Ford Ka review
The Ford Ka looks stylish, but it lags some way behind the Volkswagen up! in the city car stakes
The Ka feels dated from behind the wheel and can’t match more modern city car rivals such as the Skoda Citigo, SEAT Mii, Volkswagen up! and Hyundai i10 for refinement, low running costs or sharp handling.
To be fair, Ford has given the Ka’s suspension a thorough overhaul, meaning it features sharper handling and a more controlled ride than the Fiat 500 with which it was co-developed. It’s also a fraction more refined.
But the car also has to give best to rivals for practicality. Not only is it hobbled by a smaller interior and boot, the Ford is only available in three-door guise.
The latest Ka may have lost the grown-up driving dynamics and fun-filled character of the original model, but it still looks smart. And the comprehensive line-up means there’s a version for every taste and budget, too.
The original Ford Ka was a runaway success for Ford - more so than the company ever expected. When it made its debut in 1996, it was almost unchanged from the original concept - rare in the car industry - and introduced Ford's 'New Edge' styling language, which would go on to shape the brand's design for years to come.
It remained on sale for over ten years, and in that time formed an enviable reputation for being fantastic to drive and cheap to run – even though it started life with a breathless 1.3-litre OHV engine.
An all-new three-door-only model was launched in 2008, but under its fashionable skin the latest Ka shares many of its underpinnings with the Fiat 500 and previous-generation Fiat Panda. It’s even built at the same Tychy production facility in Poland.
There used to be a diesel option, but now the only engine available is a 68bhp 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol, developed by the Italian brand. This is hooked up to a five-speed manual gearbox; there’s no automatic option, either.
The eye-catching StreetKa convertible was not carried forward from the previous generation, much to the disappointment of fans of pop star Kylie Minogue, who starred in a TV commercial promoting the car.
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Seven years on from its launch, buyers can choose from Studio, Style, Zetec (as well as Zetec Black and Zetec White) and Titanium 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, a heated windscreen and a leather-trimmed steering wheel. A Bluetooth phone connection, USB port and multifunction steering wheel have to be specified as no-cost options on all models except the fairly basic Studio Connect.
As with many of its rivals, the Ka is also available with a variety of personalisation 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.
An all-new five-door model was revealed at the end of 2013 and slated to arrive on UK soil in late 2014, but a European debut for the car – designed and developed in South America – has been confirmed for later in 2016.
Engines, performance and drive
Ford seemed to overlook the incredibly positive impact of the sweet-handling original Ka when engineering the current generation. By opting to share mechanical bits and platform architecture with the Fiat 500 range for the Mk2 version, its options were limited from the outset.
To be fair, Ford’s technical team gave the Fiat chassis a thorough overhaul, with a new anti-roll bar allowing softer damping, but the Ka still falls a little short of class standards.
Happily, the tweaks to the suspension and steering have at least helped make the Ka sharper to drive than its Italian cousin. The steering is precise, body movement is well checked and there’s decent grip. While many drivers will appreciate its qualities, it’s likely those hoping for a bit more zest will feel the Ka is nowhere near as much fun as its bigger brother the Ford Fiesta, or indeed as its trend-setting nineties predecessor.
So it may not be a especially thrilling to drive, but in its favour the Ford feels remarkably stable and relaxed, and is capable of tackling long journeys without breaking a sweat. Only the occasionally fidgety ride at lower speed on bumpy surfaces gives any real cause for concern, and on longer journeys the wind and tyre noise may become intrusive – more modern rivals offer better refinement these days.
The Ford Ka is available with only one engine: an elderly Fiat-sourced 1.2-litre petrol, rebadged as a Ford Duratec, which makes 68bhp. It can sound strained at motorway speeds, which can become tiring, but it’s coupled with a five-speed manual gearbox that’s slick and easy to live with.
Otherwise, the engine is a smooth and reasonably spirited performer and feels happy to be worked hard. Even so, Ford claims a leisurely time of 13.4 seconds for the 0-62mph sprint, meaning the Ka will struggle to keep up with the standard-setting VW Group city car trio – the Skoda Citigo, SEAT Mii and Volkswagen up! – all of which use a smaller 1.0-litre engine. The Ford claims a 99mph top speed.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
Given that there’s only a single engine option – a 1.2-litre petrol – the Ford Ka is fairly economical and cheap to tax. But for a car in this class, it's disappointing that there isn't a model emitting less than 100g/km of CO2 and qualifying for free road tax. The engine claims 115g/km emissions, which are high for something so small.
That translates into a VED rate of £30 a year, which isn’t exactly breaking the bank; it’s just that the Ka is an ageing product, and it’s competing in a highly efficient sector of the market where most of its rivals offer much lower running costs.
Ford claims 57.7mpg fuel economy, and again that trails most competitors’ official figures. You can expect to return at least 45mpg at the pumps in the real world; either way, the actual cash savings the class leaders will offer here won’t be huge, but at this end of the market, they make a big difference. After all, lots of city car drivers – especially those who are new behind the wheel - will be operating on pocket money budgets.
Straightforward mechanicals and cheap parts costs work in favour of the Ka, and you’ll never be far from a main dealer, either, as Ford has a massive UK franchised network.
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Insurance shouldn’t prove too expensive, as all models in the Ford Ka range sit in group 3 – as they’re powered by an identical engine, the ratings are exactly the same.
The trouble is, the Ka falls short of rivals here, too. Buyers looking for the lowest possible premiums are likely to consider the Skoda Citigo and Hyundai i10 – most models in these ranges are in insurance group 1.
