A gamble on Ka-isma
Some funky styling just doesn’t last, writesGRAHAMSMITH
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.
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.