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Ford Ka 2009 Road Test

Thu, 06 Nov 2008

As you may well have read or seen elsewhere (FIAT 500 Long Term), I have a FIAT 500. And I’m not going to pretend the new Ford Ka has nothing in common with it.

It’s basically the same car, or Ka, however you spell it.

The future will apparently bring us a Ka with a new 900cc two cylinder petrol turbo engine developing up to 110bhp and 120Nm torque and capable of 60mpg. And an ultra-economical 900cc turbodiesel ECOnetic emitting just 80g/km CO2.

But, in the meantime, we have to settle for FIAT’s 1,242cc 69PS petrol engine and 1,248cc 75PS Multijet diesel, with Ford names attached to them.

No problem there. My 500 1.2 petrol is returning 51.1mpg in mixed use and, while no ball of fire, is a decent, relaxed and pleasant performer.

Its Achilles heel is its handling. Get it on a roundabout and while the entry is fine, the left turn onto the exit road can have the back end lifting a wheel and hopping across the road. It’s simply too stiff.

Lowering the tyre pressures a couple of pounds curbs its tendency to head towards the kerb and improves ride quality a bit, but doesn’t entirely eliminate the deficiency.

Happily, Ford chassis engineers weren’t having any of this. If anyone knows how to make a car both ride and handle well, they do. So the first thing they did was stiffen up the twist beam rear axle by 70% with a torsion rod. And the second thing they did was soften the rear springs by 30%. They also played around with the electric steering mechanism and software.

The result is a transformation of the car’s ride and handling. Bumps and ruts are absorbed as if they didn’t exist. And you can actually feel both back tyres clinging to the surface of the road rather than attempting to leave it. The rumour is that once FIAT found out what Ford had done they adopted exactly the same tweaks to the back axle of the Punto Abarth, and that’s why that car is getting rave reviews.

Inside, Ford’s designers and stylists have done their best to disguise the Ka’s 500 and Panda origins by a completely different twin dial dash and a facia cut away in front of the passenger with a decent size glovebox underneath. That’s on LHD Kas anyway. Can’t say for RHD because I don’t know if anything might intrude in to the glovebox with RHD.

There are some really cheerful fabrics used on the seats, and a long options list allowing you to personalise the car. I thought there was a bit more legroom in the back than in my 500, and the more upright rear profile gives the Ka a 39 litre bigger 224 litre boot. But, like the 500, and the new Fiesta, the rear seats don’t fold flat. Only the backrests flop down. (Ford might be thinking of improving this and adopting proper, double folding rear seats to leave a flat luggage deck like the Hyundai i10’s.)

An irritation is that there’s no space inside the rear hatch handle to fit a microswitch, like the 500’s. So the only way to open it is either with the key or to press the boot opener on the remote twice. Ford’s response to our criticism of this is to change the ESP switch on the dash to a boot switch and make switchable ESP one of the stalk and button menu functions.

Prices kick off at £7,995 for the base version, rising through £8,495 and £8,995 to £9,495, with the diesel engine a mere £700 more on the top Zetec version. (You can see what you get with the four trim levels in the specifications section.) Ford expects the model mix to be 20% base ‘Style’ models, 32% Style and Style + and 48% Zetec.

A bonus over the 500 is an expected 1E or 2E insurance rating compared to the 500’s ABI Group 4. But Ford is only banking on a 4 star NCAP score because side curtain airbags are not standard as they are on the 500.

Did I like it? Too right I did. It’s comfortable, stylish and great fun to drive.

It isn’t as complete a car as the cheaper 5-door, 5-seater Hyundai i10, but its fun looks and endless options list should appeal to younger drivers and to fans of the blue oval who haven’t been bitten by the FIAT 500 bug.

For prices, specifications, engines and transmissions, dimensions, and performance figures, please click the tabs.

More at www.ford.co.uk


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