New five-door supermini mounts an assault on the budget, sub-Fiesta arena
The Ford Ka+ is the full stop at the end of an experiment in city car making that began – quite promisingly – 20 years ago with the original Ka. But having sold almost half a million examples of the Fiesta-based trend-setter over its 12-year lifespan, Ford turned to a joint venture with Fiat for the Ka’s 2008 replacement – a follow-up that had much less of the quirky appeal of its forebear and proved only a fraction as popular.
Now, with its attention on more lucrative growth areas of the global market than Europe, Ford has decided that it’s not worth investing in the technology needed to stay in the niche where the likes of the Volkswagen Up, Renault Twingo, Fiat Panda and Hyundai i10 compete. Instead, it’s offering us a car that shares about as much with the first Ka as Jeremy Clarkson does with Jeremy Corbyn.
The Ka+ is a slavishly conventional full-sized five-door supermini built in India, designed with practicality, simplicity and unadorned value for money squarely in mind and offered with a choice of 69bhp and 84bhp 1.2-litre petrol engines. Developed on Ford’s global supermini platform and sharing much with the current Fiesta, it’s a meat-and-potatoes small car that will take Ford into the territory that Skoda, Kia and Hyundai are abandoning as they move upmarket. And yet, as bargain small cars go, the Ka+ is pretty good.
The Ka+ is an unadventurous but credible small car turned out with an encouraging dash of dynamic polish – as well as with the appealing price needed to go up against the likes of the Dacia Sandero and MG 3.
Available from £8995, the Ka+ doesn’t have the jaw-dropping entry-level window sticker of the Dacia, but it’s a close match for the MG. Moreover, it’s much better to drive than the previous Indian-built small car brought to us by the One Ford philosophy, the Ecosport.
Shorter but taller than the Fiesta, the Ka+ offers generous cabin space. Ford has traded a bit of boot space for cabin length relative to a typical supermini and opted for a slightly raised seating position. So boot space is a bit scant at 270 litres, but occupant space is good in both rows.
The interior fittings arc plain but no disgrace. Fascia mouldings are uniformly hard yet not too shiny or easily marked and they’re broadly well finished. And although some of the switchgear appears dated, most of it looks and feels robust.
Only one or two omissions betray the Ka+’s bargain-basement status. The front passenger seat has no cushion height adjustment and is stuck in an annoyingly perched-up position, and there are no interior grab handles, coat hooks or rear door pockets. But that aside, standard equipment isn’t bad. Entry-level Studio models get electric front windows, central locking, stability control, a speed limiter, an AM/FM radio with Bluetooth and USB connectivity and a handy integrated smartphone dock. Alloy wheels, air conditioning,a DAB radio and cruise control are the preserve of Zetec trim.
Ford left little to chance when updating the Ka+’s running gear to suit European expectations on ride and handling, fitting not just shorter suspension springs and uprated dampers to Indian-spec cars but also firmer bushings, new steering gear, stiffer boron steel structural cross-members, a stiffer front subframe, Europcan-spcc tyres, fatter anti-roll bars up front, better cabin sealing and more sound deadening. What results is commendable: a more rounded and refined drive than you’ll find in most cut-price hatchbacks, with just a little bit of sporting keenness and poise.
The Ka+ clearly deserves a better engine, though. Ford’s new 1.2-litre Duratec petrol lump is quiet and smooth, but it doesn’t rev nearly as sweetly as the old Yamaha-designed 1.25-litre unit to which it’s related, and even in the more powerful of the two available state of tune it feels short on mid-range when driven through the relatively long intermediate gear ratios of the five-speed manual gearbox.
The controls are consistently weighted and pleasant to use, from weighty steering through a similarly weighted clutch pedal to a positive and precise gearlever.
On wet German roads, the grip of the 15in wheels and Continental tyres was very respectable. Body control was surprisingly good, its steering slick and direct and its ride quiet and supple, with an edge of rubbery tautness that smacks of careful tuning and close attention to dynamic detail.
Although it’s by no means unappealing to look at, the Ka+ has a noticeable shortage of the style and charm that existing Ka owners may expect of it. Really, this car deserved a clean-slate start in life and a new identity. But there’s certainly a lot to praise here; it’s an appealing bargain package for those who’d simply prefer their family’s second-car budget to go a bit further. To put it simply, this is a better £10,000 car than you’ll find elsewhere.
Ford Ka+ 1.2TI-VCT 85 ZETEC
Rounded, refined and well-sorted bargain supermini, but don’t expect the character of the cheeky Ka
Engine: 4cyls, 1198cc, petrol
Power: 84bhp at 6300rpm
Torque: 83lb ft at 4000rpm
Gearbox: 5-speed manual
Kerb weight: 1055kg
Top speed: 104mph
Economy: 56.5mpg (combined)
CO2/tax band: 114g/km, 19%
Rivals: MG3 3Form Sport, Dacia Sandero Laureate Tce 90