The Ford Ka is the sister car to the Fiat 500, but is it more appealing than the funky Italian?

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The original Ford Ka went on sale to huge critical acclaim in the autumn of 1996. The first example of a whole new design generation known as New Edge, it was truly a pioneering car for Ford of Europe.

Beneath the skin it was a far from complex piece of machinery, but for most of the time it was more than good enough, even if the engine felt quite long in the tooth from day one. Despite this, it was fun to drive and rewarding to own. It spawned a ‘warm’ Sportka version and the soft-top Ford Streetka, too.

The Ka line up is streamlined for this second generation car. There's no convertible or hot model

The first-generation Ford Ka achieved many things in many different countries during the 12 years it remained on sale, including numerous design and best car awards throughout Europe. But surely its greatest feat was reaching over 1.4 million homes, over half a million of which were in the UK.

We Europeans loved that original New Edge Ka, right up until the very last one rolled off the production line in 2008. So you could say that its successor is under unprecedented pressure to succeed.

Ford’s solution to the near-impossible-to-solve equation of how to make money out of a high-quality, desirable city car was to join up with Fiat and split the development costs. Which is why beneath its skin the new Ka shares 80 percent of its components with the Fiat 500

There is no end of trim options available to suit every taste; as well as the more usual Studio, Style, Zetec, Zetec Black and White Editions and Titanium models, and a solitary petrol engine in the shape of the 1.2-litre unit shared with the Fiat 500.

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However, this second generation Ka never really stood much chance of replicating its predecessor or even match the beguiling Fiat 500, and as a result Ford has canned this three-door supermini, in the shape of the bigger overall, five-door Ka+.


Ford Ka
The original Ford Ka introduced Ford’s New Edge design theme; this model follows Ford’s current Kinetic Design ideology

The original Ford Ka introduced Ford’s New Edge design theme; this second generation follows Ford’s current Kinetic Design ideology. The front grille aperture and long, squinting headlights are intended to give the new Ka a manga-like personality, apparently.

The high-reaching door mirror mount cuts into front three-quarter visibility, even though the A-pillars themselves aren’t especially broad. 

There are still references to the cheeky styling of the original Ka

There was an 11th-hour design change at the Tychy factory in Poland to keep the line of rear wing and door fluent at its upper edge. The shape and positioning of the tailgate handle references that of the original Ka.

The fuel filler gives away the Ka’s Fiat origins. Other Ford products have the cap incorporated into the flap, while the Ka has a traditional cap that requires the key to release.

The Ka, in fact, began life as a Fiat Panda, as may appear identical to the did the Fiat 500 itself, and the joint venture began in only 2005 when Fiat and Ford signed up to create two cars – Fiat 500 and Ka – from the Fiat Panda’s existing platform. 

Fiat provided the basic bodyshell for the project plus the engines, gearboxes, chassis and suspension systems. Ford then retuned and restyled the car in its detail to create the new Ka. So while the Ka’s 1.2-litre, single-cam petrol engine Fiat 500’s on paper, developing a similar 67bhp and 75lb ft, in reality it feels quite different in the Ford. 

But the biggest difference by far is the rear suspension, where Ford has fitted a 30 percent stiffer anti-roll bar and changed almost everything that moves to give the Ka the right kind of dynamic personality, even though it still shares the 500’s basic geometry of MacPherson struts and coil springs at the front with a torsion beam (plus that new anti-roll bar) at the back.

The 2016, Ford Ka+ has left the quirkiness that the original Ka and this second generation attempted to carry on behind, with the true intention of this new five-door supermini aiming for practicality, simplicity and affordablity over the trying to muscle the Volkswagen Up and Hyundai i10 out of the way.


Ford Ka
The Ka's interior - funky upholstery aside - looks a little ordinary

There are three basic style themes that can be specified inside the Ford Ka, each of which can be separately tailored to a customer’s tastes and desires. The potential variation of colour, trim and option combos is so large that no one at Ford has a calculator powerful enough to work out the actual number.