Buyers should take all of these extra costs into consideration in the showroom, because the Ford Ka isn’t the cheapest city car to buy in the first place, either. And the sheer number of models on the road means this city car doesn’t hold on to its value as well some rivals. The Ka’s resistance to depreciation isn’t helped by the fact that many cars are heavily discounted when new – Ford dealers are famously open to haggling on the price.
Interior, design and technology
The domed roofline gives the Ford Ka a hint of its Fiat 500 sister car, but that’s about as far as the family resemblance goes.
In the main, the exterior is dominated by Ford’s latest styling cues, which give the car a sharp, modern look like a shrunken Ford Fiesta. It’s a different design approach to that of the intensely retro 500, and a sharp contrast to the original Ka with its distinctive curves, but it works well enough.
Studio and Edge versions of the latest Ka don’t get alloy wheels as standard, but Ford fits the latter with manual air-conditioning, electric front windows and remote central locking.
Whatever way you look at it, though, the Ford Ka is still expensive for a city car. Zetec models and above get front foglamps, heated wing mirrors and 50:50 split rear seats for that extra bit of practicality.
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The interior is simple and stylish, with a higher-quality feel 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, and it's a bit of a shame that the radio controls and some of the cheaper materials from the Fiat 500 have made their way into the Ka’s cabin.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
While many of the latest city cars feature touchscreen options that replicate your smartphone on the dashboard, the Ford Ka remains pretty basic – there’s not even a built-in sat-nav option. New drivers especially are likely to be unimpressed that they can’t sync their mobile, read E-mails, check the weather forecast or use mapping.
For buyers who are less obsessed with connectivity, the basic Studio model may well be sufficient. It gets a four-speaker radio/CD player with an MP3-compatible auxiliary jack. You need to upgrade to the Studio Connect model if you want Bluetooth, USB connectivity and steering wheel audio controls.
Titanium spec adds the Advanced Music Pack, which includes a subwoofer, amp and six speakers.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
Despite its tiny exterior dimensions, the Ford Ka delivers reasonable practicality. Inside, you’ll find a pair of usefully shaped door bins, a decent-sized glovebox and a number of cup-holders. Zetec models and above get stretchy storage nets mounted in the rooflining and on the side of the centre console.
The driving position could be better – you sit too high and there’s no reach adjustment on the steering wheel – but visibility is good.
It might not be the most spacious city car, but the Ford Ka is pretty compact – although at this end of the market the differences tend to be fairly marginal.
At 3,620mm end-to-end, the Ka is 25mm longer than a Renault Twingo, 80mm longer than a Volkswagen up! and 165mm longer than the Toyota Aygo. It’s 20mm shorter than a Hyundai i10, but the Ford is at least 20cm wider than all of them.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
Legroom and headroom are both pretty good up front for driver and passenger. However, the Ka is hampered by its three-door layout, which makes getting into the cramped rear tricky. On the plus side, Edge models and above get an easy access driver’s seat that tilts further forward to create a larger opening.
Once inside, rear passengers will find space isn’t a match for the class leaders’. Headroom is OK, but leg and shoulder room are compromised. Again, the Ka has to give ground to more efficient rivals here – buyers will find more practical accommodation in the rear of the Hyundai i10, as well as in the near-identical Skoda Citigo, SEAT Mii and Volkswagen up!.
There’s no centre seatbelt on the rear bench, which confirms the Ka as a strict four-seater, although standard Isofix child seat mountings are part of the package.
The Ford Ka provides 224 litres of boot space, which beats the Fiat 500, but trails the Volkswagen up!, SEAT Mii and Skoda Citigo by 26 litres. From Zetec spec upwards, all versions of the Ford Ka get split-folding seats, meaning you can 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. The luggage area can’t be configured with a flat floor, either, unlike the Citigo’s.
As the Ka hasn’t been officially rated for towing by Ford, you’re not allowed to fit a tow bar.
Reliability and Safety
The latest Ford Ka didn't feature in the Auto Express Driver Power 2015 satisfaction survey, but the closely related Fiat 500 finished in 87th position. That was an impressive 27-place improvement on its ranking in the 2014 poll.
Ka owners haven’t reported any major reliability problems, and as it’s a relatively simple machine, any glitches should be fairly straightforward to rectify.
You’ll never be far from a Ford garage, either, although that may not necessarily be a good thing – the network ranked only 26th out of 31 in the Driver Power 2015 dealer survey.
The Ford Ka only comes with two airbags as standard, and so it’s no surprise it achieved a disappointing four-star score in the Euro NCAP crash tests. As the test was carried out in 2008 when the Ka was fresh in showrooms, it might conceivably do worse under the independent body’s current crash test regime, which has become more stringent over the years.
At least stability control and tyre pressure monitoring are standard across the Ka range, while curtain airbags can be added for £250. However, there’s no option to specify more advanced safety equipment such as autonomous emergency braking.
This is quite a contrast to the latest city cars – the Hyundai i10 earned five stars under the more rigorous Euro NCAP test regime, and side airbags are included on every model, while the same goes for the VW Group’s trio of city cars.
All Fords come with a three-year/60,000-mile warranty, which is about average for this class, but way short of the manufacturer packages offered by the best. For example, Hyundai covers its i10 for five years and 100,000 miles.
You can buy extended cover for the Ford Ka of course, but to match the Hyundai you’ll need to spend an extra £260.
Ford main dealers are free to set their own servicing costs for new models, as there’s no nationwide fixed price scheme. However, the prices are usually pretty competitive.
If you’re considering a used Ka, Ford is currently offering fixed prices for all models over four years old - £195 for a major service, and £125 for an intermediate check-up.