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Ford's new budget baby driven

2005-10-26 07:59

John Oxley

The Ka - it's not a play on words, says Ford, but named after the Egyptian "vital force of life" (remember her buddy Ra?) - has come at a good time for Ford, with a buoyant market and lots of disposable cash floating around, and Ford marketing boss Nigel Harris predicts it will be a big hit with younger people.

And after driving the Ka I can only agree. It's funky, it's agile, and it runs on the whiff of an oil rag.

What's more it's got enough safety features to satisfy mum and dad, and enough performance to keep the youngsters happy without scaring the old folks silly.

South Africa gets the vehicle at a time of its latest facelift in Europe, and shortly after a transition from UK-built engines to RoCam units made in SA, and that's no co-incidence - Nigel told me some time ago that he'd like to bring Ka here, but only if the RoCam deal went through.

More versions later

Although there will be lower-specced versions later - as well as more powerful derivatives - Ford SA has chosen to launch with a quite luxurious version of Ka, complete with air conditioning, ABS brakes, driver's airbag, power steering and 14 inch alloy wheels as standard.

The Ka gets a 1 297 cc motor which is made in Port Elizabeth, shipped to Valencia in Spain, fitted to the car, and shipped back in the fully-imported car.

The engine accents on high torque at low revs, with 106 Nm at 3 000 r/min, and this flatters the 51 kW power output, making the Ka a lot sportier on the road than one would expect.

Ford claims a top speed of 167 km/h, and after our rapid run down the Natal South Coast road today, I've no reason to disbelieve that.

For the record, Ford claims a 0-100 km/h time of 13.7 seconds and overall fuel consumption of 6.5 litres/100 km. There's a 40 litre fuel tank.


Although it first saw the light of day almost eight years ago, there's nothing old fashioned about either its styling or its engineering.

The Ka was the first Ford to get the famous New Edge styling, and it's still just as attractive as it was then, with sharp edgy lines including a wide narrow grille, big headlamps, and bulbous wheel arches front and rear.

These days the bumpers are quite bold and fully colour-coded, and there's a deep air intake under the number plate slot.

The Ka is a three-door, but getting in proves no problem even for middle-aged motoring journalists - even in the back - although we'd suggest people with long legs stay in the front seats as they just won't have enough legroom, or for that matter, headroom.


Like the outside the interior is funky, with bright cloth-trimmed seats, and a modern dash highlighted by an aluminium-look centre console which contains the aircon/ventilation controls as well as the optional (for R2 200) radio/front loader CD player (with MP3 player socket).

Other Ford audio systems are available for the Ka, but the Ka won't accept any other after-market units, as they have to be built-in to the dash.

There are lots of stowage spaces in the Ka, including a big bin under the centre console which takes six CDs, plus a stowage bin in the rear trim panel, a small glovebox, and recesses for bottles and so on.

The instrumentation is contained in a binnacle in front of the driver, and although it's sparsely equipped, with just a speedo and fuel gauge, it's good-looking, with white dials and black lettering.

There's also an analogue clock on top of the dashboard, with big fingers.

More features

Other features include variable intermittent windscreen wipers and a rear wiper, plus a heated rear window, rear wash/wipe, tinted windows, flip-opening rear windows, a lights-on warning chime, a headlamp levelling knob, plus Ford's PATS security system.

The rear seat folds flat, with a 50/50 split for better versatility and there's a 13 inch spare wheel.

Handling has been a strongpoint of most Ford products of the last 10 years, and the Ka is definitely no exception.

We didn't have many places where we could throw the car around today, but there were enough tight corners to show off the Ka's crisp handling, easy turn-in, and the passive rear-wheel steer built-in to the rear suspension geometry.

Suspension sees MacPherson struts at the front, and a sophisticated twist beam rear setup with semi-trailing coil springs and an anti-roll bar.

Ride quality

One BIG plus point is the excellent ride quality. There's none of the jiggly ride often associated with a small car - the Ka rides like a big 'un!

It also displays excellent NVH qualities, with low noise from wind, engine and road.

The main thing is that the Ka FEELS good, and crisp - nothing old-fashioned or stodgy here.

As far as power is concerned, there was definitely no need to hunt around for gears to keep the car rolling.

Only on long hills was there a need to flick down to fourth (it's got a 5-speed manual gearbox) to maintain 120 km/h cruising, while acceleration was brisk.

The Ka will be available in dealerships in the next few days - shipments are being sent out to dealers as I write - and Harris expects to sell about 600 to 700 cars a month.

Although some vehicles will be sold into the rental market to give road presence to the vehicle (so we can get used to its styling), the main target market is young people.

That's one of the reasons why Ford has added the option of calling out a security guard if you get stuck to with you until roadside assistance arrives as part of its 3 year/unlimited roadside assistance package.

The car also gets a 3 year/100 000 km warranty and various maintenance plans and service plans are available as options.


At first glance Ford is a bit late with the Ka, but as always timing is everything in business, and I feel Ford has timed this one just right.

Certainly when the Ka was first launched overseas it would not have been acceptable to the SA market, but since then things have changed and we have become used to seeing quirky-looking cars - and even liking them.

Add in the benefits of a South-African built engine, plus Ford's superb parts backup, and there are lots of advantages to choosing the Ka over some of its rivals.

Ford might be punting the Ka at youngsters, but my bet is that it'll attract quite a few older folks who will be drawn by its neat styling, its low running costs and its price of just R87 750.

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