The Ford Ka is no more. Having played a fairly large part in the beginnings of the modern city car class some 20 years ago, it disappointed in second-generation form and has been axed. Its replacement is the Ford Ka+, a car familiar in name but not in nature.
Unlike the Ka, the Ka+ is a supermini with five doors, plenty of space, and an agenda to be practical, sensible and well-priced. It’s a strategically important car for Ford, since its existence will allow the best-selling Fiesta, due for renewal early next year, to move upmarket.
Yet for bargain-hunting car-buyers, the Ka+ represents something even more interesting: a Ford-badged alternative to the emergent sub-£10,000 supermini set, among them the austere Dacia Sandero and fun-but-flawed MG 3.
Built in India and widely adapted from that country’s domestic-market Figo hatchback, the Ka+ will cost from £8995 in entry-level Studio trim. It's powered by a 1.2-litre petrol engine, producing either 69 or 84bhp.
What's the 2016 Ford Ka+ like to drive?
The changes made to the Ka+ from the Figo it's based upon have been numerous and significant, and have made it a refined and quite deft-handling small car by the standards of those already available in the same price range.
Ford has gone as far as stiffening up the Ka+ with new high-strength steel, tweaking its body design and fitting new engine mounts, wider sound deadening insulation, better door seals and new seats. That’s all on top of making the steering and suspension updates you might expect in order to bring the car up to Ford's habitually high standards for ride and handling.
The Ka+’s weakest suit is its 1.2-litre engine, which is civil but underpowered. It also suffers from the occasional flat spot under acceleration, and doesn’t respond willingly when worked hard. It’s adequate, but seldom makes the Ka+ feel as sprightly as its good handling deserves.
Riding quietly but with good bump absorption and body control, the Ka+ also decent grip, nicely weighted and direct steering and keen handling response. Feeling supple yet taut over most road surfaces, the car avoids any semblance of cheapness at all in this respect.
What's the 2016 Ford Ka+ like inside?
Roomy and respectably well-finished, the Ka+'s interior is robust, comfy and pleasant enough. True to Ford’s sales pitch, there is indeed room enough for larger adults to sit one behind the other, thanks to fairly high-set seats and a layout that trades a little bit of boot length for second-row leg room.
The dashboard materials are certainly plain, being hard to the touch everywhere, though not distractingly shiny. Some trims are more flimsy-feeling than you’d like, but all are finished smoothly and without sharp edges.
Some of the car’s switches and fittings do look and feel a bit antiquated, though. And the absence of interior grab handles and coat hooks, smacks of costs cutting.
More positively, the standard equipment tally is a long way from mean. Every Ka+ gives you central locking, electric front windows, an AM/FM radio with Bluetooth and USB connectivity, and a handy integrated smartphone dock; quite a lot more than you get on an entry-level Dacia Sandero, for example. However, if you want air conditioning, alloy wheels, a DAB radio and cruise control – and Ford anticipates that 80% of European buyers will – you'll have to find the £1000 extra required for a Zetec-trim model.
Making that upward step also means getting a Ford Sync infotainment system with a 4.2in colour screen. It’s not the greatest or most usable setup of its kind, and its app-based smartphone functionality is much more limited than some, but for a sub-£10,000 car it’s acceptable.
Should I buy one?
Plenty of people will like the idea of saving a few quid on the family’s second car, and assuming a full-sized budget supermini is what you’re after, this one’s probably the best of a still-not-very-large bunch. With very creditable ride and handling, and an interior that covers the basics well, the Ka+ comfortably exceeds the standards set by its cut-price opposition.
The difference between this and an averagely good alternative from the heart of the small hatchback class is still large in some ways – most notably on visual charm, desirability and cabin richness. Yet in other ways, and despite the confusing change of identity that the Ka has been through, it’s a creditable effort.
What Car? says...
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Ford Ka+ Zetec 1.2 85
Engine size 1.2 petrol
Price from £10,295
Torque 83lb ft
Top speed 104mph
Fuel economy (official combined) 56.5mpg
CO2/BIK band 114g/km/19%