A rounded, refined and well-sorted bargain supermini – once you’re used to the confusing role redefinition imposed on the once-cheeky Ka

What is it?

The Ford Ka+ is the full stop at the end of an experiment in city car making for one the world’s largest industrial powers, an experiment that began - quite promisingly - fully 20 years ago with the original Ford  Ka. But having sold almost half a million examples of the Ford Fiesta-based trend-setter over its 12-year lifespan, Ford turned to a joint venture with Fiat for its 2008 replacement: a follow-up with much less of the quirky appeal of its forebear, and which proved only a fraction as popular.

Now, with its attention turned to more lucrative growth areas of the global car market than Europe, Ford has decided that it’s not worth investing in the proprietary technology needed to maintain a presence in the niche where the likes of the Volkswagen Up, Renault Twingo, Fiat Panda, Hyundai i10 and others compete. Instead, it’s offering us a car that shares about as much with the first Ka as Jeremy Clarkson does with Jeremy Corbyn.

The Ka+ is slavishly conventional full-size five-door supermini, built in India, designed with practicality, simplicity and unadorned value for money squarely in mind and offered with a choice of 69 and 84bhp 1.2-litre petrol engines - and it is wholly unlike its three-door only, style-conscious namesake. Developed on Ford’s global supermini platform and therefore sharing much with the current Fiesta, it’s a meat-and-potatoes sort of small car that, Ford hopes, will take it into the market territory that the likes of Skoda , Kia and Hyundai are abandoning as they move upmarket. And yet, as bargain small cars go, the Ka+ is actually a pretty good one.

What's it like?

Predictably unadventurous. Nevertheless, the Ka+ is a credible small car turned out with an encouraging dash of the distinguishing dynamic polish that we’ve come to expect from Ford – as well as with the appealing pricetag needed to go up against the likes of the Dacia Sandero and MG3.

Available from £8995, the Ka+ doesn’t have the jaw-dropping entry-level window-sticker of the Dacia but it’s a close match for the MG. Moreover, it’s much better to drive than the last Indian-built small car brought to us by the One Ford product development philosophy: the Ecosport crossover (which, admittedly, is made in a different Indian factory altogether and, we're bound to observe, has been belatedly brought up to snuff by Ford of Europe’s engineers).

Shorter in length but taller of roofline than the Fiesta, the Ka+ offers generous cabin space. Knowing that value-minded customers appreciate such things, Ford has traded a little bit of boot space for cabin length here relative to a typical supermini design template, and has opted for a slightly raised seating position which also contributes to the Ka+’s passenger accommodation. Boot space is consequently a bit scant by supermini standards at 270 litres, which is big enough for smaller suitcases but possibly not so for folded baby buggies and the like, or for the weekly supermarket shop. But occupant space is good in both rows, with larger adults able to sit line-astern in reasonable comfort.

The interior fittings are quite plain, but they’re no disgrace. Fascia mouldings are uniformly hard but aren’t too shiny or easily marked, and they’re broadly well-finished. And while some of the car’s switchgear and componentry looks dated (the interior door handles and mirror adjustor are straight out of a Mk5 Fiesta, for example), most of it looks and feels robust.

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Only one or two curious omissions betray the Ka+’s bargain-basement status. The front passenger seat gets no cushion height adjustment and is stuck in an annoyingly perched-up position, while the car has no interior grab-handles nor coat hooks at all or rear door pockets – and neither is there even an exterior boot release switch. But that apart, the standard equipment level isn’t bad: entry-level Studio cars get electric front windows, central locking, stability control, a speed limiter, an AM/FM radio with Bluetooth and USB connectivity and a handy integrated smartphone dock. Alloy wheels, air conditioning, a DAB radio and cruise control are the preserve of upper-level Zetec trim.

Ford left little to chance when updating the Ka+’s running gear to suit European expectations on ride and handling, fitting not just shorter suspension springs and uprated dampers to Indian-spec cars but also firmer suspension bushings, new steering gear, stiffer boron steel structural cross-members, a stiffer front subframe, European-specification tyres, fatter anti-roll bars up front, better cabin sealing, more sound-deadening insulation and more besides. And what results is commendable: a more rounded and refined drive than you’ll find in most cut-price hatchbacks with just a little bit of sporting keenness and poise about it.

That the Ka+ deserves a better engine quickly becomes obvious. Though quiet and smooth, Ford’s new 1.2-litre Duratec petrol lump doesn’t rev nearly as sweetly as the old Yamaha-designed 1.25-litre unit to which it’s related, and even in the more powerful of two available states of tune it feels short on mid-range torque when driven through the relatively long intermediate gear ratios of the car’s five-speed manual transmission.

The car’s controls are consistently weighted and feel pleasant to use, from weighty steering through a similarly weighted clutch pedal to a positive and precise gear lever. On wet German roads the grip level of the 15in wheels and Continental tyres was very respectable. The Ka+’s body control was surprisingly good, its steering slick and direct and its ride quiet and supple, with an edge of rubbery tautness that smacks of careful tuning and close dynamic attention to detail.

Should I buy one?

Though it’s by no means unappealing to look at, the Ka+ has a conspicuous shortage of the style and charm that existing Ka owners may expect of it. To some, that’ll be a disappointment. Really, this car deserved a clean-slate start in life and a new identity. But given that, by Ford’s estimates, it currently costs about £170 million in marketing and advertising spend alone to establish an all-new automotive model brand from scratch, you can appreciate why the Ka+ hasn’t got one.

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And leaving aside the car’s wholesale character shift, there’s certainly a lot to praise here: it's an appealing bargain package for those who’d simply prefer their family’s second-car budget to go a bit further.

Because on one level, the Ka+ shows that the established skills, capabilities and prevailing standards of Ford’s global production base are catching up with the firm’s ambitions to make cars in one place, for every market – and to do it well. But on another more fundamental one, it’s simply a better £10,000 car than you’ll find elsewhere.

Ford Ka+ 1.2 Ti-VCT 85 Zetec

Location Munich, Germany; On sale now; Price £10,295; Engine 4 cyls in line, 1198cc, petrol; Power 84bhp; Torque 83lb ft; Gearbox 5-spd manual; Kerb weight 1055kg; 0-62mph 13.6sec; Top speed 104mph; Economy 56.5mpg; CO2/tax band 114g/km, 19% Rivals MG3 3Form Sport, Dacia Sandero Laureate TCe 90


Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

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Add a comment…
bowsersheepdog 1 October 2016

Awful thing

I'd rather stick pram wheels on a pedalo than subject myself to this hateful object. By comparison a Kia Picanto is an object of desire.
OrangeProse 28 September 2016

Ford Siesta

This One Ford thing is all looking a bit 'compromise on wheels' to my eye.
tozzkoparan 27 September 2016

Good Car

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