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Ford Ka 1.3 TDCi (2009) review

Published:05 February 2009

Ford Ka Zetec
  • At a glance
  • 3 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5

Ford’s just launched a diesel version of the new Ka. And why not? All the hardware was there for the taking because the Ka is based on the Fiat Panda/500 platform, so that’s where the engines come from too. This one’s a 1.3-litre common-rail turbodiesel with 74bhp, so it’s 7bhp up on the Fiesta’s PSA-sourced 1.4. The question is, will anyone buy it?

Are you saying the new Ford Ka diesel's no good then?

Far from it – just looking at numbers really. Ford plans to sell 19,000 Kas in the UK this year; it’s the leader in a growing segment, and 48% of buyers opt for top Zetec spec. That’s the only trim level you can buy the diesel in, and Ford expects the split to be biased 96% towards the 1.2 petrol. So if you buy the TDCi, you’ll be one of only 365 who do.

Does it deserve to be so rare?

The official figures suggest this 74bhp car matches the 68bhp petrol to 62mph and beats it by 1mph flat out, and it’s about 6% ahead on emissions and a fifth better on fuel efficiency (but remember, diesel fuel costs 12% more at the UK pump). So there’s not a huge amount in it – especially when the diesel costs £686 more than the petrol version to buy in the first place.

But there’s no doubt that, to drive, this is a much better car than the petrol Ka. The diesel’s a punchy, free-revving engine that even manages to sound enthusiastic – once you’ve got past some low-speed whine and clatter, anyway. Its urge suits the perky character of the Ka and makes you feel very confident about nipping in and out of tight spaces in traffic. By comparison, the petrol version feels rather uncouth – its engine is surprisingly loud (much louder than it is in the 500) and needs to be revved harder to keep up.

Any sign of Ford’s handling magic?

A bit. Truth be told, it’d be a much better car if it shared bits of the Fiesta platform rather than being a revised Fiat. It’s said to be 70% stiffer in roll than the Panda and it certainly feels more sophisticated than the 500. There’s an anti-roll bar for the rear torsion-beam axle, the springing feels more pliant, the ride is far better damped and there’s less crashiness from the front suspension – though it’s not entirely eliminated.

There’s more resistance and liveliness to the steering too, and you can have some fun on twisting country lanes. But…

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

But what?

Well, I think I’d actually rather have the 500. You see, better to drive though the Ka is, it’s nowhere near the gold standard of the Fiesta. That Fiat base foists a terrible driving position on you – high and very upright with stretched arms and splayed legs, so you'll soon be nursing a bundle of aches – and there’s a fair bit of road noise to contend with too. The Ka diesel is rarely a restful car. Fine in the city (though the ride is bouncy there) but far less beguiling on the open road, too.

If you’re going to force those kind of compromises on me then I want cheering up with a bit of charm. And the 500, camp and retro though it may be, has that by the bucketload. The Ford looks like a shrunken Peugeot 206, by comparison, and offers a hard-edged interior with none of the sense of occasion afforded by the colourful Fiat’s.

Verdict

I’m sure Ford could give plenty of financial reasons for buying in its basis for the new Ka. Problem is, it’s replaced an icon with a compromise. Yes, I know the old Ka had an ancient engine and probably imitated a cardboard box in an impact, but it defined the class and looked like absolutely nothing else on Earth. It even felt bigger in the back than the new one does, too.

The new 2009 Ford Ka is far more generic and just doesn’t feel Ford-ish enough. It’s sound enough in terms of practicality but the spare sprinkling of Ford chassis magic here and there reminds me of when some blokes in Longbridge glued chrome and walnut to a Honda and claimed it was a new Rover. If you want a truly great product, start from scratch.

The 500 is a more enticing prospect than the Ka, even if the diesel makes a better fist of it. But I’d sooner have a base-model Fiesta than either of them.

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Specs

Price when new: £10,145
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: 1248cc 4cyl 16v turbodiesel, 74bhp @ 4000rpm, 107lb ft @ 1500-3500rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Performance: 13.1sec 0-62mph, 100mph, 67.3mpg, 112g/km CO2
Weight / material: 1055kg/steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 3620/1658/1505

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