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Car reviews - Ford - Ka - 3-dr hatch

Our Opinion

We like
Styling, equipment, ride quality
Room for improvement
No auto, lacklustre engine, cramped rear

21 Feb 2001

NOW here's a funny thing. The designer of the Ford Ka is now living in Melbourne working on the next generation Falcon.

But before you ask, that car will have an automatic transmission and more than three doors.

The Ka arrives late in Australia, three years after its European debut.

It has been successful at giving Ford a toe-hold in the fiercely competitive sub-B market where all manner of tiny tots trip over each other vying for bargain-basement sales.

Ka is a small machine with limited rear legroom and handbag-sized luggage space in the boot.

In reality it is a two-seater but despite the cramped rear quarters, those up front have plenty of space.

Further pointing to its front passenger bias, the seats fail to slide forward when the backrest tips to allow rear entry, and there is no repeater lever on the right-hand side of the passenger seat to aid the driver tipping the seat forward to let passengers in.

The Ka borrows its floorpan from the bigger Fiesta, so width is on its side.

The cabin up front is almost spacious and the view of the dashboard with its signature analogue clock and teardrop centre console never lacks for interest.

The whole package is a visual feast with industrial design elements such as the functional, oversized, scuff-friendly grey bumpers all but taking the place of mudguards.

The wheel-at-each-corner theme and steeply raked rump give an impression of speed while the tautly drawn lines around the glasshouse suggest a very French flavour, almost a new generation Citroen 2CV.

The triangular headlamps and oval tail-light clusters are attention seekers while the large doors and big windows conspire to suggest this is not a tiddler-class car.

The dash is a beaut, finished in silvery-grey sparkle plastic, with a collection of sensuous contours sweeping across the base of the windscreen and drooping downwards from in front of the driver to between the seats in an elongated teardrop.

This contains the ventilation and audio system along with a foursome of buttons controlling air, heated rear window, rear fog lamp and recirculation functions.

The ventilation controls are via three twist knobs which work well and can be adjusted without taking your eyes off the road.

Unusually, the instrument cluster contains just two dials, a large white-faced speedo, optimistically rated to 220km/h, and a smaller fuel gauge.

Presumably there is some audible or visual warning of an impending under-bonnet fry-up, though the temperature gauge is not really missed from the at-a-glance information.

The Ka is packed with valuable features as standard, partly because our market's sales expectations are so small we receive Japanese specification vehicles.

That explains the electrically operated sunroof as standard for a country that all but ignores them in anything but prestige imported vehicles.

Also present on the standard feature list are power steering, air-conditioning and a CD-equipped radio with flip-out security panel, mated to two excellent door-mounted speakers.

The Ka may lack central locking but comes with an electronic engine immobiliser and transponder ignition key.

There is no remote boot release lever inside the car, requiring key work every time you lift the tiny hatch.

The sunroof opens on tilt or pops up further and retracts outside rather than into the roof cavity. If you forget to close it, removing the key from the ignition automatically triggers the closing mechanism, something which can offer a surprise at first.

The downside is it seems you are unable to leave the roof slightly open on hot days to keep in-cabin temperatures cool.

Ka also has dual airbags as standard, more than you get in the base Festiva, though anti-lock brakes are not offered at all.

The 13-inch wheels wear plastic covers but they are shapely enough to pass muster on initial inspection.

Under the bonnet sits a version of the 1.3-litre Ford Endura-E engine that has done sterling duty in small front and rear drive Fords since the late 1950s.

Now stroked to 1.299-litres and producing 43kW, the overhead eight-valver is equipped with fuel-injection and a catalytic converter, though it puts out a rather weak 100Nm of torque at a relatively low 2500rpm.

The engine is not as snail-like as the figures suggest though it is no match for its multi-camshaft rivals from Nissan (alas, poor Micra) and Toyota (Echo).

Even Holden's Barina eight-valve boat anchor now makes an honest 60kW.

Performance is adequate rather than sparkling but in town traffic the Ka is not likely to leave you for dead across a junction.

Where Ka drivers are more likely to become "Mack-meat" is joining fast-flowing traffic on the freeway or Hume Highway where it is slow to build up speed.

The availability of maximum torque at just 2500rpm seems all well and good, but 100Nm is not much and increasing revs give rise more to noise than forward progression.

The gearshift is no trouble despite a long wand lever. Traditional two-peddlers keen enough to road test the stick shift only Ka might rediscover some joy for their left leg, or so Ford hopes, but snazzy advertising alone will not pull them through many dealership doors.

The ride is extremely impressive for such a small car and infinitely superior to the loose, roly-poly effort of the Festiva 1.3 Trio three-door.

Handling is secure and cornering is almost a joy, though with only 13-inch rims and skinny tyres (Michelins at least on the press fleet car), the lack of engine muscle is probably no bad thing.

The Ka appears to be pretty frugal too, despite being driven during our stewardship with the throttle jammed wide open.

There is no doubt that the Ka is a happy niche market product.

Available in a range of nine nifty colours, all of which go by names beginning with "Ka" - Karyptonite, Karbon etc - the Ka will attract more extrovert teenagers and teen wannabees.

It is ideal for the singles set but young mums will find installing a stroller a challenge, even with the 50/50 splitting rear seat.

The rear seats have only two belts, unlike the Festiva which has place for three little 'uns.

Without an auto or five doors, Ford cannot hope to turn Festiva buyers on to the Ka's charms, though it may come to that should the Festiva die without heirs later this year.

At $16,500 or $16,900 with painted bumpers and wheel-arch mouldings, the Ka is a well equipped, distinctive package that is fun to drive and own.

As a foil to the dull Festiva, the Ka is king.

- Automotive NetWorks 03/02/2000

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