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First drive: Ford Ka+. Image by Ford.

First drive: Ford Ka+
Ford grows the Ka+ into a sub-Fiesta B-segment value offering, but does it impress?

 



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Ford Ka+

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5

Big car practicality for city car prices is the rationale behind the all-new Ford Ka+. The Blue Oval is keen to stress that this isn't a direct replacement for the preceding chic urban run-around with which it shares its name - instead, the Ka+ replaces the most basic Studio and Style models of Fiesta in the B-segment, pushing the 40-year-old Fezza upmarket while the newcomer simultaneously takes on the likes of the Hyundai i10/i20, Vauxhall Viva, Kia Picanto, Dacia Sandero and Suzuki Celerio. As a 'Europeanisation' of a global Ford model, the Ka+ is pretty successful and feels a better stab at the formula than the EcoSport compact SUV, although the new hatchback remains markedly different to a 'true' European Ford.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Ford Ka+ 1.2 Ti-VCT Zetec 85hp
Pricing: from 8,995; 1.2 85hp from 10,295
Engine: 1.2-litre four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: front-wheel drive, five-speed manual
Body style: five-door hatchback
CO2 emissions: 114g/km (VED Band C, 0 first 12 months, 30 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 56.6mpg
Top speed: 105mph
0-62mph: 13.3 seconds
Power: 85hp at 6,300rpm
Torque: 112Nm at 4,000rpm

What's this?

The Ford Ka+ and as we said in the intro, even though it bears the phonetically challenging nameplate (Kah, to rhyme with 'ha'? Kaa, to rhyme with 'car'? Just say 'K-A' as two separate letters? You'll still hear all three, despite Ford remaining adamant it's the first of these), this is not a replacement for the popular sub-B-segment city runabout that made such a splash when it was introduced way back in 1996.

Instead, this is an example of the One Ford policy that sees the company selling almost identical vehicles the world over. While that means many of the cars developed over here head to exotic parts of the globe, products can also travel the other way - and the Ka+ is one of them. It was developed by Ford Brazil, the Euro-spec cars will be built in a purpose-built factory in India and the clever chassis engineers in this part of the world who have doled out some brilliant motors in recent years (Fiesta ST, Focus RS, any iteration of Mondeo, the Puma... come on, the list just goes on and on) have purportedly done lots of work fine-tuning the hidden oily bits to make it more palatable on our shores.

Thus, what you end up with is a five-door hatchback with class-leading front headroom, lots of rear passenger space, an impressive (for this class) 270-litre boot with 13 more litres under its floor - and a starting price of just 8,995. We've listed the wider competitors at the top of the piece but the obvious chief rival is from Luton. The revived Viva is a very similar concept to the Ka+: it's built in another country and adapted for our showrooms; it's all about simple, cost-pegged motoring without feeling shockingly basic; and the engine is a fairly primitive unit lacking forced induction. It's going to be a classic Ford v Vauxhall UK sales fight, then.

So, let's scrutinise the Ford. The Ka+ looks absolutely fine on the outside, if nothing like as distinctive and instantly appealing as the 1996-2008 original. Nor even the Fiat 500-based MkII. But it's not a Ka, is it? You have to forget all that heritage, because it no longer belongs to the Ka+. It's therefore a perfectly inoffensive piece of design, although, even on 15-inch alloys as a Zetec, it looks a bit under-wheeled. Inside, it is also acceptable. It is made of tough, durable, work-a-day plastics - just like the Viva's cabin - and it would most likely horrify a Volkswagen up! owner, but the classy Ford steering wheel and neat centre console design save it from being utterly budget fare in there. It is very spacious within, meeting its key brief, and the driving position is largely excellent; shame it's not a rotary knob to adjust the seat backrests, though, instead being one of those infuriating levers that means you never quite get the right inclination.

The UK Ka+ range is extraordinarily simple. There are two specification grades, Studio and Zetec. There's one engine, the 1.2, available in 70hp/105Nm entry trim or the 85hp/112Nm variant tested here. Either power output comes with a five-speed manual gearbox, and you can only have the Studio cars with the 70hp engine; the 85hp is an upgrade on the Zetec. Prices start at 8,995, or 9,995 for the 70hp in Studio and Zetec respectively, with the 85hp Zetec from 10,295.

For that money, you get alloys, air-con, a DAB radio with a 4.2-inch TFT screen and SYNC, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, cruise control, electric door mirrors and front windows, front fog lamps with daytime running lights, a trip computer and more trinkets as standard. Added to our test car were almost all the options, in the form of paint (745), a 14-inch steel spare wheel (100), privacy glass (225), Electronic Automatic Temperature Control (aka climate control, for 275), heated front seats (150) and a City Pack (rear parking sensors, heated and power folding door mirrors and rear electric windows, for 300), leading to a 12,090 Ka+.

