The Knowledge: Buy a Ford SportKa and you won’t stop laughing
The SportKa isn’t about its on-paper figures. What it’s about is an absolute hoot of a driving experience that starts the moment you pull away
Alex has been a road tester and motoring writer for more than 10 years, and has written on new, used and classic cars for What Car?, Autocar, The Daily Telegraph and PistonHeads, among many others.
It’s often said that there are two ways of having fun in a car: the first, brought about by absolute grip and power, is the sort of white-knuckle, clinging-on-for-dear-life adrenaline hit of an experience you'll get in any modern supercar.
The second, by contrast, is what you get in a car with relatively little grip and enough, but not too much, power. This is the sort of automotive fun that has you shrieking with laughter as you bundle your way round yet another corner on the door handles, feeling like you’re travelling a million miles an hour, yet doing sane speeds.
It’s in this second sort of fun that the Ford SportKa deals. You could hardly call this little blob of hilarity a proper hot hatch; its 1.6-litre eight-valve engine was distinctly old-fashioned even when the SportKa was new, and its 93bhp power output sounds at best lethargic, and at worst downright disappointing.
Which is why so many people have dismissed the SportKa as unworthy of their attention. But they’re missing out. You see, just like its bigger brother, the Fiesta Zetec S, the SportKa isn’t about its on-paper figures. What it’s about is an absolute hoot of a driving experience that starts the moment you pull away, and doesn’t stop until you park up at the other end of your journey.
That’s thanks mostly to its fabulous chassis. The SportKa takes the already sparkling standard Ka as its base, and adds lower suspension, a wider front track, and all sorts of extra stiffening and strengthening. But Ford didn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater; thanks to its light weight, the SportKa retains enough squidge in its ride to allow it to gloss over mid-corner bumps and ride potholes with abandon.
Inside, there are cheap plastics, for sure, but you still get leather seats with lurid blue centre panels to spice things up a bit, while the basic design of the dashboard, with its teardrop centre console and swivelling vents is still pleasing to the eye, even now. And with a pair of usable rear seats and a decent boot, it’s even reasonably practical.
Why you should buy one now
We’re not convinced there’s a cheaper way to have this much fun in a car. Seriously. A clean, tidy, low-mileage SportKa with a full year’s MOT can be now be had for around £1,000, perhaps even less. Certainly, you should only pay more than that for an absolute minter with barely any miles on the clock; even then, we’d have to think twice. At that price, the SportKa is hard to argue with.
What to look out for
There are three important things to keep in mind when buying a SportKa: rust, rust, and more rust. Look for it everywhere – sills, rear arches, chassis legs, around the windscreen, on the boot floor, and everywhere else besides.
We can’t emphasise this enough. What you’re looking for is as rust-free a car as you can find, and that should trump all other considerations. But the chances are the car you’re buying will be crumbly somewhere, so be prepared to repair it if you want to keep the car, and to keep on top of it throughout your ownership.
With that exception, though, the SportKa is actually a relatively robust little thing. Its engine is rock-solid if it’s been well maintained, and it’s driven by a timing chain so you don’t even need to worry about belt replacement. The same goes for the gearbox, which is pretty bulletproof unless abused.
Of course, when you take a test drive, it’s worth listening for knocks and rattles from the suspension. If it isn’t in fine fettle, you won’t get to enjoy your SportKa as much as you’d like – and that would be a shame given it’s such a terrific little car to drive.
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