A gam­ble on Ka-isma

Some funky styling just doesn’t last, writesGRAHAMSMITH

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Used Cars -

THE funky lit­tle Ka was pitched to win the hearts of the young . . . and young at heart. With its cute styling and Euro­pean ca­chet, it was ac­cord­ingly priced higher than most other small hatches.

How­ever, the small-hatch mar­ket is the most price-sen­si­tive and com­pet­i­tive seg­ment of all, and no amount of smart styling was go­ing to win over buy­ers on a tight bud­get.

Added to the Ka’s woes was it fol­lowed the suc­cess­ful Ford Fes­tiva and was seen by many as a re­place­ment for the pop­u­lar Korean-built hatch. It wasn’t. The Fes­tiva was typ­i­cal of the small hatches that oc­cupy the bot­tom end of the mar­ket, and the Ka was any­thing but a bot­tom-end hatch.

Those dilem­mas aside, the Ka is an in­ter­est­ing lit­tle car and is worth a look if you want to stand out from the crowd.

MODEL WATCH

THE Ka was launched in the mid­dle of Ford’s plunge into edgy styling — de­signs with clearly de­fined lines and shapes that gave their cars a clear char­ac­ter. This was the era that also pro­duced the oval-shaped Tau­rus and the equally ill-fated AU Fal­con.

Com­pared with the Fes­tiva it fol­lowed, the Ka was rad­i­cal . . . and Ford boasted as much.

‘‘We set out to cre­ate a real icon and that’s what we’ve done,’’ Ford de­sign boss Scott Strong said at the launch.

Strong said he hoped the Ka would be­come a new-mil­len­nium Mini. Un­for­tu­nately, the Ka won’t go down in his­tory as a clas­sic. It’s no mod­ern Mini.

There was only one body style (a three-door hatch), one en­gine and one trans­mis­sion. It had air­con­di­tion­ing, sun­roof and a CD player, so not much de­ci­sion-mak­ing was in­volved in the Ka buy­ing process.

The ap­peal of the three-door hatch was lim­ited to sin­gles or young cou­ples: oldies had trou­ble get­ting in and out of the back seat, and it was in­con­ve­nient for fam­i­lies.

Even the young would prob­a­bly be put off to­day, be­cause the Ka’s once-funky looks are no longer trendy, it has taken on the dowdy look of mid­dle age.

Though the styling stood out when it was new, there was noth­ing out­stand­ing about the Ka’s me­chan­i­cal pack­age: a fairly mun­dane over­head-valve, four-cylin­der en­gine, a fivespeed man­ual gear­box and front-wheel drive.

The fuel-in­jected 1.3-litre en­gine pumped out 43kW at 5000 revs and 100Nm at 2500 revs run­ning on reg­u­lar un­leaded fuel. The re­sult­ing per­for­mance was ad­e­quate rather than spir­ited.

The five-speed gearshift was rub­bery and a lit­tle im­pre­cise as a re­sult, but typ­i­cal of breadand-but­ter Euro­pean front-wheel-drive cars.

The sus­pen­sion was a com­bi­na­tion of MacPher­son strut at the front and twist beam at the rear. The steer­ing was power as­sisted, which re­sulted in agile and re­spon­sive han­dling. It was per­fect for zip­ping around town.

Brakes were disc at the front and drum rears, again fairly ho-hum in tech­nol­ogy terms, but up to the task of stop­ping the 955kg Ka.

The funky styling theme con­tin­ued inside, which was at­trac­tive enough, but dated quickly. The front bucket seats were com­fort­able, and the rear seat back could be folded to in­crease the lug­gage ca­pac­ity.

Driver and pas­sen­ger airbags were stan­dard and se­cu­rity was pro­vided with an en­gine im­mo­biliser.

ON THE LOT

IT’S pos­si­ble to swing into Ka style for $4500-$7000, but bar­gain hard and you might get one for less.

IN THE SHOP

GO FOR a Ka that has been treated with kind­ness. Many were bought by un­car­ing own­ers who left them out in the street at night, un­der trees dur­ing the day, and reg­u­larly bumped into things on the run.

Many buy­ers of cheap and cheer­ful char­i­ots rarely give up a night on the town to pay for a ser­vice, so care­fully check the ser­vice record and walk away if there’s a hint of ne­glect.

Me­chan­i­cally, there isn’t much to go wrong with the Ka, its me­chan­i­cals are sim­ple.

IN A CRASH

THE Ka gets front airbags for the driver and pas­sen­ger, but a big black cross for not hav­ing anti-skid brak­ing.

AT THE PUMP

BE­ING light and pow­ered by a 1.3-litre en­gine, the Ka is eco­nom­i­cal. It’s rea­son­able to ex­pect 7.0-7.2 litres/100km.

THE BOT­TOM LINE

CUTE when new, the Ka now looks tired.

Bright and shiny: a rare colour­ful ex­am­ple of a Ford Ka. Most paint choices were bor­ing and the in­te­rior (in­set) dated quickly.

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