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Ford Ka 1.2 Zetec

Click to view picture galleryFord’s all-new Ka will be appearing
  in UK dealerships towards the end
  of this year. However, customers
  around the world can see the new Ka
  before then, thanks to its cameo role
  in the new Bond movie Quantum Of
in which Bond girl Olga
  Kurylenko gets to grips with 007 —
  and the new Ka...

THE 'SUB-B' SALES SECTOR, as Ford calls it (ie, smaller than 'supermini') has doubled in size since 2003 due to customers downsizing and the introduction of many more models, and now represents 8 per cent of the total new car market. Back in 1996, when the original Ka first hit the road, there were just eight models competing for sales — now there are twenty-one.

Small cars are costly to develop, and that means ever smaller profit margins in a cost-conscious world, which explains why the new three-door Ford Ka has been produced in conjunction with Fiat. The Ka uses the same platform as the Fiat 500/Panda, the same engines and transmissions but with a suspension re-tuned by Ford with a stiffer rear axle, 30 per cent softer springs, retuned dampers and firmer bushes that together deliver a much more competent and comfortable ride. Overall, Ford estimates that 20 per cent of the Ka's components are theirs; and 80 per cent are from Fiat. The Ka, incidentally, is built by Fiat at Tychy in Poland, and UK prices range from 7,995 up to 10,195.

Trying to replace an iconic model that has stood the test of time for 12 years is no easy task, especially in today's hard-pressed financial world. By opting to go into partnership with Fiat to reduce the design and development costs and to get economies of scale in production costs, Ford had fewer options to be radical with the overall design.

The new Ka continues the new face of Ford, with the trapezoidal front grille and wedge side profile, with the added truncated rear-end with rounded tailgate window. It looks cheeky and appealing — but it is not as distinctive as the original Ka, which had wide rear haunches and a steeply sloping rear tailgate and was so different to everything else in its class.

The New Ka — at 3,620mm — is the same length as the old model but the roofline is higher and longer than its predecessor's. This is good news because it means more headroom, especially in the rear, and more boot space: 224 litres with the rear seats in position and 747 litres with the seats folded down. The increase in headroom means the seating positions are higher, so visibility for all occupants is improved.

The interior is bold and imaginative and with the extra-cost designer option packs there is huge scope for buyers to end up with a design and specification that really suits their personality or image. In addition to the standard 'trim' options of Zetec, Style, Style+ and entry-level Studio, Ford is introducing three 'personalisation' packs: Digital Art, Grand Prix and Tattoo. Costing from 300 for the interior and from 500 for the exterior, they feature exterior graphics and matching interior fabrics with bespoke steering wheel, gearlever and floor mats.

The range-topping Zetec model comes well equipped: air conditioning, heated windscreen, 15-inch alloy wheels, remote central locking, driver seat height adjustment, driver seat memory function, powered and heated door mirrors, electric front windows with driver's one-touch up/down, front fog lamps, upgraded instruments and trip computer, theatre dimming interior lights, electric power assisted steering, height-adjustable steering wheel, headlamp courtesy delay system, CD/radio with six speakers and MP3 compatibility plus AUX-in connector, 50:50 split rear seat, rear headrests, driver and passenger front airbags and ABS brakes.

The interior space is better than the old Ka and the new Fiat 500. Rear seat legroom is, of course, limited and for some Ford owners moving up to the new Fiesta will prove to be a better option: starting at 7,995, the new Ka is only 700 cheaper than the highly-rated new — and roomier — Ford Fiesta; and the 1.2-litre Fiat 500 is only 105 more than the Ka Studio 1.2 variant.

Fortunately for Ford, the new Ka is a much better car to drive than the Fiat 500 — and very much more capable in terms of handling and ride comfort. The tuning of the suspension with the addition of a rear anti-roll bar has worked wonders, giving the vehicle a much less bouncy ride. The Ka also has more controlled and predictable handling and more front-end grip than the Fiat. Furthermore, the Ka's power-saving electronic power steering is well weighted and gives good feedback to the driver. Anti-lock braking is standard on all models.

The two Fiat-sourced engines work well with the new Ka. The 1.2-litre 68bhp petrol unit is free-revving and, officially, returns 55.4mpg. It will doubtless be the most popular choice with buyers. During the media test drive, pushed pretty hard on the hilly and winding roads of Ibiza, it returned 44.2mpg. With CO2 emissions of 119g/km, road tax is a very appealing 35 a year.

Being high-geared for fuel economy, the petrol unit lacks the torque of the diesel engine for responsive driving in traffic or going up hills — so be prepared for lots of gearchanging. Like the diesel engine, the petrol unit is mated to a five-speed manual gearbox. No automatic transmission is planned at this stage.

For the first time there is a diesel engine option (it adds 700 to the price) in the Ka range: a 1.3-litre TDCi unit, although it's only available with the Zetec specification model.

The 74bhp turbodiesel 1.3-litre unit generates 107lb ft of torque from 1,500rpm and, whilst it will only attract a projected four per cent of Ka customers, is by far the better unit. It is quiet, responsive and copes better with all driving conditions. I'd willingly pay the extra 700 and the higher diesel fuel costs and go for this engine just because of the better quality of driving it gives. Fuel economy over the same type of roads was 51.6mpg — less than the official 67.3mpg but still very good. With CO2 emissions at 112g/km, road tax is also 35 a year.

The new Ka is not the styling icon the first Ka was — it's more function over fashion — so do not expect this generation to be around for twelve years. That said, it is a design for today where practicality, safety and price are prime considerations.

On paper it seems pricey against the Fiesta, especially if you're planning to specify the extra-cost designer option packs. Strong points include its compact size, the versatile design and the fact that it's safe and serves up good handling and a comfortable ride. Other plus points include the much improved equipment levels (either as standard or optional) and a decent diesel engine. Overall, the Ka adds to Ford's ability to produce clever, smart, affordable and safe vehicles. — David Miles

Ford Ka 1.2 Zetec
| 9,495
Maximum speed: 99mph | 0-62mph: 13.1 seconds
Overall test MPG: 44.2mpg | Power: 68bhp | Torque: 75lb ft
CO2 119g/km | VED Band B 35 | Insurance group 1-3E