Ford Ka Zetec (2008) review

By Chris Chilton 29 October 2008

By Chris Chilton

29 October 2008

We’re so accustomed to six-year model cycles that the 12 years it’s taken Ford to come up with the second generation Ka is scarcely believable. But the new Ka is here – and now CAR Online has finally driven it. Read on for our full review.

This new Ford Ka looks like a three-door Vauxhall Corsa in a fairground mirror!

It might look like a Vauxhall, but in fact the Ka is based on the platform of the Fiat Panda. Having to stick with that car’s hard points is the reason for the narrow upright stance. It’s still reasonably pretty and features the Ford 'Kinetic design' mouth, but it’s certainly not radical like the original Ka was in 1996.

I’m trying to put this delicately….great driving cars are what Ford’s all about but Fiats tend to be dynamic disasters. Tell me the new Ka still feels like a Ford. Please...

The new Ka does feel like a Ford, but then it’s also recognisably Fiat-based. Like the Panda, it doesn’t ride well on tough town roads, the front suspension transmitting a shudder into the cabin over big lumps.

But, on balance, Ford has worked its magic on the chassis. The addition of a rear anti-roll bar, the stiffening of the front one and various suspension bushes together with recalibration of the electric power steering give the Ka the sort of incisive turn-in and cheeky steering response that the Fiat has always looked like it would offer, but never delivered.

Ford told CAR that although the two cars are built in the same factory it doesn’t share chassis information with Fiat. Well if it isn’t bright enough to have done so already, I suggest someone at Fiat takes a look at the changes Ford has made and sneaks them onto the 500 as soon as possible.

>> Click 'Next' below to read more of our Ford Ka first drive

So if the chassis is a Fiat platform but transformed by Ford’s expertise, whose are the engines?

They’re from Fiat, but don’t worry, the Italians tend to be pretty good at that stuff. Notice I said 'engines', not 'engine'. That’s because this time there’s actually a choice of petrol and diesel.

The petrol is the Panda’s 70bhp 1.2 which offers similar power to the old 1.3 but is far greener, delivering 55mpg and emitting 119g/km of CO2, which means it qualifies for the UK's £35 road tax. Performance is modest: 13.1sec to 62mph and 99mph flat-out, but such is the little motor’s willingness that it’s surprising how infrequently you feel short of grunt, even out of town. The diesel engines offers very similar on-paper performance but over 60mpg.

Four trims are available: the £7995 Studio (CD player, dual airbags and anti-lock brakes but not air-con), £8495 Style (electric windows and locks, body colour handles), air-conditioned Style Plus at £8995 and the £9495 Zetec which features cold air, 15-inch alloys, remote locking and front foglights.

Most buyers are expected to splash out and go for the Zetec which is the only trim to get the diesel option though the extra cost means take-up will be small.

The Fiesta’s gone all grown-up, has the Ka too?

Step out of the new Fiesta and into the Ka and you’re in for a disappointment. It’s not that awful by small cheap car standards, it’s just that Ford has raised its game so much of late that the Ka’s cabin (with its old-fashioned plastics and Fiat switches) sticks out like a sore thumb.

Like the Fiat, the driving seat is set high, giving a fine view of the road but the tall roof means it still feels airy in there. Not so much in the back, however: headroom is limited, there’s not much under-thigh support and there are only two seatbelts on the rear bench. A quick comparison with the old Ka revealed surprisingly little difference in rear room although the new car’s safety kit means it’s a far preferable place in which to have an enormous accident.

>> Click 'Next' below to read more of our Ford Ka first drive

So what about a Ka ST or second-generation SportKa?

Nothing in the pipeline, claims Ford. That seems unlikely, not to mention a disappointment, particularly when Fiat’s 100bhp 1.4 and 135bhp Abarth engines are lying around in the parts store. But Ford claims that environment, not performance is the word on buyers’ lips – and so it will be focusing its attention on getting a mildly greener eco Ka to market first.

Verdict

It’s a strange brew but Ford has managed to work its chassis magic and ensure that the new Ka drives with sufficiently more vim than the Fiat on which it’s based. It still feels more Fiat than Ford, but the much better steering and tight body control mean this mixed-DNA city car is far more fun to punt around than its lowly power output would suggest. Just like the old car, then.

Overall, it’s a likeable package, but I see two problems. One is that the mechanically similar Fiat 500 which, admittedly doesn’t drive as well, is far more desirable and is significantly cheaper. The other is that Ford claims most buyers will go for the £9500 Zetec and that sort of money buys you a new Fiesta, a car that feels light years ahead in terms of design, refinement and space.

Look past the equipment difference and spend your money on the better car.

>> Would you buy a Fiat 500 or Ford Ka? Or would you stretch to a new Fiesta? Click 'Add your comment' below and have your say

Statistics

How much? £9,495
On sale in the UK: January 2009
Engine: 1242cc 8v 4cyl, 68bhp @5500rpm, 75lb ft @ 3000rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Performance: 13.1sec 0-62mph, 99mph, 55.4mpg, 119g/km
How heavy / made of? 940kg/steel
How big (length/width/height in mm)? 3650/1827/1409

Ratings

Handling 5 out of 5
Performance 3 out of 5
Usability 4 out of 5
Feelgood factor 4 out of 5
CAR's Rating 4 out of 5

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  • Ford Ka Zetec (2008) CAR review
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  • Ford Ka Zetec (2008) CAR review
  • Ford Ka Zetec (2008) CAR review
  • Ford Ka Zetec (2008) CAR review
  • Ford Ka Zetec (2008) CAR review
  • Ford Ka Zetec (2008) CAR review