First Wheels: Ford Ka Buying Guide

As somebody whose first car cost a mere £450, it seems amazing to fathom that new drivers today fork out an average of £4,627 on their entry into the world of automobile ownership. That, however, is the figure uncovered in our latest research, which sought to find out how the amount drivers spend on their first cars has varied over the past 70 years.

The results, when adjusted for inflation, show that the average sum spent by new drivers today is actually £1,375 less than drivers were paying back in the 1950s and ‘60s. It is more, however, than the average spend in the 1990s, which stood at a mere £3,264 – dragged down no doubt by my F-reg Renault 5.

Our research also reveals that the most popular first car in five of the seven decades was a Ford, with drivers obviously aware of what great value for money cars such as the Anglia, Escort and Fiesta represent.

In the case of first-time car shoppers today the Ford of choice is the Ka. Originally launched in 1996 the Ka was one of the first cars to showcase Ford’s ‘New Edge’ design language, which would later feature on the Focus, Puma and Mondeo among others. Although considered something of a Marmite design at first, it soon went on to attract a huge following, and made great use of what were fairly humble underpinnings (it was based on the Mk4 Fiesta and used a pretty ordinary 1.3-litre engine).

Such was its popularity that you can still find a healthy supply of Mk1 Ford Kas for sale on CarGurus today, as well as a few sportier SportKa models and the convertible StreetKa (promoted by none other than Charlene from Neighbours).

However, we couldn’t really recommend spending £4,627 on a Mk1 Ka even if it came with a pair of Kylie’s gold hot pants. Instead, that sum of money would lead us to the Mk2 model, which was built between 2009 and 2016 and is the result of a collaboration between Ford and Fiat.

As such this particular Ka is based on the platform Fiat 500, but with the retro Italian bodywork replaced with Ford’s reinterpretation of the now not so New Edge design, and an interior that feels similarly modern.

Engine options are a 1.2-litre petrol or 1.3-litre diesel with 68bhp and 74bhp respectively. As you’d expect in such a small car, the vast majority of buyers opt for the petrol model, which is why you’ll find hundred of them for sale on CarGurus, and only around 20 diesels at any given time.

The only gearbox is a five-speed manual. As with the rest of the Ka’s controls it’s light and easy to operate, while the slightly raised driving position is ideal for helping new drivers judge the car’s extremities.

The entry-level specification of Mk2 Ka is the Studio, which includes, well, not a lot actually. There’s no air-conditioning or electric windows, and even the locks are manually operated.

Upgrading to Style specification or above fixes these oversights, while Zetec also includes a heated windscreen and alloy wheels, and top-spec Titanium models come with climate control, a more powerful stereo and rear parking sensors.

Additionally Ford sold a few special edition trim packs with different colours and graphics. If that kind of thing appeals, look for a model badged as Grand Prix, Digital, Tattoo or Metal.

The 1.2-litre petrol engine in the Ka will return around 45mpg in normal driving, and you’ll pay just £30 per year for VED (road tax).

Servicing is required every year or 12,500 miles, with prices starting at comfortably under £200, while parts such as tyres and brakes are also at the cheaper end of the spectrum when it comes to sourcing replacements. The petrol engine will also need a new cambelt every five years at a cost of about £400. If the car you are looking at is approaching this stage factor in that cost to the price you pay.

All Kas fall into a low insurance grouping, which is another factor in making them a great choice of first car.

Although the Ka has a relatively big boot for a small car, the downside is that space for passengers in the rear is tight, so if you’re planning on ferrying the local basketball team between matches this probably isn’t the car for you.

Mechanically there’s not a lot that goes wrong, although as with any car that’s popular with new drivers we’d advise looking for signs of accident damage such as scuffed and dented bodywork and kerbed alloy wheels. Make sure the clutch and gearbox operate smoothly too.

Rust isn’t a major issue, but it’s still worth checking the car carefully including lifting the bonnet and inspecting around the nut at the top of the suspension. If this rusts it can cause a creaking sound when you turn the steering.

Inside the car lift up the mats and make sure the carpets are dry. If not it could be that the drain holes at the base of the windscreen are blocked.

Finally, if you’re buying a car built in late 2014 be aware that Ford carried out a recall to address a potential fault with the rear seat belt buckles. Contacting a Ford dealership and giving them your car’s registration will allow them to find out if the remedial work has been carried out.

Follow these few basic checks, as well as our guide on How to Buy Your First Car, and you’ll be spinning around out of the dealership and getting on the road before you know it.

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