Some very quick sales stats, then on to the driving - since it hit showrooms in June, Ford has seen a colossal 98 per cent take-up in the UK of the 85hp model, concomitantly meaning higher Zetec trim, with a good take-up of premium paint colours (495) headed in the preference charts by Deep Impact Blue. Ford wants to sell 15,000 units per annum, while funky black and white 'Colour Edition' specials will be launched in spring 2017. The company says these early sales splits suggest buyers are prepared to go for top-spec, top-power, fully-loaded examples of the Ka+, despite its high-value ethos.

How does it drive?

We keep using this adjective and therefore damning the Ka+ with faint praise, but dynamically it's 'fine'; nothing more. Full disclosure would force us to admit we spent the whole time on 30-, 40- and 50mph roads in and around the Olympic Park in London's eastern districts, the car never getting close to escaping the throttled traffic of thoroughfares within the M25, so we can't tell you what it's like on the ragged edge, but we have gleaned some important facts.

Firstly, there's nothing wrong with the little 1.2-litre normally aspirated lump under the Ka+'s snub nose, but without recourse to as much as a light-pressure turbo, performance is leisurely even on the 85hp motor and the flywheel Ford has equipped the car with must be quite heavy. That means building and shedding revs is not a crisp affair, and coupled to a throttle that could, uncharitably, be described as 'fluffy', it doesn't exactly stand out as a sweet powerplant. Strange, because it is derived from the fizzing, feisty 1.25-litre unit that has been found in Fiestas for many a year. At least the five-speed gearbox is a slick, free-flowing delight.

The brakes are adequate, although the pedal's not particularly feelsome, and the steering is direct, well-weighted but lacking feedback. Not crucial, you might think, for a cheapo city machine, but as Ford says this has been engineered to be 'fun-to-drive', and going by the brand's own high standards in this department, it's a rather lacklustre rack. When we finally did find one or two junctions to throw the Ka+ into, what we were greeted with was a huge amount of understeer, followed by snap-oversteer when lifting off the throttle to correct the nose pushing wide. There was also a lot of body roll, too. This is not a precise-handling machine.

There are also a lot of details that feel tiny on the Ka+, such as the strangely pinched door mirrors, that dash-top SYNC screen and what has to be the most minuscule rev counter we've ever seen outside of a Caterham (or similar), so at this point you're probably thinking we're not keen on the Ka+. However, where it almost wholly redeems itself is with its refined driving manners. It has a thoroughly unobtrusive ride, even on the cratered tarmac that is widespread in the capital city, and it suppresses engine, wind and tyre noises far better than its origins might have you believe. Indeed, the engine - while not rev-happy - is nevertheless a smooth operator that lacks for much in the way of vibrations transmitted into the passenger cabin.

In essence, this is no pseudo-Fiesta in the road-holding stakes, but it is pleasant to travel in as a conveyance to get you from A-to-B. In that regard, it is once again almost identical to the Vauxhall Viva - although, to our surprise, the Griffin is the more entertaining car to steer at speed.

Verdict

The Ford Ka+ will be a strong contender at the bargain end of the B-segment, because it is very well-equipped, it's reasonably inexpensive and its cultured driving manners will do enough to endear it to potential customers. Compared to a Fiesta, its chassis feels ill-resolved and the interior is a clear step down in quality, but neither of these drawbacks are fatal to the affordable Ka+ and in these respects, Ford's doing nothing differently to pretty much all the main competitors within this niche.

It's a shame it's not particularly endearing on the exterior aesthetics front (another area where the Viva has it beat), but due to its physical size, the Ka+ has a cabin that feels commodious. Expect to see plenty of examples of this unusual hatchback on our roads in the coming years, then, because it will no doubt meet and then eclipse the modest UK sales targets set by Ford as it's a decent execution of 21st century budget motoring.

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Exterior Design

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

4 4 4 4 4 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

3 3 3 3 3 Driving Dynamics

3 3 3 3 3 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 23 Nov 2016









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2017 Ford Ka+. Image by Ford.2017 Ford Ka+. Image by Ford.2017 Ford Ka+. Image by Ford.2017 Ford Ka+. Image by Ford.2017 Ford Ka+. Image by Ford.

2017 Ford Ka+. Image by Ford.2017 Ford Ka+. Image by Ford.2017 Ford Ka+. Image by Ford.2017 Ford Ka+. Image by Ford.2017 Ford Ka+. Image by Ford.








 

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