Ford Ka+ hatchback (2016 - ) review
The Ford Ka+ is a budget supermini that concentrates on practicality, affordability and value-for-money. It compares with a Vauxhall Corsa on size, but a Vauxhall Viva on price.
Interested in buying Ford Ka+?
In years gone by, the Ka was Ford’s player in the city car segment, but the Ka+ has inflated in size, boosting it into the bigger supermini class alongside its sister model, the ever-popular Fiesta. While the Fiesta caters for more upmarket and style-conscious supermini buyers, the Ka+ appeals to those who are merely after basic, no-frills transport at an affordable price. That – plus the fact it was originally built for the Indian and South American markets – doesn’t bode that well for the car’s aesthetic promise, but in fact, it’s a fairly cohesive-looking little car. It’s perhaps a little boxy due to its focus (pardon the pun) on practicality, but there’s none of the awkwardness you often associate with such cars. The most basic Studio cars make do with steel wheels, but Zetec versions have alloys.
As long as you remember this is merely an entry-level supermini that’s more comparable on price with smaller city cars, then the quality on show is acceptable. There’s no ignoring the low-rent feel the cabin gives you: there’s the hard, grainy finish you find on all those surfaces that would be soft to the touch in more expensive superminis. However, the quality of the materials is no worse than you find in many budget-car rivals (the standard doesn’t deteriorate much when you delve into the lower reaches of the cabin, either), and the car generally has a pretty solid feel. All the switches are familiar Ford fare – so most things are pretty well marked and easy to use – but the infotainment system you get on Zetec models (you get a more basic one on Studio cars that we haven’t yet experienced) uses Ford’s older generation of user interface, which is rather clunky and looks pretty dated. There’s limited adjustment for your driving position, too, but at least the tall body and big windows mean you get a clear view out in all directions.
Size-wise, the Ka+ is pretty similar to the Fiesta; a little shorter and a little narrower, but also a little taller. Thanks to the clever design of things like the seats and the headlining, it’s actually a little roomier inside than its sister car, with enough space to comfortably accommodate four tall adults, and enough room in the 270-litre boot for a couple of them to bring a bag along. There are some superminis that are more generous for passenger space, but not all that many. The practicality isn’t perfect, though, because there’s no boot release on the tailgate itself – you push either a button on the key or one on the dashboard – and the split-folding rear seats (which are standard across the range) don’t fold flat when you drop them. Wheel arches that cut into the rear door openings also make getting in and out a little trickier than it should be, which is a shame because the doors themselves open nice and wide.
Ride and handling
Although the car was originally engineered to cater for the (very different) requirements of far-flung international markets, it has the same basic platform as the Fiesta, the UK market’s class-leader for driving dynamics. For the engineers, it was a case of replacing some of the existing car’s parts and settings with those found on the Fiesta, and then tinkering to allow for the variations in the car’s height and weight. The results are largely successful. The low-speed ride feels smooth and cultured, and although things feel a little less settled on the motorway, the car still feels very stable at high speeds. And, while the handling doesn’t quite have the sparkle of the Fiesta’s due to the taller body and more limited grip, the Ka+ feels lively and alert when changing direction thanks to crisp body control and nicely weighted steering. The most impressive aspect of the Ka+, though, is its rolling refinement. Wind- and road-noise are incredibly well subdued for a car of this type – thanks to the swathes of extra sound-deadening material crammed inside the body by Ford’s engineers – so your progress always stays quiet and civilised.
The Ka+ comes exclusively with a 1.2-litre petrol engine, but you do get a choice of two power outputs: 69bhp or 84bhp. So far, we’ve only tried the more powerful of the pair, but even with that option, the Ka feels really very slow, even for a cheap supermini. The engine needs lots of revs to achieve even moderate acceleration, and even then, it feels pretty breathless. It’ll just about keep up with most motorway traffic, but if you find yourself having to slow down for any reason, it’ll take a fair old while to get back up to speed. The engine doesn’t make a particularly pleasant noise when you work it hard, either, but the volume always stays low and you don’t feel much vibration from it, which helps towards the car’s overall impressive level of refinement.
As a budget offering, it’s essential that the Ka+ performs well in this area, and it does a very solid job. The pricing is very aggressive indeed, especially when you consider how much space you’re getting for your money, and if you’re one of those people who doesn’t care about having a swanky cabin and some items of luxury kit, then you’ll be getting a bargain. It’s also important to note, however, that whichever of the two engine choices you go for, you’ll get identical efficiency figures of 56.6mpg and 114g/km. These aren’t particularly impressive by class standards, but they’re not catastrophic, either.
The good news? The Ford Ka is one of the best-performing cars in Warranty Direct’s Reliability Index, featuring solidly inside the top ten of all models in the study. The bad news? That’s the old Ka, a vehicle which bears no resemblance whatsoever to this version, for which there’s very little meaningful reliability data at present. Still, you can take plenty of confidence from Ford’s high-flying performance in the manufacturer standings of the same study.
The Ka+ was crash tested by the experts at Euro NCAP in 2017, and it emerged with a disappointing three-star rating. It comes with six airbags as standard, along with electronic stability control and tyre pressure monitoring, but if you’re expecting the latest clever safety technology – things like autonomous emergency braking – then you’ll be disappointed. You can’t even add that stuff as an optional extra. Upgrade to Zetec trim, and you do however get MyKey, a system that lets you programme the car’s second key with maximum thresholds for things like speed and stereo volume, for when you lend the car to your over-exuberant teenage children.
Even with a budget car, there are certain items of kit that you just can’t live without, and they’re missing from entry-level Studio trim. You get electric front windows, remote locking and a Bluetooth phone connection, but we reckon air-conditioning, DAB radio and alloy wheels alone are worth the price upgrade to Zetec trim. On top of that, Zetec also chucks in cruise control and a leather steering wheel with stereo controls.
For a very specific buyer, with a very specific set of priorities, the Ka+ will be absolutely perfect. What’s more, that person will love driving and owning it. However, if there’s any one part of your priority list that doesn’t match the strengths of the Ka+, then it’s likely another of the vast array of affordable small cars out there will suit you better. The message? If you want as much space as you can get, along with an enjoyable and civilised driving experience, all for an impressively low price, then definitely give the Ka+ a look. If, however, you place any value on interior quality, swish looks or generous equipment levels, then you might be better off looking elsewhere.