The Ford Ka, 1996 – 2009: one of the better and cuter designs of the last two decades.
The alternative Ford Ka concept followed the jelly-bean school of design that Ford had been exploring with the Taurus, Mondeo and the Puma. But in the internal design competition Ford Europe went for a radically different surface treatment of the same package and proportions.
The eventual car, the Ka Mk1, remained strikingly fresh for the entirety of its production run and is decidedly more fresh-of-face than the lardy and over-wrought successor (see also Renault Twingo). Whilst the Ka alienated some at first and appealed only to buyers too old to care what others thought, the Ka soon became a very good successor to the Mini. It was fun, classless and un-gendered.
Unlike some “cute cars” there was nothing about it that challenged the way the driver was seen socially. The Ka’s design direction was later re-named New Edge but was supplanted quickly by Chris Bird’s ‘We Don’t Have A Name For This style’. As such the Ka is an oddity but so then was the short lived design phase that came after. We can only wonder why Ford didn’t like this theme enough to let it run further.
This example was seen in Denmark under a very flattering late spring sunlight. But the car didn’t need nice light or a high-spec to look pleasing which is why you still notice them today and the Mk2 is as conspicuous as the concrete slab under your foot. What is it about the car that works so well? Unusually it is both free of design errors* and what is there is original.
It has clean surfaces and sharp intersections that make up arcs. Such surface management is not easy. The arcs and the window graphics are in harmony. The plastic bumpers make up an important extra element, nodding to the fact that “fenders” were once external addenda. These are post-modern bumpers but do look as if they can take a knock unlike most bumpers with bumperettes applied.
If Ford did one silly thing with this car, apart from discontinuing it, it was to offer the bumpers in body-colour. The fault is easily rectified by getting the grey ones fitted after-market. The Ka was cute like a Manga cartoon is cute not the way Disney’s are cute. We salute you, Ka.
*nearly: there is one but you’d never notice it (despite its prominent location) unless you were told to look for it. An argument can be made that it was an entirely rational compromise.