Capsule Review: 2015 Ford Ka (Brazilian Market)

Marcelo de Vasconcellos
by Marcelo de Vasconcellos

The Ford Ka was born as a provocateur with a challenging design and hints of refinement that solidified the idea that cars are not sold by the pound. Highly successful in Europe, this recipe proved less so in the rest of the world, particularly Latin America were the car was relentlessly cheapened out over its career and became irrevocably divorced from the European car in its second generation. Now, designed and developed by Ford Brazil (with some help from the European unit), the Ka, in its third generation, sets out from the tropics in its eventual quest to become an integral part of the One Ford strategy (sales in Europe, from a UK beachhead, should commence in the fall of 2015).

This time around the Ka will be Ford’s cheapest offering, nestling under the Fiesta. Though it is shorter than its cousin, its wheelbase is exactly the same. The new Ka is taller and a hair wider, offering a greater sensation of roominess in its interior. If front seat space is comparable, the back seats have been placed further back and due to the high roofline, four non-NBA sized people can sit in good comfort, especially by segment standards. As in everything else in life, this decision brought with it a definite drawback: The 257 liter trunk is the smallest in its category. While not such a problem in Western Europe, were cars like this are viewed as urban runabouts, it definitely could be blight for the Ka’s career in much of the rest of the world. In these markets, a Ka is expected to pull family duty and the trunk is tight for a family of four come vacation time.

The new Ka is also a very interesting statement on how Ford sees the Brazil and other developing auto markets. In Brazil the car starts off at 35,000 reais, whereas some competitors are offered at 25,000 reais. When equipped like the Ka, however, Ford’s pricing becomes competitive, maybe even aggressive. Features like assisted steering, air conditioning and power windows have become the new norm, and the Ka’s equipment levels are commensurate with its price. Ford claims they want the retail sales title and will have to sell over 10 thousand cars a month to reach their goal.

For that amount of money the Ka offers the items mentioned, but extras like electronic brake distribution, hill holder, Sync and even its version of an emergency call system, the first for any car in Brazil. Other sophisticated items like ESP are offered depending on version, and a first for the small car segment in Brazil.

Stepping inside the car, besides the roominess already mentioned, the care taken in its finishing is immediately noticed. While hard plastics are the norm, they are decently assembled and different textures and color are duly appreciated. Internal design and layout is inspired by what is seen in the Fiesta. Cubbies to put modern life’s unavoidable accruements are offered generously and Ford claims there are 21 of them, though I didn’t notice all of them. However, there are more places to accommodate stuff than in the Fiesta and most competitors. Overall impressions are good.

Stepping back out to see the design, the car’s height is readily apparent. As confirmed by the tape measure, the car is and looks taller than anything else in the segment. As it is relatively short and wide, to some the car will look fat. To my eyes it doesn’t seem so, but the height is a bit of a challenge. The front fascia clearly follows Ford’s Aston Martin-inspired ideal and is still a very nice look. The side profile is also eye pleasing, with a high belt line that Ford managed to make not too intrusive as sightlines are good. The car’s worst design element is the back. Comparing to the front and even its profile, it is demure to be sure. Maybe even too timid for what the front suggests.

Mechanically, the car begins to stand out to the enthusiast. The car uses a naturally aspirated, 1 liter, 3 cylinder, 12 valve, flex fuel version of the engine already on sale in Europe and North America, but without the turbocharger. It features variable valve timing in both the intake and exhaust, and other tricks like separate cooling for head and block. The crankshaft is built so there is an angle between flywheel and pulley, a simple solution that eliminated much of the bothersome vibrations inherent in 3 cylinder engines without having to resort to extraneous measures. Ford also promises low upkeep costs. For example, the engine features an oil bathed chain that requires no maintenance for 240,000 kilometers. This small power plant produces 80 horsepower using Brazilian gasoline or 85 ponies should you choose to fuel it with ethanol. This makes it the most powerful naturally aspirated 1.0 liter engine in Brazil and, quite possibly, the world.

The best part about driving this engine is its refinement. It pulls very progressively from 1500 RPMs up to redline. Couple that with its long fifth gear, and it’s a comfortable cruiser at speed. The sprint to 62 mph is done in about 14 seconds, which is very good in the category. Were it not for a certain sluggishness in its response, and the existence of the new Volkswagen up! (which also uses a 3 cylinder 1.0), this could be considered the best 1.0 in the Brazilian market, bringing heat to some of the 1.4 and 1.6 liters available. Though smaller, the up! is undeniably faster and even more economic. It also sounds better, though it vibrates more than the Ford.

