What is it?
The Ford Ka+ Active is an SUV-styled version of the brand’s smallest car.
SUV styling, five-door only, revised chassis
The Ford Ka+ Active adds a dose of SUV-style to the small car without going the full SUV route, and in the process becomes the most satisfying version of the Ka+ range. Against other muscled-up city car rivals the Active holds its own, but it becomes more difficult to justify against similarly-priced proper small SUVs such as the Suzuki Ignis.
Ford launched the Ka+ in 2016 as a more focused version of the previous Ka. The new model responded to increased competition in the city car sector and in the process dropped the three-door variant.
Now as part of a programme of updates for the Ka+ range, we get the Active model. Put simply, this is part of a new bid by Ford to cash in on the still-mushrooming popularity of SUVs.
The Blue Oval is doing this by offering versions of its mainstream range with the SUV elements buyers like – basically bolder styling and elevated driving positions. The brand doesn’t worry about such traditional SUV features as all-wheel-drive powertrains, because the buyers don’t want the complications – or the costs – that come with such things. Very, very few SUV buyers will ever intend to take their car even slightly off the blacktop…
So the Ka+ Active lines up alongside the recently announced Fiesta Active in showrooms and before long they will joined by an Active version of the next Focus, coming later in 2018.
Buying and owning a Ford Ka+ Active
When Ford launched the Ka+ it effectively tried to make the car more mainstream and therefore more effective, killing off the somewhat cheeky styling of the previous Ka and replacing it with a five-door model that could be marketed purely on its value for money.
Part of the specification of the new Active mirrors the updates being applied to the rest of the Ka+ range to maintain that place in the market. The interior gets an upgrade, and the technology a major update as part of the current frantic march of such systems into even the smallest cars.
Active becomes a trim level in the Ka+ line-up, sitting at the top of the range but according to Ford’s suits, set to attract a different kind of customer. We are told that Active is for those energetic types who like to be outside rather than sitting at home watching TV, walking the dog on the beach and such like.
Said suits are equally keen to point out that the Active is not for proper off-roading – they see these models as a bridge to the brand’s proper SUVs such as the Ecosport and Kuga. And it will be an important bridge, possibly accounting for 30% of all Ka+ models sold.
So the emphasis is on looks. New front and rear bumper designs, body side mouldings and silver roof rails help to get across that SUV message, as does a raised ride height, the car sitting 2cm higher up. The 15-inch alloy wheels are bespoke to the model, as is the availability of a bronze metallic paint dubbed Canyon Ridge.
In terms of powertrains, Active buyers have a choice of two. A recently-launched 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol engine replaces the previous four-cylinder unit and has 85hp on tap. Or, and unusually compared to rivals, buyers can go for a 1.5-litre diesel with 95hp.
Ford expects the oil burner to take just 4% of sales, but insists that diesel is still the right choice for some buyers, especially those doing high mileages or who want the wider torque spread.
Where the Ka+ has fallen down compared to rivals is in its safety package – a Euro NCAP crash test in 2017 awarded it a mere three stars. You won’t find such tech as autonomous emergency braking, or even ISOFIX child seat belts, on even the options list for this car.
Inside the Ford Ka+ Active
Inside sees a quite extensive makeover as part of the Ka+ update, with the Active version adding ‘more durable’ finishes in a dark charcoal colour to reflect its lifestyle. There remains a fair amount of scratchy plastic compared to some rivals, though the chrome scuff plates are a nice touch, as is the bespoke leather steering wheel. This includes switches for the cruise control.
The major technology upgrade is the addition of Ford’s Sync3 infotainment system, supplied as standard. Based around a six-inch tablet-style touchscreen atop the centre console, it includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone compatibility, and voice commands.
The Active may be a range-topper, but much of the car’s significant tech requires delving into the options list. For the first time, a heated windscreen is available on the Ka+ as part of a £300 ‘Winter Pack’ that also includes heated seats. Auto headlamps and wipers and keyless entry and start form a Technology Pack for £350, and if you want rear parking sensors, then that’s £350 for the City Pack that also includes heated electrically folding door mirrors and electric rear windows.
The Ka+ continues to do the basics rather well – the rear offers plenty of room for two, especially above the head, though like any city car it’s a bit tight for three. And the boot space of 270 litres is almost to supermini standards.
Driving the Ford Ka+ Active
The major chassis difference between the Active and its fellow Ka+ models is that 2cm hike upwards, and to cope with this Ford has added what it describes as ‘rough road suspension’.
This basically means retuning the dampers with a ‘hydraulic rebound stopper’ to help smooth out the jolts of rough surfaces before they reach the cabin, and thickening up the anti-roll bar to reduce any tendency for the jacked-up body to lean over in corners. The ESC also boasts ‘Active Rollover Prevention’ to help in this area, particularly if the roof rails are loaded with bikes or such like.
The Ka+ Active does lean a bit in corners, but not in any way to cause alarm, and generally it rides very well – we’d go so far as to say better than any other Ka+ variant. In tight urban streets it is really easy to manoeuvre, while on a twisty B road it turns into corners in a precise manner that makes it quite fun to drive.
The slightly higher viewing position of the road ahead is comfortable without harming the on-road dynamics to any significant degree.
The engine is surprisingly quiet for a three-cylinder, quite enthusiastic but not as eager as some turbocharged rivals. Generally, however, it suits the package, combining enough potency with agreeable economy and emissions returns.
If you like the Ford Ka+, you will very likely find the Ka+ Active even more appealing. The model adds some useful extras, without compromising the good points of the mainstream small Ford.
In terms of price it competes fairly squarely on with rival small cars to which have been added ‘SUVness’ (Ford’s phrase, not ours…) and offers a little more character than most of them.
However if looking for a small car with SUV pretensions then for the same money one can have a Suzuki Ignis. Designed as a proper SUV from the start, the Suzuki offers just about all that the Ka+ Active does, plus a little more provenance – it feels a more complete package.
|Make & model||Ford Ka+||Vauxhall Viva||Suzuki Ignis|
|Specification||Active||Rocks||1.2 SZ3 Dualjet MT|
|Engine||1.2-litre petrol||1.0-litre petrol||1.2-litre petrol|
|Power||85 hp||73 hp||90 hp|
|Torque||115 Nm||95 Nm||120 Nm|
|0-62mph||13.6 sec||13.1 sec||12.2 sec|
|Top speed||104 mph||106 mph||106 mph|
|Fuel economy (combined)||56.5 mpg||54.3 mpg||61.4 mpg|
|CO2 emissions||114 g/km||118 g/km||104 g/km|
|Euro NCAP rating||3 stars (2017)||3 stars (2017)||3 stars (2016)*|
|TCE score||6.6 / 10||5.6 / 10||8.2 / 10|
* 5 stars if fitted with the optional safety pack