|All rights reserved.
The original Ford
Ka, produced between 1996 and 2008, caught our hearts with its cute
looks, excellent chassis and fine build quality. However, Ford found it
difficult to make money from such an A-segment small car, whose prices
are limited and market capacity much lower than B-segment superminis.
Therefore for the second generation it gave up building its own and
partnered with Fiat instead, revamping Fiat 500 into Ka. That didn’t
work either, as the Mk2 turned out to be much less popular. Now
entering the 3rd generation, what would Ford do to make it finally
work? The answer is unexpected: upgrade the car to B-segment!
But then you might ask, isn’t Ford already has Fiesta serving the
B-segment? Yes, but the enlarged Ka, smartly renamed to KA+, works in a
much different philosophy. In fact, it was originally designed for
South America and India, so it was engineered and built to lower
standards. The car was first launched in Brazil in late 2014 and then
India in 2015. European debut was probably not in the original plan,
but as Renault found plenty of European buyers want a cheap and
unsophisticated car like Dacia Logan/Sandero, Ford Europe decided to
import the car from India, albeit with some extensive modifications,
such as reinforcing the chassis and subframe, adding extra sound
insulation, stiffening the suspension, fitting a faster steering rack
and grippier tires and upgrading equipment. Even so, it guarantees
bargain prices for the space and practicality it offers.
That is why the KA+ is so boring to look. It has 5 doors and a boxy
shape, or no genes left from the original Ka. Inside, the dashboard
design is outdated. Plastic moldings are hard and grey, of course,
though not as shiny or brittle as some rivals’. At least it feels
robust enough. For its prices, it is pretty well equipped. The cabin is
actually roomier than Fiesta. It has identical wheelbase (2489 mm) but
both the roof and hip points are raised to enable more room. This means
it is able to fit 4 six-footers. Visibility is also improved thanks to
the larger windows.
To keep cost down, it is built on the well-proven “global B-platform”,
or the platform of Fiesta and B-Max. Inevitably, the old platform has
not much concern about weight saving, but given the track record of
Fiesta it should be a good basis for handling and ride. We don’t know
how the South American or Indian cars performed, but the modified
European car really drives nicely, much better than either its prices
or looks suggested. The steering is direct and nicely weighted. The
handling is keen. Body control and grip are not far from the
level of Fiesta. Ride is also surprisingly supple and quiet. The
gearbox shifts with positive actions, while the clutch is expertly
weighted. The high degree of polish is something unexpected for a car
at this price level.
On highway, the car remains composed and impressively refined, letting
far less wind and road noise into the cabin than, say, Dacia Sandero.
The only weak point in the dynamic aspect is engine. To save cost, Ford
replaces the sweet-revving 1.25-liter Zetec of the Fiesta with a
1.2-liter Duratec unit, which feels strained at high revs. It also
lacks mid-range pulling power thus you need to work hard for
overtaking. It is rated at 85 hp and 83 lbft of torque, a bit low by
class norm. Fortunately, it is not too boomy when being pushed hard, so
refinement is acceptable.
It is easy to assume the outdated looking and packaging KA+ to trail
the majority of the class. However, thanks to its fine underpinnings
and adequate modifications, it actually delivers better than average
ride, handling and controls. Factor in the roomy interior and low
prices, it is surprisingly competitive.