From £9,1657
A rounded, refined and well-sorted bargain supermini – once you’re used to the confusing role redefinition imposed on the once-cheeky Ka

Our Verdict

Ford Ka+

The Ford Ka+ may look ungainly, but underneath it’s a spacious supermini with a well-sorted chassis

  • First Drive

    2016 Ford Ka+ 1.2 Ti-VCT 85

    A rounded, refined and well-sorted bargain supermini – once you’re used to the confusing role redefinition imposed on the once-cheeky Ka
Matt Saunders Autocar
22 September 2016

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 Ka. But having sold almost half a million examples of the 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.

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.

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

 

Join the debate

Comments
22

23 September 2016
So why only three and a half stars then? Does that mean the Ka+ isn't as good as cars like the VW up or Hyundai i10 - or has Autocar so little experience at testing cars at this end of the market that it isn't quite sure?

23 September 2016
...when the once mighty Ford produce a low-rent, basic, insipid and dull to drive car to compete against far more sophisticated offerings from previously lower-esteemed manufacturers such as Hyundai.

23 September 2016
Competent drive, even a little bit fun, as it appears to have enough handling competence and grip to allow for speed conserving drive technique - that was the key to wring the fund out of pre BMW Mini's. That were even slower than this particular KA. It's chief weakness may be - slightly dull looks!

23 September 2016
"entry-level Studio cars get electric front windows, central locking, stability control, a speed limiter, an AM/FM radio with Bluetooth and USB connectivity"

It has to have stability control by law. It's not a feature of the equipment.

23 September 2016
why does 'world-car' mean unadventurous design? This is the most dull Ford in decades. (with the possible exception of that Fiesta SUV thing) I know it's aimed at India, Brazil etc..but you'd think they could come up with something of character. Why not offer those emerging markets something with European flair, rather than giving them a dull car and rolling that dullness out for the rest of the world? Product-planners, be damned.

23 September 2016
... but couldn't be bothered much with the styling or image. It's like they're going down the route Citroen tried and failed at. Now they're coming back with superb cars like the C4 Cactus and new C3. i can't really understand it because once you've manufactured all your stamps and dies you just can stamp out a really stylish car just as easily as a dull one. Not that this new thing is all that bad – it just lacks ambition, and I think that's damgerous these days.

23 September 2016
As the Citroen's married dull looks with dull drive. Ford marries dull looks with competent - even good drive. The most probable reason is, suspension tuning cost little. The conservative looks probably suit the markets the car primarily is aimed at. It's actually quite possible - more adventurous looks would be in a manner of speaking - too much for those markets, where these cars probably are primarily used as family mobiles as families in those countries can't afford larger cars. Meaning, chief emphasis on practical aspect like interior space. Ford probably reckons it still will sell enough in Europe - to justify the relatively slight cost of retuning the suspension to suit European tastes.

28 September 2016
I am from India, and as a matter of fact, own one of these (albeit a more powerful 1.5 diesel which is not available in Europe). Even for Indian standards, this car is a bit dull to look at, from the outside as well as inside. The i10 has far better interiors and looks more with the times than the ford, not to mention better fit and finish and refinement. And despite having less powerful motors, less space, the hyundai sells more than 3x times the ford. Even the VW polo which is much dearer sells almost the same as the ford. Going up a segment, even the 120 outsells the ford by more than 2x.

So why I bought it then? it was the most powerful hatch at the price point I was looking at (100 hp and 230 Nm is powerful by Indian standards!). But this car is very un-ford like, compared to previous cars Ford gave us in India. By that I mean, thin sheet metal, lifeless steering (precise though), and handling just par for the course.

23 September 2016
to complain about the size of the boot, which is only 8 litres smaller than a Mini.. Now tell me there is no favouritism..

23 September 2016
To my eyes this looks like 2 different models bodged together - the section forward of the A pillars doesn't match the rest of the design. The omission of grab handles may be curious to the reviewer but in all my motoring years, neither I, nor anyone I've been travelling with, has ever resorted to using one: do we actually need them in an age of compulsory seat belts? Maybe in an off-roader or track-day special but not in this, surely? I wonder if they've got the ratio between rear passenger room and boot space right: the reviewer suggests that they have prioritised in favour of the passengers. I think that increased boot space is more useful in this type of car as I'd wager that one/two occupants plus shopping/buggies/odds-and-sods is a more typical load than a car full of adults (and on the school run, well, kids could squeeze in to a smaller space, no trouble).

Wide cars in a world of narrow.

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