A Man. A Child. A Car, Parte Dois: Cheap, Fun and Beautiful

Marcelo de Vasconcellos
by Marcelo de Vasconcellos
a man a child a car em parte dois cheap fun and beautiful em

Continued from Parte Um:

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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  • Dolorean Dolorean on Jan 04, 2013

    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.

    • Marcelo de Vasconcellos Marcelo de Vasconcellos on Jan 04, 2013

      Hey dolorean! Thanks for reading, thanks for the reply. I think our different opinions on the car have more to do with where we come from and what we have come to expect in a car. As to size, I agree the Ka is very small. However, I find that for my 1.8 m, the front space is more than enough. I've had cars like a Fiat Palio in which, if I was having a bad hair day, my hair would brush against the roof. I've driven cars like a Chevy Celta that slams me everytime I close the door (that's the tighest car I think) or a Corsa where the wheel wells intrude so much that you almost have to cross your leg to drive. Or previous generation Gols that force your spine into an S shape the seats, pedals and wheel are so misaligned. BTW, the Ka does tend to throw you to the left. I had thought that that was due to the seats, but probably you're right. As to creature comforts, I've driven crank window, non powered steering car. Cars without central locking, without ACs. Cars without clocks, RPM or water temp gages. Cars that needed timing belts replaced at 40k km. Cars whose instruments only lit up partially. My Ka is complete. Clock, white faced gages, power steering, locks, alarm, one touch power windows, AC. While these things are run of the mill in NA or Europe, there are plenty of cars here without.In the article I criticized the lack of instrumentation in the Ka. It's ridiculous. But in Brazil even brand new cars like the Uno come with just speedometer. Heck a Honda Fit come just with idiot lights instead of temp gages. In this category, the quality of the seats fabrics, their design, the two tone interior, the imagination displayed counts for points. I do understand however how a NAmerican or WEuropean or Australian would find it lacking. Believe me, in Brazil, the general fit and finish of the Ka is a notch above the rest. Specially since it is a 2005 and Ford at that time had not completely cheapened it out like they did to the present car in order to sell it as the cheapest in Brazil. As to steering, well yours was non-assisted. I agree, Ford's non assited steering sucks. The best non assisted steering I1ve encountered in my life are Fiat's. Light, but really communicative. As to assisted steering I also thought Fiat's were always pretty good. Better than the one in the Renault Logan I have. But then again the system in my Ka is a step above Fiat's. That has got to do with the steering being quicker off center. Really head and shoulders above what other basic cars offer in Brazil. As to exterior design, what can I say? I like it. And it is a car that will remembered as original for years ahead. Creative and non-comformist, even in Europe it lasted 10 years unchanged partially on the strength of its design. At first I didn't but I think the Brazilian redesign solved the car's worst issue which was the back. With the more vertical lamps plus some creases it became much better looking (less fat, I always thought the original version's back looked like a chipmunk with acorns in its cheeks, the back I'm talking about). As to competitors...Well mini. The original Mini was never offered in Brazil. I don't remember how long the current Mini has been on sale in Brazil. But they are luxury cars here. Imagine the maintenance! BMW pricing, not my league (and I'd much rather have the Fiat 500 if I ever go that route). Quick drive through of main competitors. Fiat Uno and Palio. Unos of the price range of the Ka I bought are the old one. Had 3 of them back in the 80s and 90s. It is basically the same car today. Kind of like a Beetle. Indestructible but crude. No thanks. Palio? Has 2 Palios plus a Siena. Spent 8 or 9 years of my life driving those. Have had enough of that dash. Plus insurance much too expensive. VW Gol. Too hardcore. A car that's good to drive hard but a chore when puttering along in the city. Uncomfortable plus the unbearable seating position. Insurance also too high. Chevy Celta or Corsa. Too small. Finishing worse than Ka. Instrumentation just as bad. Drive very middle of the road with almost 0 sphistication. The French. Renault Clio was a very real possibility. Almost bit the bullet on a few but cost/difficulty of maintenance kept me away (Twingo the same multiplied by 10). Peugeot/Citroen don't trust them enough in terms of reliability. Chinese. Give me a break. Japanese/Korean. In Brazil people think they're the same thing. Out of my price target. Plus I consider them boring to drive. Anyway, sorry for the rant. I totall respect your opinions. But I think our opinions are tainted by our cultures. That's ok. Thanks again for your honest assesment. This debate BTW is the best thing about this site.

  • Corey Lewis Corey Lewis on Jan 07, 2013

    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.

    • See 1 previous
    • Corey Lewis Corey Lewis on Jan 08, 2013

      @Marcelo de Vasconcellos It was a red one with grey bumpers / wheel arches, so I guess that means it was an earlier model? It passed the opposite direction so I didn't see if it was RHD or if other people were noticing it. I was in the car with my family, and said "Hey there's a Ka!" My dad said, "Huh?"

  • Chuck Norton And guys are having wide spread issues with the 10 speed transmission with the HP numbers out of the factory......
  • Zerofoo "Hyundais just got better and better during the 1990s, though, and memories of those shoddy Excels faded."Never. A friend had an early 90s Hyundai Excel as his college beater. One day he decided that the last tank of gas he bought was worth more than the car. He drove it to empty and then he and his fraternity brothers pushed it into the woods and left it there.
  • Kwik_Shift There are no new Renegades for sale within my geographic circle of up to 85 kms. Looks like the artificial shortage game. They bring one in, 10 buyers line up for it, $10,000 over MSRP. Yeah. Like with a lot of new cars.
  • Ribbedroof In Oklahoma, no less!
  • Ribbedroof Have one in the shop for minor front collision repairs right now,I've seen more of these in the comments than in the 30 years I've been in collision repair.