, as a colleague of mine does, then it's advantage Ford.
The fact that the two cars are largely the same as each other means that a lot of their features are identical, and not always in a good way. Like the 500, the Ka has a steering wheel which - almost unbelievably - is not adjustable for reach, there isn't much room for back-seat passengers (though potential Ka owners probably don't often need to have more than two people on board) and rear visibility is shockingly bad.
Ford has done a better job in creating luggage space, possibly because it was creating a new design rather than referring back to an older one. The load volume is 224 litres with the rear seats up (the Fiat has just 185), increasing to 747 litres if you fold the seats down.
Ford isn't making a big deal of this, but does like to emphasise that its engineers have put a lot of work into giving the Ka its own distinct driving dynamics. In this respect it's pretty much what it looks like, namely a junior version of the Fiesta, and there are good and bad points about that. Drive the Ka hard and it's beautifully balanced, with excellent electric power-assisted steering and as much grip as you need.
In calmer situations, though, it's less good. The suspension feels as if it has been optimised for German roads in that it works very well on smooth surfaces but can't deal properly with bumps. I drove the car around Hertfordshire and on a short stretch of the M25, and it never felt particularly restful. The best thing you can do is to avoid the 16" wheels and low-profile tyres which are optional on higher-spec models: they don't contribute much to the handling and they make the ride even worse.
The Ka is being sold with two engines, one petrol and diesel. The fact that they are called 1.2 Duratec and 1.3 Duratorq respectively suggests that there's a significant difference in size, but in fact the petrol is 1242cc and the diesel is 1248cc.
Ford expects only 4% of UK customers to go for the diesel, and to be honest this would not be a wise move. There may be a difference of nearly 12mpg in combined economy figures but the extra cost of buying the car in the first place and then fuelling it are not going to be justified. The diesel's CO2 rating is better, but since both cars fall in the 110-120g/km bracket they will cost the same to tax each year.
On paper the Ka's performance is about the same no matter which engine you choose, with a top speed of around 100mph and a 0-62mph of just over 13 seconds, though the diesel's superior mid-range ability means that it feels considerably quicker in the real world.
Even so, the petrol 1.2 seems more suited to the car, and it's also a lot quieter (not that the diesel is especially loud, but the Ka suffers a lot from road noise and anything which can help reduce the overall decibel level is a Good Thing).
The diesel engine is available only in the highest trim level, which is called Zetec. With petrol the range expands considerably to include Studio, Style and Style+. Studio is the starting point of the range and includes ABS, EBD, front airbags, courtesy-delay headlights, an immobiliser and 14" wheels. It's basic, but costs just £7827, which is much less than the cheapest 500. Style models cost £8317 and have body-coloured handles, heated door mirrors, electric front windows, remote central locking, a height-adjustable driver's seat with memory function and a 50/50 split rear seat with headrests, while Style+ brings in air-conditioning and a heated windscreen for an extra £289.
£9295 buys you the petrol Zetec, which has a pollen filter, a retractable key fob, dimming interior lights, front foglights and 15" wheels, and the diesel Zetec is the same but costs £9981 because it has the more expensive engine that you don't want.
No Ka therefore costs a five-figure sum to buy in standard form, but there are quite a few extras which can send the car into Fiesta territory, such as a connectivity kit (USB, Bluetooth, steering wheel-mounted controls), an advanced audio pack, various exterior style packs, heated front seats, automatic climate control air-conditioning, leather seats, a panoramic sunroof and rear parking sensors.
The parking sensors are the best idea of the lot, given the Ka's remarkable lack of rear glass area, but unless Ka owners go down the MINI route of loading their cars with as many options as possible I reckon that the greatest satisfaction will come from buying the less expensive versions and enjoying some cheap fun.