City car gets a jacked up ride height, some SUV styling and a new engine. Does it make it a better car?
- Priced from £12,950 /$17,223
- Release date Autumn 2018
The Ford Ka+ small car has followed in the footsteps of its bigger brother, the Fiesta, by gaining an SUV-styled ‘Active’ variant. This comes as part of a mild facelift to the whole Ka+ range and means there are now three trim levels: entry-level Studio, Zetec and Active as the range-topper.
The update brings Ford’s latest Sync 3 infotainment system to Zetec and Active models, while engine stop-start is now standard. There are also some slightly more luxurious items on the options list, including a heated windscreen and keyless start, as well as automatic lights and wipers.
Active trim, meanwhile, gets a ride height raised by 23mm, along with exterior styling tweaks that include a black finish around the front grille and some extra bits of ‘rugged’ cladding, along with roof rails. It’s a trim that rivals similarly off-road-lite cars such as the Kia Picanto X-Line and Suzuki Ignis in the city car class in terms of its price, but its size makes it mainly a cut-price contender in the small car class, like the Dacia Sandero Stepway.
The Ka+ also gets a new engine, available on the Zetec and Active models. It’s a three-cylinder 1.2-litre 84bhp unit, and it replaces the four-cylinder 1.2-litre 84bhp unit. Yes, you did read that right – the new engine is very similar but has three cylinders instead of four, which, Ford says, makes it more efficient and gives it a miniscule increase in torque, from 83lb ft to 85lb ft. A 1.5-litre diesel engine will also be offered, but a very small number of sales are anticipated for this.
So, have these changes improved the Ka+?
2018 Ford Ka+ Active on the road
The naturally aspirated engines available in the Ka+ were never its strong point. Unfortunately, the new unit suffers from the same pitfalls as the one it replaces. It still feels underpowered and sluggish, with a particularly flat power delivery throughout the rev band and a coarse note when you accelerate. Even around town it doesn’t feel spritely, and while it can manage motorway journeys, it doesn’t feel comfortable getting up to high speeds.
But then compared to city cars, the same criticisms can be made of many of its rivals; this isn’t a class brimming with exhilaratingly quick cars. Even so, a drag race featuring our favourite engines in the Kia Picanto, Volkswagen Up, and Suzuki Ignis would result in the Ka+ being left in the dust from 0-62mph. In the small car class the Ka+ is further behind the playing field in this regard, with even the Sandero outgunning it in a straight line.
Refinement isn’t a strength of the Ka+, either; you’re pretty exposed to wind and road noise inside the car, and it’s particularly noticeable at high speeds.
That the engine is so poor is all the more frustrating, because the rest of the car is impressive dynamically. It handles tidily, with nicely weighted and precise steering, and has a supple and comfortable ride that would put some much more expensive cars to shame.
The raised ride height in Active models, meanwhile, has a negligible impact on the Ka+’s handling and ride, but you might appreciate the extra ground clearance if you live up a rutted track.
2018 Ford Ka+ Active interior
The facelift has brought a bigger 6.5in infotainment touchscreen on Zetec and Active trims, replacing the previous 4.2in display. It makes the interior look more modern, and the infotainment system itself has been improved, too, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto now coming as standard. The graphics are crisp and clear, the screen is responsive and the menu layout is logical, making it easy to navigate through the various functions. It’s impressive for the class, although not quite as slick or easy to use as the Seat Ibiza’s touchscreen infotainment system, which features useful physical shortcut buttons.
However, while the infotainment goes some way toward making the Ka+ feel plusher, there are still clumps of cheap-feeling plastics around the interior, so you always feel like you’re in a budget car.
Although the Ka+’s slightly bulbous exterior might not look particularly pretty, it results in a fairly spacious interior. There’s lots of space in the front, the driver’s seat is perched high and visibility is great. It’s annoying the steering wheel only adjusts for height, though.
Head room is great in the back, while leg room is good by the class standards. The boot is big enough for your weekly shopping, but those needing a larger cargo area should look elsewhere. The Dacia Sandero, which is also cheaper, remains the leader for space.
Zetec trim will be the big seller for the Ka+, with Active accounting for around a third of sales and few opting for the sparsely equipped Studio. The jump up in price from Zetec to Active is reasonable, but even so, the former remains the best value and our recommended trim.
It’s a shame that the Ka+ misses out on key safety equipment like autonomous emergency braking, though, and scored a disappointing three stars out of five in Euro NCAP safety testing – although its similarly-priced rivals recorded similar scores. Still, cars such as the Ignis and Picanto both score higher when fitted with optional safety packs, while the Ibiza recorded a five-star result.
The Ka+ is a good small car that offers tidy handling, a composed ride and a spacious interior in a competitively priced package. The changes for the facelift help lift its interior (as long as you avoid Studio trim), but it’s a shame that the new engine isn’t a drastic improvement over what it replaces.
Ford has a terrific range of turbocharged Ecoboost engines it uses in cars such as the Fiesta, but it’s reluctant to use any of them in the Ka+ because it wants the two models to be separate, which is a shame.
So, while the Ka+ has plenty of recommendable virtues, the Sandero is cheaper still and even more spacious.
Ford Ka+ 1.2 Ti-VCT 85 Active specs
- Engine 3cyl, 1194cc, petrol
- Power 84bhp at 5500-6500rpm
- Torque85lb ft at 4250rpm
- Gearbox 5-spd manual
- 0-62mph 13.5sec
- Top speed 104mph
- Official economy 49.6mpg
- CO2, tax band 129g/km, 26%