A Man. A Child. A Car, Parte Dois: Cheap, Fun and Beautiful
I needed a cheap car to maintain and insure. I needed a small car that would not call attention and that could be jammed into any tight spot as I would be parking on the street and be going downtown everyday.
I wanted, if possible, a fun car. One that would be good to sit in and be attractive in my eyes.
Weighing all my options, I came to the rather surprising conclusion that a Ford Ka would be the way to go. It best met the criteria I had set.
Ford doesn’t make cars smaller than the Ka. It’s s European thing. In America, you’d get run over in the thing on the second day.
Based on a shortened version of the 90s Fiesta platform, the Ka is a very direct car. Noise is part of the experience. You hear the tires, the engine intrudes. However, the engine makes noises that instigate.
Andar rápido com o Ka é coisa para quem conhece, não para quem comprou (in English, going fast in a Ka is for those who know how and not for those who simply bought one). Those were the words of Quatro Rodas, Brazil’s premiere car mag. Ever since I read that phrase it has stuck in my mind. And it’s true.
The suspension keeps the car under tight control. Somehow, it manages to do it while not breaking your back. It is comfortable, but not too much so. The Ka has made me rediscover the joys of a sporty ride. Sometimes, I now take the long way home.
The Ka’s wheels are pushed out to its far corners. Tread carefully though. It exhibits limited tolerance for fools. The back wants to overtake the front and it gives very little warning. Other cars warn you and then warn you again and you can still push them more. The Ka just whispers a caution and it’s best to heed it. Make no mistake, due to its short wheelbase, it can get jittery and long curves need constant correction. Good thing that the steering is communicative and quite fast. The Ka is well weighted for city driving, but never too light on the road.
Other positives include the gear action. Though rubbery, there is a definite mechanical feel to it. The car scoots when you get it right. Very satisfying, but unforgiving. The system balks if you do it wrong and the car loses speed fast.
The Ka’s Zetec Rocam 1.0 engine corrals a paltry 65 ponies. Lightweight, an still slow off the line. Once it’s going, it’s easy to keep it going. If you know what you’re doing. It’s quite economical if you keep your right foot under control, as hard as this may be. By it’s very nature, this is a car that wants to go fast.
In spite all of this, they still call it a girl’s car. Drive it like a girl and you’ll be missing the point. Most Ka owners will never know what that small car is capable of. It has a technically demanding nature, and only people who never drove one would call it a girl’s car.
What’s that I hear you say? The design? Too cute?
Laugh all you want, I don’t care. Penned by Frenchman Claude Lobo, the Ka is unquestionably an automotive piece of art. I think it’s bold and refreshing. You call it girlie. Regardless of what the sheeple say, the Ka is a modern classic.
I confess that when it first came out, in 1997, I didn’t understand it either. Then, one day, I saw one parked next to a Fusca (Beetle to you Americans). It dawned on me. This car was a modern take on that idea. I understood the beauty of its lines, its non-conformist ideal.
Soon, I had the opportunity to drive one. The most striking first impression for me was how modern and good the car was inside. Circular and oval shapes abound. The center console cascades off to the side in an intriguing fashion. Even the gauge cluster cover has a different shape, though the gauges themselves are quite traditional and lacking in their sparsity. The exposed metal on the doors does not bother me, the non-existent glove box is always a point of contention. The seating position is very good. Seats, pedals and wheel are almost perfectly aligned. The big doors make entry easy, at least for those in the front. Head and shoulder room satisfies.
At the first ride, I sensed there was more to this car than what was readily apparent. I began to want one. I followed comments and reviews. I test drove it on several occasions. It never failed to delight me.
15 years later, here I am, changing almost everything in my life completely. Yes, I got into a Ka because of economic distress, and I got into an eight year old one to boot. I’m glad I did though. This blast from the past is part of my ticket to the future.
Happiness is a decision. A very personal and sometimes painful one. My shiny, red Ford Ka is part of my decision to be happy.
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While stationed in Germany, I had Sixt rent me a 2000 Ka after the oil pan on my Alfa T-Spark mysteriously exploded off the underside of the engine whilst doing 160kmh on Autobahn 3. Marcelo, I know you love this Ka, but the rental was the worst dog I've driven since having the unfortunate experience six months earlier in the states, having rented a four door Chevy Metro with 3spd autobox. The Ka was tinny, not just tiny. It was akin to riding inside a Pepsi can. The 5 spd was ropy and churlish, the steering dead in my hands through its rack-and-pinion non-powered goodness. The real morale booster however, was the total lack of creature comforts. Driver's seat felt like a dining room chair attached by the gentlemen at TopGear to create a small car. The dash was undertandable cheap but so dreary without anything to draw interest and never quite got over how the instrument cluster was off-set slightly towards the centre of the car, causing me to inadvertently slide myself to the left til I was pushing against the door and window (hence how I noticed). Its exterior styling left much to be desired as well as every slight breeze would cause the 13" wheels to skitter like butter across a hot-pan. Terrible car for highway commutes, but for city driving, I could see the case. However, wouldn't it have been better to find a two-year old Mini or other compact over the Ka? That's the real question.
You say it'd get run over on American roads, but I saw one here (in Ohio, USA) about 5 months ago. It seemed to be doing fine! Made me wonder why someone chose to go through the stress of importing it here.