"Travelling three-up with luggage on a motorway at 70mph felt comfortable until you reached an incline, where large increases of throttle were needed to maintain speed, again reminding you that you were driving a car with a small engine. That's to be expected though and although the Ka didn't rock my world by any means, I did like it."
Any manufacturer will tell you that its city car is made for urban life, nimble, sparky, effervescent, affordable, economical, that kind of thing. But the big brands will also claim that their cars can take longer, higher speed journeys in their stride. We wanted to find out the truth because the idea of three or four hours travelling four-up in some of the market-leading city cars didn't seem like barrel of laughs from the outside. The car we chose for the trip was probably a soft option, the Ford Ka being one of the roomier, more sophisticated contenders in the city car market. Moreover, our particular car was equipped with a strong 1.3 TDCi diesel engine. It was still small though and intrepid reporter Terry Fidler and colleagues had a lot of mileage to cover. The M1 seemed a logical choice, being the country's original motorway and, in places, about as smooth as an Alpine goat track. A few hundred miles of that was sure to put the Ka and its occupants to the test, so fully-fuelled and freshly stocked with petrol station junk food, it sped down the on-ramp and into the unknown.
This was Terry's first acquaintance with the Ford Ka and he'd had a chance to give it the once over at the services while the rest of the team weighed up the pros and cons of the chiller cabinet's Ginsters selection. "I thought that the styling both inside and out was surprisingly cool," he explained. "The exterior of model that we drove was enhanced by the sporty Zetec trim level and struck me as a massive improvement from the previous Ka. It's a little bit more aggressive in its stance and less overtly cute. I'd say that this Ka should appeal to a wider audience. The interior was also a big style improvement with a well thought out layout that made it feel roomier than you'd expect." So it was a thumbs up for Ford's design team on first impressions but Terry still had a long way to go. Comfort is the first thing people look for in a long distance car and with limited space to play with, the Ka was always going to be up against it on this score. Terry and his two passengers soon hit on a few issues. "The truth was that the interior was quite small and a little cramped but you didn't really notice until you were well into a long journey and started to want to move, wriggle and resettle. No, for me there was one position (which was both the natural and initially comfortable position) and one position only. Any attempt to move into another position resulted in collisions with interior parts and a reminder that I was indeed driving a Ka." The position of the throttle pedal provided further consternation for Terry. "I'm not sure if this would be such an issue if the car was only being used for short journeys but with no cruise control, the need to constantly have your foot on the throttle pedal exposed its awkward placement. I'm fairly sure that the problem would be just as bad for shorter people too. I found it impossible to maintain the foot position needed for any length of time." Pedal positioning notwithstanding, the Ka was coping better than expected a few hours into the journey. "For a small diesel car, the driving experience was surprisingly good. Engine response felt positive and more than adequate for keeping pace with traffic. Steering response and balance was spot on and the handling was a good mixture of ride comfort and sporty feedback." "Travelling three-up with luggage on a motorway at 70mph felt comfortable until you reached an incline, where large increases of throttle were needed to maintain speed, again reminding you that you were driving a car with a small engine. That's to be expected though and although the Ka didn't rock my world by any means, I did like it." The best was yet to come though because if you can put up with the slight discomfort of a city car on a motorway marathon, you should reap the benefits at the pumps, as Terry found. "I loved the fuel economy. It made the aching ankle more than worthwhile. We covered 320 miles for just £20 worth of fuel and friends of ours who regularly do the same journey in a Land Rover Discovery usually spend over £75. Enough said." The Ka city car was definitely outside its comfort zone on a long journey but it coped and that's all city car buyers will really need it to do. Terry completed the trip with a new appreciation of what small cars are capable of, even if he would rather take something a little bit bigger next time. "As small cars go, I would probably give the Ka a five star rating because, throttle pedal placement aside, the only real negative aspects of the car where those directly attributable to the fact that it is a small car. Take that away and you wouldn't have much of a city car would you?"
Facts at a Glance
Facts At A Glance CAR: Ford Ka 1.3 TDCi PRICE: £10,595 - on the road INSURANCE GROUP: 2 CO2 EMISSIONS: 112g/km PERFORMANCE: [1.3 TDCi Duratorq] 0-60mph 13.1s / Max Speed 100mph FUEL CONSUMPTION: [1.3 TDCi Duratorq] (combined) 67.3mpg STANDARD SAFETY FEATURES: Twin front & side airbags WILL IT FIT IN YOUR GARAGE?: length/width/heightmm 3620/1658/1505mm