The Ford Ka+ will go on sale in the UK next month, with prices starting from £8995. The new city car, which is roughly the same size as the Fiesta hatchback, replaces the Ford Ka and is designed to satisfy the appetite for smaller, cheaper cars in the UK.
The model, built in India and sold there as the Figo, has been heavily revised for Europe, because Ford is desperate to avoid the quality difficulties it had a couple of years ago with the Ecosport crossover from the same source.
Only one five-door hatchback bodystyle will be offered, in two trim levels, Style and Zetec.
There will be just one 1.2-litre four-cylinder engine, too, closely related to the 1.25-litre engine found in the Fiesta but cheaper to make. It will come with a choice of two power outputs - 69bhp and 84bhp - although the lower-powered engine won’t be offered at launch.
Darren Palmer, Ford’s boss of B-car projects, believes the higher-output, £10,295 Zetec will be the most popular model but points out that even the entry-level car is well equipped.
Standard equipment includes six airbags, air conditioning, Ford’s Sync voice-activated phone and audio system, a smartphone docking station, a speed limiter and hill start assist.
Buyers who choose the 84bhp engine can get options including climate control, a leather-covered steering wheel with cruise control, alloy wheels, heated front seats, a DAB radio, rear parking sensors and heated/folding mirrors.
Palmer is at pains to point out that the Ka+ suspension has been fine-tuned by Ford of Europe’s experts at the Lommel proving ground in Belgium.
The result is a unique-to-Europe chassis spec with special specifications for the steering, springs and dampers, front anti-roll bar, rear torsion beam and tyres, plus a re-engineered front subframe and engine mounts.
The European Ka+ rides a little lower than the Indian and South American versions, and its ride and handling are much more in keeping with European tastes.
“I kept telling them to make it as good as the Fiesta,” said Palmer. “I reckon they’ve succeeded.”
Ford has in the past resisted associations with the budget end of the market, but this time it has named the Kia Rio and Dacia Sandero as competitors for the Ka+, mainly because they offer the same recipe of impressive accommodation for the money.
Our own tests at the Ka+’s launch in Cologne last week proved that a six-footer can fit into the car’s surprisingly generous rear cabin, behind another in the driving seat.
While citing the Kia and Dacia as competitors, Ford avoided mentioning others in the same price bracket, such as the Vauxhall Viva, Suzuki Celerio, MG 3, Peugeot 108, Citroën C1 and basic versions of the Volkswagen Group’s Up-based city car trio, possibly because they don’t have as much interior space as the Ka+.
Its £8995 starting price makes the Ka+ around £4500 cheaper than the Fiesta, and also significantly cheaper than the £11,050 Fiat 500 and the £10,945 Kia Rio. It's slightly more expensive than the Vauxhall Viva, though, which cost from £8595.
Ford claims class-leading front head room and rear leg room, aided by the fact that the Ka+ is 42mm higher than the Fiesta, sits on the same 2489mm wheelbase (because it uses Ford’s global small car platform) and, at 3929mm overall, is only 20mm shorter. The Ka+ offers 270 litres of storage space in its boot - enough for two suitcases, and only 20 litres less than is offered by the Fiesta - while split-folding seats increase that space even more.
Later this year, buyers will also be able to order stylised Black and White versions of the KA+, which receive contrasting colour options, black 15in alloy wheels and come exclusively with the more powerful 1.2-litre petrol engine.
The Ka+ is the third Ford model to carry the Ka badge, but it is quite different from the first two following a comprehensive change in Ford’s thinking about how to make money from small cars.
The original Ka started life 20 years ago as a sub-B-segment premium city car; the second was another city car, this time produced in Poland in co-operation with Fiat.
The latest-generation Ka+ is all Ford, but it achieves economies of scale because it is already a volume-selling model in India and South America.
“Obviously the sub-B sector still represents an opportunity,” said Palmer.
“But we’ve made a different choice about how and where we want to participate. We believe Ka+ offers the practicality and utility many new car buyers need, even if it lacks the sleekness of the Fiesta.
"For us, the sub-B sector is much less of a priority, although we’d never say never.”