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Ford Ka 1.3 review (1996-2003)
Bodystyle: 3-door hatchback
Engine:1.3 in-line 4-cyl
Fuel type: Petrol
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Date of Test: May 2002
What is it?
Ford’s smallest car is also one of its most highly-acclaimed. Based on the well-respected chassis of the last-generation Fiesta, it is currently offered as a three-door hatchback only, though the ultra-stylish StreetKa cabrio is soon to be with us, too. The Ka is important because traditional ‘superminis have ‘grown up’ in size and stature, meaning many manufacturers have introduced smaller city cars to appeal to younger or budget-conscious buyers. Not only one of the first such models, the Ka is also agreed to be one of the best - even six years after its launch.
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Where does it fit?
The Ka is currently only offered with a single 1.3-litre engine, producing 59bhp; further units may eventually appear, but not until well into 2003. This means that only trim differences mark out individual Kas, for behind the wheel they’re all identical to drive. The lack of choice also means the Ka is firmly an entry-level model; for those seeking bigger engines, extra doors, or even an automatic gearbox option, only a Fiesta will do - the Ka lacks all three.
Is it for you?
On the face of it, the Ka seems to have limited on-paper appeal, for both the reasons above and the bigger issue of tight dimensions; it’s a little cramped in the back, despite the generous wheelbase which means it’s actually longer than a Mercedes A-Class. But really, this isn’t so much of an issue given the way it looks. It’s still a funky delight, both inside and out, so if practicality isn’t a factor, you’ll certainly see its appeal. Then you’ll drive it…
What does it do well?
Quite simply, ride and handle far beyond its modest station. On a twisting road, few ‘city’ cars are more fun, and none offer as much composure, grip or feedback through the controls. The steering is quick, yet ride quality doesn’t suffer from this raciness - it’s taut but easily capable of soaking up potholes. The Ka also has a great gearchange, perfect driving position and displays big-car composure on the motorway. A fine all-rounder.
What doesn't it do well?
Not only are there no rear doors, but once you’re there you’ll find legroom lacking too, though headroom is OK. The boot is also on the small side, the 1.3-litre engine is underpowered given the talents of the chassis, and fuel economy is also now a little off the pace. If we’re being picky, we could criticise the too-small front seats and sparse instrument pack, but we’re not; the Ka has few real weaknesses.
What's it like to live with?
It’s a Ford, which means it’s hassle-free to live with. Dealers everywhere, cheap servicing rates (if with now-short 10,000-mile intervals) and cheap spares mean it shouldn’t cost the earth. Those huge bumpers come in three bits to reduce replacement prices, while the elderly engine is well-proven. It’s simple inside so there’s not a lot to go wrong, and it’s only the lack of space in the back which could eventually grate.
Would we buy it?
Without question, even with the single weedy engine option. It’s great fun to drive, livening dull journeys, yet is also refined and sophisticated when you want it to be. Motorway journeys are a breeze and fast cross-country blasts are a pleasure. Given its low prices, it’s a bargain - though a bit more equipment as standard wouldn’t go amiss.
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