Ford Ka review
The Ford Ka may be stylish, but it now severely lags behind the Volkswagen up! in the city car stakes
The original Ford Ka was one of the pioneers of the fashionable city car class when it made its debut in 1996. Boldly styled, great to drive and cheap to run, the small Ford was a huge hit. An all-new model was launched in 2008, but the use of Fiat underpinnings meant it lost its predecessor’s grown-up driving dynamics and fun-filled character.
Seven years on from its launch, the Ka is feels dated from behind the wheel and can’t match more modern rivals such as the Skoda Citigo, VW up! and Hyundai i10 for refinement, practicality, low running costs and sharp handling.
That said, the Ford still looks smart, while the comprehensive line-up means there’s should be something for every taste and budget. Buyers can choose from Studio, Studio Connect, Edge, Zetec, Titanium, Metal and Grand Prix III trim levels.
All versions get stability control, stop-start and body colour bumpers, while the best-selling Zetec adds big car kit such as air-conditioning, electric windows, heated windscreen and a leather-trimmed steering wheel. Bizarrely, a Bluetooth phone connection, USB port and multi-function steering wheel have to be specified as a no cost option on all models except the fairly basic Studio Connect.
As with many of its rivals, the Ka is also available with a number of personalization options. For instance, there are a number of bold bodywork decals, a range of larger alloy wheels and even a lowering kit for the suspension.
The only engine available is the Italian brand’s 68bhp 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol, which is mated to a five-speed manual gearbox – there’s no automatic option. However, Ford has given the Ka’s suspension a thorough overhaul, meaning it features sharper handling and a more controlled ride than its Fiat relatives. It’s also a fraction more refined. That said, even with these tweaks the Ka lags behind the best in the city car class for driving excitement and comfort.
The Ka also has to give best to rivals for practicality. Not only is hobbled by a smaller interior and boot, the Ford is only available in three door guise. An all-new five-door model was revealed at the end of 2013 and slated to arrive on UK soil in late 2014, but the South American designed and developed machine’s European debut has been postponed for now.
Our choice: Ka 1.2 Zetec
There’s a hint of the Ka’s Fiat 500 sister car in its domed roofline but that’s about as far as the family resemblance goes.
Ford’s latest styling devices dominate the Ka’s exterior giving the car a sharp, modern look like a shrunken Fiesta. It’s a different design approach to that of the intensely retro 500 and the original Ka with its distinctive curves but it works well enough.
Ford Ka Studio and Edge models do not get alloy wheels as standard, but Ford fits the latter trim Ka with manual air-conditioning, electric front windows and remote central locking. Whatever way you look at it though, the Ford Ka is still pricey for a city car. The Ford Ka Zetec models and above gets front-fog lamps, heated wing mirrors and 50:50 split rear seats for that extra bit of practicality.
The interior of the Ford Ka is simple, stylish and higher quality than you might expect to find in a city car. Unfortunately, newer rivals such as the brilliant Volkswagen up!, Skoda Citigo and SEAT Mii won’t be losing any sleep overnight and it's a bit of a shame that some of the cheaper materials and radio controls from the Fiat 500 have made their way into the Ka’s cabin.
The Ford Ka is available with only one engine, a Fiat sourced 1.2-litre petrol Duratec with a slick five-speed manual gearbox. It manages 57.7mpg on a combined cycle, but its CO2 emissions of 115g/km are high for such as small engine.
Still, it’s a smooth and spirited performer and is happy to be worked hard. Even so, the claimed 0-62mph sprint takes a leisurely 13.4 seconds, meaning the Ka will struggle to keep up with the smaller engined Skoda Citigo and VW up!.
Once up to speed, however, the Ford feels remarkably stable and relaxed, and is capable of tackling long journeys without breaking a sweat. Only the occasionally fidgety ride gives cause for concern.
Happily, small tweaks to the suspension and steering have helped make the Ka sharper to drive than its Fiat 500 cousin. The steering is precise, body movements are well checked and there’s decent grip. Yet it’s nowhere near as much fun as it’s bigger brother the Fiesta, or its trend-setting Nineties predecessor.
The latest Ford Ka didn't feature in the 2014 Driver Power survey, but the closely related Fiat 500 finished in a lowly 116th place. More worryingly, owners were particularly disappointed with their car’s reliability. On the plus side, the Ka is a relatively simple machine, and any problems should be fairly straightforward to rectify.
The Ford Ka only has two airbags as standard, and so it’s no surprise it received a disappointing four star score in the EuroNCAP crash tests. At least stability control and tyre pressure monitoring are standard across the range, while curtain airbags can be added for £250. However, there’s no option to add autonomous emergency braking.
The Ford Ka delivers half decent practicality despite its tiny exterior dimensions. It gets 224-litres of boot space, which beats the Fiat 500, but trails the Volkswagen up! and the Skoda Citigo by 26-litres.
From the Ford Ka Zetec and above, all cars get split-folding seats, meaning you can further expand boot space to a useful 747 litres. It's not bad for such a small car, but it’s just a shame that there’s such a high boot lip, which makes loading bulkier items a bit of a pain.
Inside, you’ll find a pair of usefully shaped door bins, a decent-sized glovebox and a number of cupholders. Zetec models and above get stretchy storage nets mounted in the rooflining and on the side of the centre console.
The driving position inside the Ford Ka isn’t great, either - you sit too high and can’t adjust the steering for reach – but visibility is good.
The Ka is further hampered by its three-door layout, which makes for tricky access to the already cramped rear bench. On the plus side, Edge models and above get an easy access driver’s seat that tilts further forward to create a larger opening.
Given the Ford Ka only comes with one engine, the 1.2-litre petrol, it's relatively economical and cheap to tax, but it's disappointing that there isn't a sub-100g/km of CO2 tax-free model - although £30 a year for road tax isn’t exactly breaking the bank.
Servicing will be cheap thanks to the Ka’s straightforward mechanicals, while you can expect to return at least 45mpg at the pumps.
Some of these savings will have to be taken account when you’re in the showroom, because the Ford Ka isn’t the cheapest city car to buy, plus the sheer number of them on the road means that residual values aren’t that great. Still, there’s a huge array of Ford dealers to choose from, and all will be open to haggling on the price.