Ford Ka+ Active: From city car to rugged urban cruiser in one bold leap
The Seat Arona is just one of many compact SUVs in what is Ford's Ka+ Active adds SUV cues to the brand's tiny city car - but is it worth the extra outlay? Ryan Hirons finds out.
What is it?
Hatchback-turned-rugged SUV is one of the biggest trends amongst car manufacturers right now, and Ford is looking to lead the way with its recently-introduced 'Active' range of machinery.
First came the Fiesta Active, and the all-new Focus is also being given the treatment, but for now the stand-out for us is Ka+ Active.
It's never been a tremendously memorable car. While by no means a bad machine, it's fair to say the success of the Fiesta and general buyer focus towards more premium machinery means the city car hasn't captured imaginations in the way the 1996 original did - but could Active treatment change that?
Calling Active just a trim level for the Ka+ would be doing it a disservice - there's actually quite a lot of depth to it. Most noticeable is the 'rugged' look on offer, which comes thanks to redesigned body panels, roof rails and a raised ride height.
Alongside a Ka+ facelift, there's also a new engine line-up, with two petrols and a diesel available, while a host of new equipment available for the city car also joins the fray.
What's under the bonnet?
Powering our test car is a 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol engine, producing 84bhp and 112Nm of torque, which sent to the front wheels via a five-speed manual gearbox. As for fuel economy, Ford claims it can manage 49.6mpg while emitting 129g/km of CO2 emissions.
It's far from a potent engine - with the small unit having to be worked hard to get the most out of it - but for town driving it's powerful enough, with a flexible clutch making for surprisingly easy stop/start movement, a must for any city car.
The shifter also has a surprisingly satisfying feel to it for a car built cheaply and allows for quite a bit of fun behind the wheel.
What's it like to drive?
The Ford Ka+ Active is an impressively amusing thing to drive. Despite being slow, it doesn't feel like a chore when working it hard and it's a sprightly thing around corners, thanks to its compact dimensions and responsive handling.
Of course, though, this is a car primarily intended for town use and that's where it works best. It's easy to manoeuvre as a result of its light steering and tiny stature, and parking can be done fairly easily.
Where the Ka+ falters is on the motorway. Although it rides comfortably, its five-speed box means revs sit high at 70mph which, in combination with wind noise, means the cabin is less silent than perhaps it might be.
How does it look?
Ford has angled the Ka+ Active as a more rugged machine, and it has made a number of aesthetic tweaks to try and add to this. These include the introduction of beefier bodywork, a raised ride height and roof rails.
Admittedly, the bullish effect doesn't go further than this, and we'd still be inclined to avoid any mud trails with the Ka+ Active as this is not a proper off-roader.
It is, however, a fairly interesting looking thing. Perhaps the bolder look loses some of the cute charm offered by the base Ka+, but the Active does manage to stand out.
What's it like inside?
Stepping inside the Ka+ Active brings the realization that this is a car built to a pretty low price point. Plastics are plentiful, while there's no leather to be found here, just fabrics.
Of course, you shouldn't really expect much more at this pricing point - but a little more effort from Ford to disguise its roots would have been a nice touch.
That said, space is respectable. Despite being smaller than the Fiesta, you can fit the same number of people in - five, to be exact - and probably end up with an equal amount of room. As for boot space, that remains identical to the regular Ka+, totalling 270 litres.
What's the spec like?
There's a respectable amount of kit to be found on the Ford Ka+ Active, when you consider its entry price point of £13,445.
For that, you don't just get a spacious city car, but also automatic headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control and Ford's Sync 3 infotainment system displayed on a 6.5-inch touchscreen.
Sure, there's no navigation on offer here, but there is support for both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto - allowing for the use of arguably more superior mapping technology.
The Ford Ka+ Active proves to be more than just a trim level. It brings a funky, fresh edge to an otherwise pretty normal city car and offers just as much room for the cost as the larger, more-loved Fiesta.
It's not the rugged beast that marketing will want you to believe, but it is well-equipped, especially for the everyday abuse town driving will offer.
If a Fiesta is just out of your price range, then this could be a bargain buy.