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.