The second generation Ford Ka takes a less controversial route than the original version but it's still cute, plus with fuel-saving Start-Stop technology, it's also frugal too. Jonathan Crouch reports on the improved models.
Ten Second Review
Bigger but not too big, faster but not too fast, plusher but not too plush, Ford's Ka citycar treads a fine line in second generation guise. Fortunately, it has a huge bank of customers loyal from the first generation version to fall back on if all else fails. There's a more efficient petrol engine on offer, plus a diesel for the first time, both now fitted with eco-friendly Start-Stop technology.
The Ka was a car that Ford was very hesitant to replace - and you can see why. This citycar has the highest loyalty levels of any product thanks to a 12 year production run for the first generation model and an iconic shape that if you loved, you really loved. Nearly one and a half million examples have been sold, half a million of those in the UK, where the car has been the citycar segment leader since 2000. The MK2 model doesn't really have its predecessor's love-it-or-hate-it Marmite appeal, but it's unquestionable a better car. Ford have developed it as a joint venture with Fiat, so this model rolls off the same production lines in Tychy, Poland as the more daringly-styled Fiat 500, sharing its engines and the same platform design.
The original Ka was renowned for its go-kart like handling and its replacement has been designed to be just as fun and rewarding to drive, with what Ford claim are the most exciting driving dynamics of any small car. The company's chassis engineering experts have tuned the suspension, steering, and chassis with their usual meticulous attention to detail and final testing was conducted using a combination of public roads, proving grounds and race tracks - including the legendary N??rburgring in Germany. During the engineering process, information was exchanged with the team developing the larger Fiesta, and certain components, such as the tyres, were jointly developed for both models. The 1.2-litre 69PS Duratec petrol engine is a huge improvement on the wheezy old petrol 1.3 used in the old Ka, while the 75PS 1.3-litre Duratorq TDCi turbodiesel is a good option for those likely to cover larger mileages. Both engines now meet Euro V emission levels and feature Auto-Start-Stop technology to cut the engine in traffic or when you're waiting at the lights. That's important in a city car where frequent stop-start motoring is the norm.
Design and Build
You might mistake this Ka as a shrunken version of the Fiesta supermini from the outside but inside, it's very much its own car - and much more avant garde, with what Ford like to call a 'kinetic' design philosophy. Bold contrasts and expressive colours have been deliberately chosen to reflect the more adventurous tastes of the typical Ka customer. These are combined with some imaginative design details to give the interior a fashionable and fun personality which, Fiat 500 apart, is pretty unique in the citycar segment. One thing that the old Ka wasn't was roomy and practical. The second generation car isn't huge of course (there's only so much you can do with a bodyshell this small) but it is a huge improvement. There's surprisingly generous interior space and comfortable accommodation for four adults and their belongings, though acceptable rear seat legroom will depend on the front seat passengers not resembling basketball players. The high seating position, carefully placed controls and excellent visibility should make this Ka easy to drive for owners of all ages. And safety? Well, at the heart of the vehicle is a tough bodyshell, which has been developed to provide a strong, stable crash structure to protect passengers in case of an accident. This has been combined with an Intelligent Protection System (IPS), which integrates airbags, restraint systems and seating technologies to provide what Ford claims is a highly effective occupant safety system.
Market and Model
Buyers choose between four different trim levels - Studio, Edge, Zetec and Titanium - plus there are various option packs to consider. Specify the Bluetooth-enabled Connectivity Kit, and the Ka comes equipped with Bluetooth mobile phone connectivity, a USB port to play music files through the sound system and steering wheel controls. Combine this with the six-speaker CD sound systems on offer and owners should have all the necessary equipment to keep passengers connected and entertained. Unique among vehicles in the small-car segment, this Ka also offers heated windscreen and heated seats, invaluable for safe and comfortable driving in cold winter conditions.
Cost of Ownership
A citycar like this has to be both cheap to run and kind to the environment and of course, Ford loudly proclaims this Ka to be both. The addition of the Auto-Stop-Start system has improved both fuel economy and CO2 emissions by 3% for both engines, the 1.2 litre Duratec petrol unit delivering a combined fuel consumption return of 57.6 mpg and averaging 115g/km of CO2, while the 1.3-litre TDCi diesel achieves an impressive 68.8 mpg by the same measure and CO2 emissions of only 109g/km. In order to help the driver to reduce the real world fuel consumption as far as possible, the Ka's instrument cluster also features a shift indicator light.
This Ka may not quite have the cheeky spirit of the original version but with fuel-saving Start-Stop technology now a standard feature, it does have all the tools necessary to retain Ford's leadership in the UK citycar segment. Some previous owners would doubtless have preferred it if this model, like its predecessor, had been more of its own car and less of a shrunken Fiesta. Yet, for many others, a shrunken, more affordable Fiesta with a dash of extra flair inside is exactly what they're looking for. Both however, may be satisfied as Ford gradually develops the Ka model range. It will be interesting to see what's in store.