Christopher Hubbard's biography
29/05/2009 00:00 | By Christopher Hubbard, contributor, MSN Cars

Ford Ka review (2008 onwards)



Ford Ka (© Ford)


What – Ford Ka
Where – Ibiza, Spain
Date – October 2008
Price – £7,995 to £10,195
Available – December 2008
Key rivals – Fiat 500, Renault Twingo, Kia Picanto, Toyota Aygo, Citroen C1, Peugeot 107, Hyundai i10, Suzuki Alto, Chevrolet Matiz, etc, etc...

Summary
It's bye bye baby, as the 12 year old Ford Ka is replaced by an all-new model. Can the new Ka live up to the old one's enormous success? There's only one way to find out...
We like: amongst the most fun city cars to drive, excellent economy, perceived improvement in quality
We don’t like: diesel refinement, slight loss of original’s unique character, only two standard airbags, the price


Read more Ford car reviews

First Impressions

Ford Ka (© Image © Ford)

How do you replace an icon? Ford must have been worrying itself silly about its best-selling baby, the Ka. The original has been around for 12 years now. It's still the sector leader, with twice as many sales as its nearest competitor, and even in this, its final year, is selling like the proverbial cold lemonade on a hot summer's day.Really, how do you follow that level of success? And, indeed, why bother? Well, in the Ka's case the engines are a little too low tech and somewhat inefficient for these modern times, while safety levels are considerably outclassed by newer rivals. Plus, let's face it, the interior is rubbish.

Ford Ka (© Image © Ford)

Ok, mild exaggeration. Anyways, this here is the all-new one. Fans of the old Ka may already be aghast at the slightly generisized looks - this is more modern Ford than second gen Ka - but it's sharp, sophisticated, and decidedly premium in appearance. Though we suspect Ford was really aiming at youthful and funky.While its looks will certainly be significant to its success, more relevant are the changes under the skin. There's a new - modern! - engine line up, which includes a diesel for the first time. The inside is hugely improved. And the underlying platform is shared with the Fiat 500. The Ka, we are about to discover, has grown up.

Performance

Ford Ka (© Image © Ford)

Hell, it's even been seen out with glamorous women, that's how much this baby has bloomed. However, in the latest Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, where the Ka's special gold paintjob dazzles almost as much as its driver, Olga Kurylenko (or passenger Daniel Craig, if you prefer), the motive power is apparently provided by a hydrogen fuel cell.You can't yet ring up Dagenham and order one of those. Instead the new Ka is blessed - no, really - with a 68bhp 1.2-litre petrol, and a 74bhp 1.3-litre turbodiesel, both courtesy of Ford's development cost-sharing partner, Fiat. These are cracking units, each returning sub-120g/km CO2 and notable economy.

Watch a video road test of the new Ford Ka

Ford Ka (© Image © Ford)

The diesel is especially stunning from a planet-saving perspective. But unless your daily commute contains a lot of heavy uphill gradients, where its extra torque comes in handy, we'd take the petrol. Partly it's a matter of cost - the diesel is the most expensive of all new Kas. Mostly, though, it's a matter of fun.In the petrol you get a zingy engine note and an eagerness to please. In the diesel you'll be reaching for the volume button on the stereo (the 1.3 really is LOUD under throttle), and wondering why more power doesn't mean more enthusiasm. If you enjoy driving, the petrol is the one.

Ride and Handling

Ford Ka (© Image © Ford)

This isn't just related to the refinement, nor the inherent difference in character between petrol and diesel engines. The diesel lump weighs more and to compensate for this Ford has mildly modified the chassis and upgraded the brakes. Making the diesel stiffer, and loading it up with more unsprung weight.While this won't make much difference in everyday driving, give both versions a bit of stick, and the petrol has the edge (and in case you're wondering, its lower spec brakes coped just fine up and down a twisting mountain test route). It is a much more overall engaging package to drive.

Watch a video road test of the Ford Ka

Ford Ka (© Image © Ford)

More generally speaking, Ford has done a fantastic job of redressing the Fiat 500's chassis shortcomings. The Ka has much better bump absorption - particularly at speed -fitting a rear anti-rollbar having enabled Ford's engineers to soften the springs by 30 percent and retune the dampers accordingly. Comfort levels, grip, and sheer involvement all benefit.Changes to the steering geometry also give the Ka more linear responses than the 500. It isn't as communicative as its own predecessor, but it's good enough on a winding road that we found ourselves repeating a mantra: 'this is not a hot hatch, this is not a hot hatch...'. For a city car it's brilliantly entertaining.

Interior

Ford Ka interior (© Image © Ford)

Ford Ka interior

Big big changes here. There are now four trim levels: Studio, Style, Style+ (which adds air con and "Quickclear" front windscreen), and Zetec. Standard kit is youth orientated - six-speaker stereo, USB port - and fair rather than generous. But the quality perception of materials and the switchgear is better than before.It's also where the underpinning Fiat architecture is most obvious, including the high-set lever for the positive five-speed gearbox. The ergonomics aren't brilliant but four adults should fit relatively contently for short periods at least. Colour use is, er, innovative. In fact, it's like sitting inside some kind of sleek, high-tech running shoe.

Ford Ka interior (© Image © Ford)

The new Ka is the exact same 3.62m length as the old Ka, but it's 10cm taller, and the seats are higher. So you do feel a little upright and vulnerable on the road, though the sensation of being in a cheap and cheerful box is reduced. Plus there's a proper glovebox.At 224 litres, the boot is 20 percent larger. And if you really want to stand out, Ford is offering three "Individual" branded styling packages - Grand Prix, Digital Art, and Tattoo - with coloured grill surrounds, mirror caps, decals, and matching interior features.

Economy and Safety

Ford Fiesta (© Image © Ford)

Surprisingly, only two airbags are fitted as standard. Which looks incredibly poor next to the Fiat 500, which includes seven - somewhat negating the Ka's slim price advantage. Ford is anticipating a four-star Euro NCAP score (the 500 has five stars), and ESP is a £400 extra.An ECOnetic version is coming, but in the meantime the diesel returns 67.3mpg and emits just 112g/km CO2, the petrol 55.4mpg and 119g/km - matching the 500 exactly and completely thrashing the old Ka. Both engines officially take 13.1 seconds to get to 62mph (slower than the 500, slightly), the diesel does 100mph, the petrol 99.

MSN Cars Verdict: 4 out of 5

Ford Ka (© Image © Ford)

After driving the Ford Ka on the launch event, we were initially pleased to give it a reluctant five stars (with $7,995 starting price being a major proviso). However, we have now driven the Ka in the UK, and rethought our original opinion.You can read our UK road test for the full explanation, but suffice to say the unique challenge of British tarmac throws a few spanners in the works, and longer journeys have proved both the refinement and ergonomics uncomfortable.The new Ka is still a good little automobile, but it is far from perfect and certainly shouldn't be considered the only supermini choice.

Ratings out of five: Ford Ka
Performance****
Ride & handling***
Interior***
Safety***
Price***
Practicality****
Fuel economy*****
MSN Cars verdict****

Need to know
Petrol Engine
1.2
Diesel Engine 1.3
Power (bhp) 68 to 71
Torque (lb/ft) 75 to 107
0-62 (secs) 13.1
Top speed (mph) 99 to 100
Combined mpg 55.4 to 67.3
C02 emissions (g/km)/tax (%) 112 - 119 /10-13%

Read more Ford car reviews
Fiat 500
Renault Twingo GT
Toyota Aygo
VW Fox
Kia Picanto
Citroen C1
Hyundai i10
Chevrolet Matiz
Watch a video road test of the new Ford Ka

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