Before that you can select from five basic trim levels: Studio, Style, Zetec, Zetec Black and White Editions and Titanium, each appearing in ascending order of price and specification.

There are plenty of customisation options available

The entry-level Studio models are sparse affairs, as should be expected, but do come with anti-lock brakes, a trip computer, USB connectivity and a 12V power socket, while upgrading to the Studio Ka adds air conditioning, electric front windows, manually adjustable driver's seat, and body coloured handles and mirror housing as standard.

The mid-range Zetec models gain 16in alloy wheels, heated wing mirrors, front fog lights and Ford's Quickclear windscreen, while the Black and White Editions come with black alloys, black and white seat trim and interior styling.

The range-topping Titanium trim equips the Ka with luxuries such as climate control, leater seats, a panoramic sunroof and rear parking sensors.

If it all sounds deeply stylish on paper, unless you go the whole hog and dig deep into the options catalogue, the Ka interior, though ergonomically sound and pretty well made, suffers from being a touch ordinary.

The seats are no better than so-so in the support they offer and feel surprisingly hard beneath your backside, while the plastic used to trim most of the top of the dash is of the cheap and not especially cheerful variety. Only the flash of colour coding on the centre console itself and a brace of good-looking, well laid out instruments help lift the atmosphere above the ordinary. 

Having said that, the stereo operation remains unforgivably fiddly; it’s all too easy to thumb the hazard warning button in an attempt to select Radio Dunton. 

On the other hand, for such a small car the amount of space on offer in the Ka is genuinely excellent. Head room is superb, there’s enough leg room front and rear to squeeze four adults on board, and even the boot is big enough to swallow a reasonable slug of luggage.


Ford Ka
Petrol and diesel powertrains are offered in the Ford Ka

Ford spent a lot of time and effort retuning the 1.2-litre, eight-valve engine in the Ford Ka to deliver a blend and style of performance it was happy with.

Not because the engine does a bad job in the Fiat 500, merely a different one from that required by the Blue Oval. The result is indeed a quantifiably altered experience, but whether it’s any more appealing than what you get in the Fiat is another matter, even though the Ka feels perkier and plain faster than the Fiat and has a sweeter, slicker gearchange. 

Both the 1.2-litre petrol and 1.3-litre TDCi engines are good, if noisy performers

The Ka’s main problem is that it generates a surprising amount of noise inside the cabin with anything more than a few hundred revs dialled into the motor. That typically well oiled, almost over-refined feel that’s so abundant in most other Fords simply isn’t there in the new Ka, either.

That said, it is a decently lively performer in the first four gears, even though fifth (top) feels a touch long for the 1.2-litre engine to be able to cope with. Zero to 60mph takes a competitive 13.6sec and in fourth gear it’ll go from 50-70mph in under 13.0sec, a good time for a city car. 

The bottom line is that the slightly more expensive and phased out TDCi version was far quieter and better performer in the real world, and that’s the version you should go for. If you can afford it and you will drive enough miles to offset the higher purchase costs with its greater economy. 

The familiar, Fiat-sourced 74bhp 1.3-litre diesel is the same one you can buy in a Fiat Panda, 500 – or Vauxhall Corsa. Meaning that GM and Ford are sharing the same engine. As in other applications, this diesel unit needs to be used quite hard. It has to be revved, so performance is still accompanied by some noise. It really only performs when pulling 2500pm or better, but it also runs out of puff at 4500rpm.


Ford Ka
The Ford Ka feels far sharper than the Fiat 500, with which it shares many components

As with the engine and gearbox, only more so, Ford’s engineers really did pull out all the stops to try to refine and improve upon what they were given with the Ford Ka. Which is why, very early on in the project, they specified a new anti-roll bar at the back, which improved the overall stiffness of the chassis by around 30 percent.

As a result, the Ka feels much sharper and tauter on the road than the 500. Its steering feels almost as good as a Ford Fiesta’s in the way it telegraphs what’s going on at the front tyres. The way the body is controlled, even at low speeds, also represents a marked improvement over the baby Fiat, as does the basic bite of the front end when you turn into a corner, especially if the surface on that corner happens to be wet.

