Tuned up: the Ford Ka's suspension makes for firmer handling

The fall in new car sales continues but the Motor Industry is being buoyed up somewhat by reasonably strong sales of second-hand models. There is a reluctance at this time of year to invest in an '09 registration plate so even the sweet deals of thousands of euro discount is not tempting for cash and credit-strapped motorists.

Cost conscious buyers can now get good value in models such as the Ford Ka, which has a starting price of €11,535. This provides a good chance for young motorists to get their hands on a car that is cheap to buy and has very low running costs. The refinement of larger cars is not there but the Ka offers solid basic motoring with the comfort of a 2-year guarantee.

There are two trim levels and two engine choices. The lead-in Style model with a 1.2 litre petrol engine starts off at €11,500 but expect a good discount when the new year sales start. It comes with alloy wheels, fog lights, MP3 connectivity, CD and four-speaker radio, two airbags and anti-lock brakes. The 1.3 litre diesel is highly economical and prices start at €13,320.

The Titanium models get air conditioning, electric windows, heated mirrors and central locking with prices of €13,325 for petrol and €15,125 for diesel.

The first generation Ka took the market by storm 13 years ago and sold more than 1.4 million units in Europe. And now as a result of the Ford/Fiat collaboration, the second generation is now Italian flavoured and uses the same chassis as the Fiat 500 and Panda.

Ford has tuned the suspension for a firmer, better handling ride, greater agility on bends and more accurate steering. It is a better drive than the Fiat 500 and more fun on the road. The new Ka uses Fiat's engines, the 68bhp 1.2 litre petrol and 74bhp 1.3 litre diesel. These engines are highly economical and return sub 120 g/km CO2 emissions, the petrol unit (119 g/km and 55.4mpg) and the diesel unit (112 g/km and 67.3mpg). The Ka is built alongside the Fiat 500 and Panda in a Fiat Plant in Poland, the inside layout and switchgear are mostly Fiat, it shares 80 per cent of its components with the 500.

The new model is safer and bigger inside. Although exactly the same length (3.62m), it is 10cm taller giving superb headroom. Adults may find it a little tight in the rear, but legroom is reasonable as, indeed, is space in the larger boot, which, at 224 litres, is decent for this size of car.