The per­fect first car

Fun-look­ing Ford does ex­actly what it says on the tin, says DAVE MOORE

Central Otago Mirror - - CLASSIFIEDS - Strengths Best to buy Weak points What to pay What do they cost to run?

Two things you need to know about the Ford Ka: One - They tran­scend their price in terms of fun and per­son­al­ity. Two - Their en­gines are bul­let­proof, if a lit­tle short on pace.

The 1.3-litre en­gine is a refet­tled OHV unit which can be traced to rear-driven Fords from way back. It was specif­i­cally recre­ated for the Ka with a view to cheap and wellspaced ser­vic­ing and while newer power units might of­fer more snap and crackle, the unit has a strong mid-range and when throt­tled-back it’s fairly quiet, as is wind and road noise.

The ear­li­est en­gines are rated at just 43kW, while those built from late 2002 of­fered 51kW, which makes quite a dif­fer­ence. The Ka only comes with man­ual trans­mis­sion, and some ear­lier mod­els didn’t even of­fer power steer­ing or a sec­ond airbag. Later mod­els of­fered air con­di­tion­ing and sun­roofs, while some used im­ports from Ja­pan came as limited-edi­tion mod­els with al­loy wheels, body-coloured bumpers and even leather trim.

Us­ing short­ened un­der­pin­nings from the mid-90s Fi­esta, rear room and boot space is re­stricted, though the airy front cabin is sur­pris­ingly ef­fec­tive and roomy.

So, if you don’t like the way the Kas look, give them a chance. Get be­hind the wheel and be pre­pared to be be­guiled, for the car’s chas­sis was crafted by a Ford team headed by the al­most leg­endary Richard Parry-Jones.

So im­pressed were Ford with Parry-Jones’ in­flu­ence that ev­ery Ford chas­sis since has been signed off by the man – or the team he left be­hind on re­tire­ment – which is why front-drive Fords out of Europe have pos­sessed the best, or close to the best, han­dling and ride in their seg­ments ever since.

That’s not all to like about the Ford Ka: it costs peanuts to buy, in­sure, ser­vice and run, out-cor­ners any­thing in its seg­ment and yet possesses a com­fort­able ride that’s to­tally un­fazed by what’s thrown at it.

Body con­trol is su­perb, its steer­ing is meaty and com­mu­nica­tive, and while there are times you’ll have wished for a bit more ‘‘go’’, you look at the speedome­ter and re­alise you’re ac­tu­ally go­ing quite quickly any­way. The ride and heft of the car give it a lovely feel so that open-road de­meanour is a lot more grown-up than you’d ex­pect for a car of its size and cute­ness.

I once wit­nessed a Ford Ka hit­ting a scrap truck on Vic­to­ria’s Prince’s High­way with a clos­ing speed of more than 100kmh – ac­cord­ing to later of­fi­cial po­lice re­ports. Af­ter the im­pact, the Ka’s pas­sen­ger cell was in­tact and its oc­cu­pants: an el­derly cou­ple and their small ter­rier, sur­vived. I can think of few cars of that size that could have ac­quit­ted them­selves as well as the Ford. Re­mark­able.

Fun chas­sis, bril­liant road man­ners and crash safety, roomy front cabin area and use­ful stor­age spa­ces. The Ka’s a good choice for a stu­dent or in­ex­pe­ri­enced driver and dur­ing its time has been a pop­u­lar choice among driv­ing schools in Europe. The wee Ford is also rel­a­tively easy to look af­ter, with reg­u­lar main­te­nance needs able to be com­pleted by even first-time car own­ers from the model’s Haynes Man­ual.

Bal­ance your budget against age and get the new­est car you can af­ford. If it’s high mileage, a fully stamped ser­vice book should al­lay fears, but with these cars so cheap, we’d spend a bit get­ting them checked over, par­tic­u­larly un­der­neath. Also, the Ka had three­piece front and rear bumpers, which means in mi­nor scrapes and traf­fic ac­ci­dents, only part of the bumper will need to be fixed or re­placed, and if your Ka has plain black bumpers, it won’t even need to be re­paired. A twin-airbag black­bumper Ka with his­tory from 2003 on­wards would be the best you can get.

Small boot and rear cabin, less power than many will be used to in the early cars. Rust can take in­side the wheel arches and the lower edges of the doors. If rust hasn’t started yet, check the door seals for pinches, tears and holes. Pre­ma­ture steer­ing-rack wear and sus­pen­sion prob­lems are not un­com­mon, though these are easy enough to check by get­ting un­der­neath the car, or by jack­ing the car up so each front wheel is off the ground in turn. Try to shake the tyre from top to bot­tom and from side to side while the steer­ing is held steady, there should be no play. Any up and down play could in­di­cate a steer­ing arm or bush prob­lem.

Our ideal: the later black­bumpered model with some pa­per­work will ask a min­i­mum of $5000 with less than 80,000km on it, but if you’re will­ing to go older than that, we’ve seen cars from $1500 up­wards.

The wee en­gine is not as easy on gas as mod­ern OHC units, but it should man­age 7.5L/100km. Ser­vic­ing is an easy DIY prospect; sav­ing a bit of cash .

Ford Ka: Toy-like shape be­lies a car of real fun and char­ac­ter.

Quirky cabin: Unique style is easy to use and has most of the equip­ment you need.

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