BBC's Top Gear Guide
Ford e-Ka

by Phil Salcedo Top Gear Online

a vision of the future

  • runs on 3 x ion batteries (included)
  • faster than a standard Ka


    I broke it
    no, really

  • This is about an electric car. There, we may as well get rid of some of the audience right away, because even if we were testing an electric Diablo, there are some who wouldn't be interested - myself included, come to think of it.

    For all you free thinkers who are still here, though, get ready for something of a surprise in what may well turn out to be my last ever test drive.

    The subject for today is Ford's electric prototype, the e-Ka - powered by the next generation of lithium ion batteries, and offering a range of some 200km between plug-ins. That's more than enough for the average townie, and as the e-Ka's research engineer, Peter Schmitz points out, the thing's not meant as a long-range cruiser.

    "This technology would only be aimed at a niche market, maybe as a third family car. It's suited to an urban, or perhaps extra-urban environment."

    The average car journey in Germany is 5km, with an average daily total of just 15km, so the e-Ka really could do a job, if range was the only concern. It's not, though, so let's go for a battery-powered drive.

    The first thing to note is that this car isn't slow - 0-62mph comes up in 12.7 seconds, which doesn't sound much, but it's faster than the conventional Ka on which it's based. There's also 190Nm of torque available at… are you ready… zero rpm. As anyone who's driven a golf kart can testify, electric vehicles don't have an optimal power band - all the grunt is there as soon as you hit the pedal. This allows for the rather ridiculous spectacle of spinning the wheels and screeching the tyres of the e-Ka before any forward motion kicks in - not that I'd know of course. Just probably.

    Out on the road, Ford's foray into the electric is something of a revelation. There's ample power for overtaking, the smoothest of smooth acceleration thanks to the continual shiftless transmission, and a ride so quiet, you have to be wary of hapless pedestrians - completely oblivious of your imminent arrival. It's a stealth shopper's dream.

    Of course, one of the drawbacks of electric power is the loss of an emotive engine note. As one unkind commentator pointed out whilst driving the thing, all that's missing is the sound of clattering milk bottles. That's not altogether fair, though. If you remember Knight Rider's quiet pursuit mode, you're getting close to the e-Ka's fairly pleasant whistle. If you don’t remember it, Colin Montgomery's greens-mobile probably isn't far off either.

    In its place, what the e-Ka would do is transform a town centre. Pollution would still occur in the production of electricity, but it wouldn't be concentrated in such choking density in the high street. There wouldn't be a risk of deafness on every visit to the shops either, in fact the whole urban experience might become a lot more civilised. I feel like I'm in a seventies Coke advert now.

    Just as I'm settling into the whole electric thing, I realise that even the quiet whistle from the cooling system is much quieter than I first thought. In fact it's silent. In fact, the power's cut out and I'm cruising down a German autobahn with nothing but steering and a pleasant breeze to power me.

    Once on the hard shoulder, I'm faced with two fairly pressing difficulties:
    1. How to get back to Ford's Aachen development sight, and
    2. What's the most tactful way to explain the breakage of a multi-million pound, only-two-in-the-whole-world, concept car to its creators?

    A few minutes later, power's back and I begin a comedic limp back home, stopping every few hundred metres whilst the batteries take an unscheduled break.

    It's hard to tell who feels worse - the e-Ka's PR representative, or Top Gear's car-breaking delegate. Don't think we'll be driving many Fords in the near future.

    What the car did show, is that electricity can provide a viable alternative to petrol as an in-town tool. It's quiet, quick and provides more than enough longevity for the average day. The reason for its breakdown is most likely to be found in its stage of development - this is a prototype only, with reliability yet to be factored in.

    There are no plans to bring the e-Ka to market as it stands, but the technology will work its way into the next generation of Th!nk cars. Ferrari probably isn't overly-concerned as of yet, but makers of town runabouts everywhere should be distinctly worried - though perhaps not as worried as poor Monika at Ford Germany, who lent me the car to start with.

    Phil Salcedo
    Top Gear Online
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