What a pleasure to be reacquainted with the Ford Ka!
Driving the Ford Ka Zetec Black Edition version for the first time after it had been delivered for a week’s loan brought memories flooding back of the happy days when the original Ka was launched in – bloody hell, can it possibly be so long ago? – 1996.
If you see one of those original Chris Svensson-designed three-door city cars on the road today, it can still make you smile – a classic small car, worthy to be ranked alongside a Fiat 500 or a Renault 4. The unbroken egg-shaped dome that ran from front bumper to rear was, in its day, a gloriously uplifting departure from the dreary norms of the time, epitomised by the Citroen Saxo. Like Ford’s contemporaneous Fiesta and Puma, the new Ka also had suspension and steering set-ups devised by Richard Parry-Jones that were as much of a revelation as the external shape, setting new standards in small car ride and handling.
The big let-downs of that Ka were its 1300cc OHV engine which had first seen service when Harold Macmillan was in Downing Street along with a vulnerability to corrosion which was on levels previously plumbed only by Fiat.
Neither such shortcoming is evident in the latest Ka. My Zetec Black Edition came with Ford’s zesty 1.2 Duratec engine, five-speed manual gearbox and automatic stop/start. Its 69 bhp may sound weedy but it puts out 102 Nm of torque. Nobody would call it a ball of fire but for pulling power it knocks spots off Kia’s Picanto or the Citroen C1/Peugeot 106/Toyota Aygo in which the driver has to keep working the gear stick at the pace of the fiddler’s elbow.
Despite being made in the same Polish plant as the Fiat 500, the deep lustrous black of the paintwork on this special edition Ka would seem to discourage any suspicion of rust and its Mad Max-like black Y-spoke aluminium wheels look as if they’d kick corrosion in the teeth as soon as it showed its ugly face. Where the original Ka was as homely and cheerful as a boiled egg, this latest version carries an edge of menace. There is still a playful trace of the dome in the roof line but it is curtly interrupted by a high spoiler. The front and rear lights may have a perky lift to their assembly but there is no messing with the deep, integrated bumpers at both ends or the low snout.
This Ka plainly belongs in the Ford family devised by Martin Smith to reflect his Kinetic Design philosophy; but it lacks the neurotic frenzy of edges and angles in the body of Smith’s Fiesta. Instead the smooth, rounded lines of the Ka give off a composed certainty of purpose which, again, puts it in a different class from its competitors.
The same goes for the interior. A counterpoint of blacks and whites on the upholstery, the door panels and the centre console makes this the snazziest of all little cars while the load space under the rear hatch looks bigger to my eye than any other.
Only the Renault Twingo can compare with this Ka for stylishness but the wayward eccentricities of that car’s handling leave it woefully behind the Ford as a driving experience. The only faults I found with this Kia were an elusive biting point for the clutch which sometimes made me over-rev the engine as if exploring the limits of launch control; and an overall price for this car of almost £11500.
The idea that a descendant of Chris Svensson’s jolly little egg could cost well into five figures seems very strange – until you put it in the context of, say, a year’s university tuition or the £30,000 which is, apparently, the average expense of a wedding today. Judged in those terms, the Ka Zetec Black Edition looks almost like an irresistible bargain.
2016 Ford Ka Zetec Black Edition – On the road as tested £11,420
PROS AND CONS: Snazzy √ Well built √ Zesty Engine √ Slightly Pricey X
FAST FACTS: Max speed: 99 mph, 0-62 mph: 13.4 secs, Combined mpg: 57.7
Engine layout: 1.2 Duratec Petrol Engine, Maximum power 69PS, Maximum torque 102Nm, CO2 115 g/km
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