Have you seen the latest James Bond thrillathon yet? As ever, Ford product placement abounds. You might remember the Mondeo with the wobbly door in Casino Royale. That’s because it wasn’t a real Mondeo but a prototype, necessary because filming happened long before the car was launched.
Now there’s a new Ford Ka in Quantum of Solace, performing feats of such rapid manoeuvrability that you’ll want one immediately for your city commute. Again the car/Ka is a prototype, but this one is very true to life. I know, because I’ve just driven the final production version.
It didn’t cause a truckload of coffins to tumble into the road, nor was Olga Kurylenko my co-driver. But I had a good time nevertheless, which is vital if the new Ka is to be true to type.
That’s because the smallest, cheapest Ford has always been extremely good fun to drive. That and its cute, rounded but edgy looks have helped to keep it selling strongly for 12 years and 1.4 million examples, 500,000 of them in the UK. Back in 1996, when I drove a pre-production example at Ford’s proving ground in Belgium and was blown away by the zippy agility on offer, no one guessed it would stay in production so long. A
Ka is the sort of car that makes you question the need for anything grander. But things have changed in 12 years. Buyers demand quieter, safer cars with more equipment, three demands that directly conflict with a Ka’s lightweight simplicity. If the new one can meet those demands and still behave as a Ka should, then a miracle will have been achieved.
The first Ka was loosely based on the guts of an early-1990s Fiesta. Two generations later, the Fiesta has grown too big. So Ford struck a deal with Fiat while the latter was developing the 500 from its Panda starting point, having discovered that the 500’s silhouette is not greatly different from a Ka’s. The resulting new Ka is built in Fiat’s factory near Krakow in Poland, and uses a high percentage of unseen common parts including the engines.
But the way a Fiat drives is not the way a Ford drives. The likeable 500’s one big flaw is the way it bounces and fidgets over bumps. Such a trait might be suggestive of a sporting character, yet the 500 actually feels a bit stodgy in corners. Fords are almost always among the very best in their mix of driver-pleasing handling and a comfortable ride, so something had to be done.
Thus the Ka has softer springs and dampers but gains a stiff anti-roll bar at the back, which counteracts the leaning you’d otherwise get with softer springs while also helping the Ka to point more keenly into corners. It works very well, making the Ka feel more fun, more comfortable and more Ford-like. The electric power steering is recalibrated, too, but that’s the
least convincing part of the transformation. The old car’s hydraulic system sapped more energy but gave it a transparency of response not replicated in the new one.
Engines? There’s a modest 1.2-litre petrol engine with 69bhp (same as the old Ka) and, for the top Zetec models only, the option of a 75bhp, 1.3-litre turbodiesel. Few will buy this one in the UK as it costs £10,195 and gives no real CO2-based tax advantage. (Even the petrol one is rated at just 119g/km.) It’s punchier at low speeds but neither Ka will be bought for pace.
As for the looks, it’s a clever remake of the original idea with a trapezoidal front air intake. It’s no longer but about four inches taller, so you both sit higher and have more room above your head. That takes away some of the old Ka’s go-kart feel, but there’s more room inside and the optional styling packs add fun of a different sort. There’s a Digital Art one with big splashes of lime green, or Grand Prix with stripes, or even a Ka covered with tattoos.
So did the miracle happen? Not quite, but the Ka is still the most new-car fun you’ll buy for £7,995.