Buyers looking for a smooth ride might be better served by the Fiat 500

But there is a trade-off, and that’s ride comfort, which has suffered as a result of Ford’s desire to make the Ka feel crisp. On smooth surfaces the worst thing you’ll notice is a surprising amount of noise, most of which comes from beneath the bonnet. But on rougher roads and on less than perfectly surfaced motorways (those throughout most of the UK, in other words) the Ka’s ride is at best lively, at worst not very good at all.

Whether this is in part down to the bigger, optional 16in alloy wheels is hard to tell, because early pre-production examples we tried, admittedly on the smoother test track roads in Belgium, rode rather better than the final production versions.

Either way, if you are expecting Ford Fiesta-style levels of refinement and composure from the Ka, think again. Like us, you may be somewhat disappointed; try before you buy.


Ford Ka
The Ford Ka lacks the sparkle of the original model

If you are in the market for a small and effective runabout, the Ford Ka makes a case for itself. In 1.2 Style trim it’s cheap to insure, reasonably clean and, in our experience, will rarely deliver less than 40mpg and sometimes more than 50mpg. Likewise, the diesel engine offers decent economy and low running costs in a well-priced package.

Trouble is, many of its rivals score on these counts too - plus, in the case of the very best in the class, several others.

Insurance is very cheap

The Fiat 500 and Volkswagen Up, for instance, deliver a dash of style and plenty of kit for a similar price, while other city cars, notably the Hyundai i10, Fiat Panda and Kia Picanto, offer far better value for money with a combination of low prices, strong build, cheap running costs and plentiful equipment. As five-doors, they’re more practical, too.

For us, the Ka has lost some of the charm of the original; the no-nonsense mechanicals, sense of style and low, low running costs mean the old model is still sought after on the used market today.

The same cannot be said of the latest model, and used (and trade in) prices reflect that. The only upside for new Ka buyers is that there is room to haggle at dealers - discounts of at least 10 percent on list prices are normal, and we'd recommend would-be buyers use online broker sites to ascertain the latest prices before asking a dealer to match them.

The 2016 Ford Ka+ is making positive strides to remedie the malaise caused the second gen Ka, which rather than aiming to replicate the original is aiming for practicality and affordability.



3 star Ford Ka
The Ka is ever so slightly disappointing overall, even though it is capable

There are two key reasons why the new Ford Ka doesn’t quite hit the spot.

One, the old Ka was a legend in its own lifetime, a genuine rule-breaker for Ford of Europe, on which the new model was always going to struggle to improve. Two, it is not – unlike the Mk1 – a clean-sheet design. And in the end, no matter how good a job Ford’s engineers might have done, they were playing with one hand tied behind their backs.

The second generation Ka fails to excite as much as the original

The biggest problem the Mk2 Ka has is that the world has moved on around it. Back in the day, there was nothing to rival the cheeky Ka’s sense of fun, style and low running costs; it was a great drive, too. These days, rivals are plenty and many of them do it better, not least in terms of value.

Fiat’s Fiat 500 is the more desirable of the two cars by a country mile, with better looks inside and out. The Ford may be the better drive, but city car buyers are more attracted to the Fiat and it’s easy to see why.

Then there are the likes of the Volkswagen Up, Hyundai i10 and Kia Picanto, both showing Ford a thing or two about value, which is all important in city car buyers’ minds. For example, Ford’s three-year warranty seems stingy when compared with the Hyundai’s five-year and the Kia’s seven-year cover.

As a result, the new Ka seems ever so slightly disappointing overall, even though in isolation it is a thoroughly capable little car – one with class-leading packaging and performance, excellent safety credentials and an all but unrivalled range of options. This may seem like a rather unfair way in which to judge Ford’s efforts, but the Ka only just managed to compete.

Hence making Ford's decision to drop it from the line-up all the easier, especially, as the new Ka+ shares its underpinning with the Ford Fiesta and is aiming to benefit in the space that Skoda, Kia and Hyundai are vacating as they look to move upmarket.

Ford Ka 2009-2016 First drives