The first Ka had a kart-like ride that enthusiasts appreciate ( myself included). The back for example always threatened to let loose in curves if the driver hesitated in accelerating. The new Ka does not touch that level of sportiness, but its manners driving fast or slow are impeccable. The suspension does not allow unnecessary roll, yet manages not to be uncomfortable. Handling is precise, the electric steering is very light in urban driving and becomes heavier the faster you go (though still numb compared to hydraulic setups), noise and harshness are contained and I didn’t notice any squeaks and rattles from the finishing. Again, probably the best suspension available in small cars in Brazil, were it not for the up!.

The new Ford Ka is a well-rounded, relatively sophisticated modern car. Offering space (at least for passengers) and an undeniably modern, efficient and fun ride and engine, it is poised to become a sales leader in places where small cars are appreciated. It is on sale in Brazil and the sedan version, the Ka+, will begin sales next month. It will soon be exported to other South American markets. It will also be produced in India and sold all over the world. It is a shame North Americans will probably not get it because it continues Ford’s tradition of offering advanced and pleasant small cars.

Marcelo de Vasconcellos
Marcelo de Vasconcellos

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  • Krhodes1 Krhodes1 on Aug 26, 2014

    Interesting car, or Ka. Seems like this would be a better seller in the US than the too tight in the back Fiesta. Mine would have to be the hatch, the sedans this size are just so very useless, whatever the "trunk prestige".

  • Wmba Wmba on Aug 26, 2014

    Balancing any rotating system can be accomplished by applying appropriate masses at appropriate radii. at appropriate angle to each other at each end of the rotating shaft. Basic theory, and what Ford has come up with by reading textbooks. That's balanced to the external observer, the engine mounts and you the driver. Utter vibration hell can still be going on inside the system - outside seems serene. The timing belt is not a chain. It's a belt designed to run in oil. Surely the last Ka is a Fiat 500 - they were both built in Fiat's factory in Poland on the same platform.. The first gen Ka was as close to a British chocolate biscuit tin as any modernish car with the last gasp of the Ford Kent ohv engine as motive power. Cheap and built to stay that way.

    • Marcelo de Vasconcellos Marcelo de Vasconcellos on Aug 26, 2014

      Hey wmba, the vibration is important to be reduced to the driver. At launch, Ford stressed the engine mounts, steering wheels fixations and seats mounts all had received new parts (compared to the Fiesta) exactly to counterbalance the tendency of the 3 cylinders to be vibrant. These parts may or not fail over time, but they stressed this has been thoroughly tested. The advantage of mounting the mentioned parts at an angle comes from the need to keep upkeep costs down. Other engines around the world use things like "árvores de balanceamento" (sorry forgot the English term), which add cost, complexity and some weight. The solution may be simple, but talking to people who know this well they say it's a simple solution that appears to do the job. If so simple, why wasn't it done before? Depends on who you ask, but the consensus is that there were packaging issues, that Ford solved (not an engineer, so...). As to the chain you are right. Got my notes mixed up. What I wanted to write was exactly that:. Previously the Zetec 1.0 had a chain that was to be observed every 100,000 km with no real expected shelf life. What I hear from mechanics is that they started needing to be changed on a case by case basis, some as early as 150,000 km others have lasted 300,000 km plus. In my notes, there was a comment on how I, as a previous Ka Zetec owner, did not miss the chain as the belt was much more silent and is now just as durable as the chain. So the benefits seem obvious. As to the second generation Ka (the Cincuecento twin) being the last Ka, you surely mean Europe right? Because the new Ka is here and I've driven it. Below I'll offer some thoughts as to why I think the Ka will really make it to Western Europe. The EcoSport has made it to Europe. The Ka sits on the same platform as it and the Fiesta. It has a size advantage on the Fiesta and a ride just as good. A car like this is necessary to combat the continual growth of cars like the Dacia/Renault Sandero and others that sell space at a low price. At least the cars seen here (new Ka vs. Sandero), the size difference is not that big and the Ka is more sophisticated in its ride than the Sandero. Using a name like Ka only reinforces that notion as Ford will not likely give up pricing on the Fiesta that is up there, but smallish and becoming more so with every new car the competition launches. I don't remember exactly right now, but the Ka even in Europe (in Latin America certainly) eventually got the much more modern Zetec engines. Why they kept the Endura/Kent engines at launch is a mystery, but maybe the smaller Zetecs were not ready. They were cheap, but offered good driving dynamics, small size and an internal and external design that made it a car that will be remembered, moreso maybe than the Fiesta's from the same era. No one really knows where the next Fiesta is going, but it'll very likely be larger and even more sophisticated, opening up space for a Ka that can compete on size, pricing and dynamics as it'll carry on the current Fiesta's torch. Seems pretty much like a no brainer from where I stand as cheap cars are needed and growing in Europe.

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