A lot of emphasis is placed on the Ford's Ka's entry-level 1.2-litre petrol engine. Steve Walker sees if it's up to the job.
Ten Second Review
If you're after a citycar that's as adept on the open road as it is in its native urban environment, Ford's Ka is a fine choice. Even in entry-level 1.2-litre form, it has the wherewithal for the longer journeys that can be tiresome in town-focused rivals but it's still economical, manoeuvrable and trendy as any good citycar should be.
A citycar was once a humble thing concerned mainly with giving owners a cheap and efficient way of getting about town. Nowadays we expect a whole lot more from the smallest cars on the market. We want innovation, zippy handling and vibrant design. The original Ford Ka was instrumental in raising expectations of what a citycar could do but can the current model carry the burden? A look at the strong selling 1.2-litre petrol model should reveal all. There are tough tasks and then there's the one that faced the MK2 Ford Ka. Ford's city car offering was always going to be judged in comparison to its rival urban runabouts but the Ka also had a phenomenally successful predecessor to live up to. The real challenge was not even to eclipse the original Ka as it stood in its dotage. To be deemed a success, today's model needed to emulate the impact the first Ka had when it exploded on to the scene back in 1996 and embarked on its 12-year dynasty. That was always going to be a big ask but in the past, Ford has demonstrated a certain knack for rising to a challenge.
The Ka relies heavily on its 1.2-litre petrol engine. It's the entry-level unit and in a market as cost-aware as the citycar sector, that's always going to make it a major seller. It's a relatively straightforward 1,242cc, four-cylinder, eight-valve petrol engine with maximums of 69bhp and 103Nm. That peak torque figure is achieved at 3,000rpm which is usefully low for a petrol engine but it still means that the 1.3-litre TDCi diesel comprehensively out-muscles it with 145Nm available all the way from 1,500 to 3,000rpm. Still, the 1.2 offers identical 0-60mph performance to the oil-burner at 13.1s and is only a single mile-per-hour shy when it comes to top speed with a 99mph maximum. On the road, you'll notice the lack of low-down muscle compared to the diesel Ka but also the superior refinement of the petrol engine. It's quieter and what noise there is, is less gruff in tone. Most citycar buyers will find performance more than adequate and this entry-level Ka will feel considerably stronger than basic versions of rival products. The Ka isn't cheap but many of the more affordable alternatives campaign with smaller engines that aren't as competent at the Ka's when venturing onto the open road. The Ka is well capable of undertaking motorway journeys without making you feel like a Yorkshire terrier in a greyhound race. It also has good cornering stability for a small car thanks in part to Ford's introduction of a rear anti-roll bar to brace the chassis that the Ka shares with Fiat's 500 and Panda models.
Design and Build
Along with the rest of the modern Ford range, the Ka employs what the manufacturer calls its 'Kinetic' design themes, including the trademark swept back headlamps and the trapezoidal front air-intake. There are elements carried over from the MK1 Ka around the rear end but from most angles, the effect is of a stunted Fiesta rather than an updated version of the groundbreaking original. Inside, The Ka sets the standard for build quality in citycars. The materials and switchgear are those of a far more expensive product. Ford has worked hard to create a funky cabin environment and while some elements such as the complex centre console layout are questionable, most of it has the desired effect. A wide range of trim options allows owners to make the Ka cabin as jazzy as they see fit. Though there's only a three-door bodystyle on offer, there's an airy feel inside with an abundance of headroom for front seat occupants and space for a couple of six footers to occupy the rear without doing themselves a mischief. The array of storage options has been very well thought out with useful door pockets, numerous small cubbies and an unpromising glovebox flap that opens to reveal a prodigious area behind. The boot too is of a useful size for a citycar but 224 litres won't go that far after a major supermarket splurge. Fold the rear seats and 747 litres is opened up.
Market and Model
Most customers considering a Ford Ka will be drawn towards this 1.2-litre petrol model. The Fiat-sourced 1.3-litre TDCi diesel is great and probably a more rewarding drive most of the time but it's not superior by enough of a margin to justify the £1,000 premium on a £10,000 car. The 1.2 is also the only engine available in entry-level Studio and Edge trim levels so it's definitely the option for buyers looking to keep costs down. Those willing to spend a little more will have the sporty Zetec model and the range-topping Titanium to consider. Ford dosen't battle it out with rivals on price as feircely as it once did, relying instead on the quality of its products to convince. It means there are citycars that can be had quite a bit cheaper than the Ka but few feel as well-rounded.
Cost of Ownership
As usual, the petrol versus diesel debate boils down to fuel economy and price. The 1.2-litre petrol Ka achieves 57.6mpg on the combined cycle while the diesel option gets 68.8mpg. It means that you'll need to do a lot of mileage in the diesel car to make back the £1,000 price premium Ford will charge you to get it. Emissions for the 1.2 are 115g/km which is closely matched to diesel's 109g/km so there won't be big tax savings with the oil burner. Both benefit from a clever Auto-Start-Stop system.
Some citycars take their urban remit to extremes, sacrificing cabin and boot space, performance and capability away from the city streets in order to become as nimble and fuel efficient as possible. Ford's Ka takes a more rounded approach and probably has more in common with larger superminis than the latest crop of tiny city runabouts. The 1.2-litre petrol version will be more cost effective than the diesel for most buyers and a hard car to beat if you're in the market for a truly multi-purpose citycar assuming you don't mind the three-door-only bodystyle. The modern Ka isn't the design icon that the original proved to be but it's a stylish, well built and desirable small Ford. Even with this entry-level petrol engine installed, it feels more grown-up than the majority of citycars while still retaining the manoeuvrability and ease of use around town. The only major downside is that the prices reflect this all-round competence.