If you’ve a problem with those who fold their pyjamas or iron creases in their jeans, the choice of affordable used cars designed to suit your lifestyle is widening. At long last, the car makers have woken up to the fact that for a huge number of us, a car is as much a life statement as a means of transport. And if that sounds obvious, then take a drive around the nearest multi-storey and check out just how much automotive styling has changed over the last 20 years. You’re right. It hasn’t. Or more accurately, it hadn’t. You may want to argue, but it seems clear that Ford’s smallest supermini, the cheekily named Ka, is probably the most innovative thing the industry has produced since the Mini. And not only because its chiselled ‘new-edge design’, daring and innovative inside and out, looks like nothing else on the road. Introduced in the autumn of 1996, it’s now available on the used market but takes some searching out – examples are far harder to find than Ford’s mainstream Fiesta.
When the Ford Ka was launched in October 1996, it was to a collective gasp of surprise from the industry. Few had expected anything quite so radical from normally conservative Ford. The company’s new citycar would slot in below the Fiesta and become a fashion statement. It was offered only with the company’s faithful Endura-E 1.3-litre engine – straight from the Fiesta. In fact, this was the only thing about the car that wasn’t futuristic. Basic Ka and plusher Ka2 models were offered at launch. The Ka2 includes a height-adjustable driver’s seat, rear seat head restraint and, most importantly power steering (the latter feature standardised across the range in 1997 though it can be deleted to order). All versions came with a driver’s airbag, a stereo and tinted glass. An even plusher Ka3 version was announced in June 1997, with alloy wheels, metallic paint, a CD player and air conditioning. You may also come across special editions such as the Ka2-based Green and Copper and the Ka3-based Black introduced in 1999. There was also a garish yellow Millennium version and an upmarket Luxury version. For 2000, the Ka2 was replaced by the Collection available in bright colours with painted bumpers and in 2001 the Ka Now supplanted the Ka1. By late 2001 the trim levels had been revised still further by the addition of the Ka Style and the deletion of the Ka Now. Confused? Well, you could always opt for the basic Ka which had £500 lopped off its price. Bargain. A car only slightly smaller than an ordinary supermini but a lot more fashionable – and much better to drive. The Ka has taken small cars into a new era – pure and simple. Even those who don’t agree that Ka is individual, simple and elegant (and they seem to be in the minority) have to admit that it has a charisma all of its own.
Prices for 96P-reg to 00W-reg variants range between £2,200 and £3,500 – or £2,400-£3,800 for the popular Ka2. The Ka3 is more rare on the used scene but prices start from about £3,000 for the first 1997 ‘R’-reg examples and go up to £4,500 for a 01X. Mainly cosmetic damage (the headlamps in particular aren’t cheap). Watch for tappet noise in the engine and look for patchy paint, poorly fitted doors and rusting spot welds in the door shuts. A landmark small car. If you like the looks, you’ll love it.
(approx) A clutch assembly is around £75. Front brakepads are around £45, a full exhaust about £90, a catalyst about £200 and an alternator (exchange) around £115. A headlamp is about £70. It certainly is a great value used car… or should that be Ka!
The 1.3-litre powerplant, though freshened up for this application, is hardly the last word in engine design and runs out of puff very soon after you begin to rev it. Still, it is torquey, at its best pulling from low speeds around town. It’s also frugal (you can average up to 48mpg). Further compensation comes in the form of superbly controlled ride and handling, reminding you of a much larger car. Packaging is another Ka strongpoint. You wouldn’t believe the amount of oddment space and front legroom that the designers have crammed into the tiny cabin. The sheer size restrictions of a car 210mm shorter than the already compact Fiesta had to catch up with them somewhere however, and as you might imagine, the sacrifices have mainly been made around the two sculpted seats in the rear.