To mark the 20th anniversary of Ur-Ka’s debut, we don’t write about it.
We’ve spilled a good deal of ink over the Ka on Driven to Write over the past couple of years – too much, some might say. But with the car’s 20th anniversary now looming, one has to be seen to be doing something. So rather than retread old ground, the opinions of the foremost UK auto journalists of the time will have to suffice. Failing that of course, there’s always the narcotic Laurie Anderson soundtracked launch commercial – which is notable for showing no footage of the Ka at all*.
Let’s begin with Russell Bulgin writing for Car in 1997, who said, in his sadly much imitated style; “Ka is terrific because it comes packed with sass and verve and a real sense of urban driving zest… Intriguing but not cute: in a tiny car, that distinction is critical… The tenor of Ka is practical without being dreary, useful without being obsequious and fun without coming on as being unbearably wacky. Ride and handling? ‘Taut’ is the adjective which covers this best – the Ka feels as if the dampers are a smidge bloke-biased. Good performance need not rely on blistering acceleration: the Ka is fun in a nippy, essentially usable way.”
Meanwhile, journalistic éminence grise, LJK Setright, essaying on the subject of character in the same issue noted; “Consider the Ford Ka. Nothing ostensibly comparable can hold a candle to this pert little character. Whether it may be judged to look funny, or pretty, or quirky, may be beside the point: since people notice the Ka and all who see the Ka smile, it must be pronounced a successful work of styling. Yet if to those looks were wedded a chassis which betrayed the driver into haplessly erratic ways, then that same styling would have to be condemned as deluding and derisory.”
“As it happens, the Ka behaves impeccably… Thus despite the shortcomings of the engine and transmission – it really should have had the two-stroke engine and CVT upon so much Ford time has been spent – the Ka emerges as characterful, the bravest thing Ford has done since the launch of the Sierra.”
Now, speaking as a former Ka owner, I can say with some authority that both writers are essentially correct in their assertions – ‘karpet’ texture included. Conceptually speaking, Ka offered more than it strictly needed to in a package that spoke of the future without a shred of retro or pastiche.
New or nearly new, Ka was close to being the perfect compact consumer durable. It was the second or third owners who bore the brunt of Ford’s corner-cutting. With better execution, it could conceivably have grown into a cool urban sub-brand – think of Smart, but with credibility. Instead Henry’s boys bottled it and stuck the cork back in. The fools.
*This clip can be seen on YouTube.