Fleet News

Ford Streetka and Sportka

Ford

Review

AVOIDING any accusation of sexism, Ford has created two new Kas for males and females.

Young, trendy, independent and female? Tick all of those boxes and you have the target audience for the Streetka. They will mostly be retail buyers as well and it's a relatively cheap soft top, which never plays well in the fleet manager's office.

So in many ways it is also about as relevant to company car fleets as ice-skates are to a kangaroo. But do not stop here, this early on in the article, because the funky little roadster has a wider resonance.

According to Ford, the Streetka signals a strategy at the firm to use new niche products to add excitement to the brand, to ensure the blue oval is once again the by-word for individuality and fun at everyday prices. This will impact on the more utilitarian products.

It is working. Ford will sell all of the 6,000 Streetkas allocated to the UK and claims to be in the unusual position for a volume manufacturer of having a product with 'overs' – orders that cannot be immediately fulfilled.

Add in the Sportka, Focus RS, Focus C-MAX and possibly the Fusion and life is starting to look a little less bland at Ford.

Blandness is certainly not a problem for the Streetka. The standard Ka, which was not originally designed with a convertible option in mind, has had to have a makeover worthy of Laurence Lewellyn-Bowen at his most flamboyant to convert it to a ragtop.

Ford had to turn to Italian styling house Pininfarina, expert in convertibles, to get it done to the necessary standard. And between them, they've done a good job. Like many convertibles, the Ka looks awkward with the roof up and the silhouette, basically a small dome on a larger dome, is that of a 1950s flying saucer.

Getting that roof down is fiddly to do from the driver's seat, because you have to lift up the rear screen to allow the body panel to flip up to house the roof, so it is best done by getting out of the car. It's a tough life.

In its natural state, with the roof down, the Streetka is very pretty – cute even. It is nicely balanced front and rear, with flared wheelarches and jagged body skirts giving it some edge.

Virtually all of the body panels have been changed – only the bonnet and other minor areas have escaped a makeover. But these are not just cosmetic changes. The entire body structure has been engineered to be stiffer and to compensate for having the roof chopped off and the addition of a number of strengthened beams has added a lot of weight – around 120kgs – to the car.

Inside, not much changes from the Ka, although there is an aluminium gearknob and more supportive, lower seats. All cars get a CD player as standard, although the six disc version will be optional even after the luxury pack. The luxury pack adds £1,300 to the original list price of £12,495 and has heated leather seats and air conditioning.

Behind the wheel

The Streetka is fitted with a 1.6-litre Duratec eight-valve engine producing 94bhp and after all the extra weight involved in chopping the roof off and adding strengthening, it has to be said that it struggles.

The first four gears are very closely spaced, so downchanges often result in an unexpectedly screaming engine, but keep it on the boil and you can make reasonable, if not fast, progress. And with a retuned exhaust note, the Streetka certainly sounds the part, which is always important for roof-down aficionados.

Where the Streetka scores points is the chassis, which lets the driver have a lot of fun. Stiffened and uprated suspension compared to the standard Ka has resulted in a car that turns in tightly, and then feels balanced and neutral through corners. The ride is also decent despite the stiff settings.

There was no evidence of sudden snappy oversteer if you lift off mid-corner, which should help those who push too hard and panic. The standard of road surfaces on the launch was very high, but going over the odd bump at speed, there was some evidence of scuttle shake, suggesting that despite the extra stiffening there was some flex there. But this car will not generally spend its life blasting around. It is essentially a metal posing pouch and it turned heads wherever we went, which is a good sign.

Driving verdict

Knowing your customers and what they want is key to success with any product and the Streetka absolutely bullseyes this. There is no doubt Ford will sell every single one, with 80% likely to be bought by women. It is funky, fresh and fun to drive. Come the summer, the Streetka will be a very popular little car.

Verdict

IT is heartening to see that Ford has a very non-sexist attitude to car launches. Following the Streetka, which is one for the girls, it ensured that the male half of the population was not ignored with the Sportka.

Sportka

##Sportka--none##

Ford believes the majority of its Sportka drivers will be male, at around 80%, the exact opposite of the convertible. It is aiming squarely at the Saxo VTS driver, Citroen has had nicely sewn up for a while now.

This model is the result of the suspension and powertrain development work that was done for the Streetka. Ford realised that after spending all that money, it might as well get the best return out of it.

So the Sportka has the 94bhp 1.6-litre Duratec engine, which surprisingly is only Euro III compliant and emits 182g/km of CO2, which is high considering the size of the engine and the weight of the car. Combined fuel consumption is 37.2mpg.

As a result, the Sportka will be under £10,000 when it is launched in June. For user- choosers, the cheap front-end price should offset the high CO2 levels when it comes to benefit-in-kind tax bills.

And because, unlike the Streetka, it is built on the production line with the Ka in Spain, its numbers are not constrained like the convertible. In the UK, Ford expects to sell more than 5,000 in a full year, although this can be upped should the need arise. While the standard Ka looks sweet and harmless, the Sportka, with the same slashed body skirting and jagged lights as the Streetka, looks much more stroppy and aggressive. It also gets some chunky six spoked 16inch alloys (standard Kas get 13 inchers) and flared wheelarches to complete the angry effect.

Dynamically, the Sportka is set up for sprinting about. The suspension has a wider track and is 30% stiffer at the front while roll stiffness has been increased for flatter cornering. Standard equipment and options are yet to be confirmed.

Behind the wheel

Without the extra 120kgs weight of the Streetka to shackle it, the Sportka can really show off its grip, poise and handling. In fact, it's a delight to drive.

Because of its small dimensions, the Sportka is great fun on tight B roads, but without masses of power, is unlikely to get the driver into trouble. It whizzes from 0-62mph in 9.7 seconds. Like its sister car, the short gearing means it flashes through the first three or four gears very quickly and in fifth is doing about 20mph per 1,000rpm. The combination of high revs, drivetrain noise and buzzy exhaust note means the Sportka would get wearing on motorways after a while – but then they are not its natural habitat.

It fizzes along and feels more planted and direct than the Streetka, probably due to its inherently stiffer shell. But its behaviour is still very similar.

Although the steering wheel is not adjustable, even taller drivers will not find it uncomfortably cramped, although the wheel, despite being a stitched leather job, has two-spokes which are set at 20 minutes to four, which is far too low to feel sporty.

Driving verdict

In many ways, the Sportka resembles a roller skate. It flies along, is nippy and fun and is an aggressive-looking enough departure from the Ka to ensure it will be a hit with the boys. Price will be key, but expect it to be a winner with user- choosers looking for cheap thrills.

Sportka and Streetka fact file
Streetka Sportka
Engine (cc) 1,597 1,597
Max power (bhp/rpm): 94/5,500 94/5,500
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): 99/4,250 99/4,250
Max speed (mph): 108 108
0-62mph (secs): 12.1 9.7
Comb fuel consumption (mpg): 35.8 37.2
CO2 emissions (g/km): 191 182
On sale: Now June
Prices (OTR): £12,495 approx £10,000

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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