Ford Ka+ Active vs Dacia Sandero Stepway vs Vauxhall Viva Rocks vs Kia Picanto X-Line

This crossover fad is getting out of hand… Four city cars pretending to be big and tough compete to see which one can smash it out of the retail park. By Jake Groves

FORD KA+ ACTIVE
How thorough is the crossover conversion?
Active adds unique bumpers and alloys, plus roof rails as standard. Rough Road Fiesta and Focus are also suspension with a loftier available with Active bloat ride height is fitted, too, along with brown accents and rubber mats inside. The punchier of the Ka+’s two petrols and 1.5 diesel are your Active engines. No all-wheel drive, as with all these cars.


Can it pull the skin off a rice pudding?
Weeny three-cylinder goes without a turbo, so most of the shove (which isn’t much) is at 4000rpm and up. It’s the slowest car here on paper but doesn’t feel it on the road –it’s fun to wring out, and the engine is the best insulated.
Fun to scoot around the car park?
It’s an absolute peach. Steering is classic Ford: supremely weighty but direct and communicated through previous-generation Fiesta’s steering wheel. Ride quality the best here, too, bodyroll isn’t too bad and the gearshift is notchy without being cumbersome.

DACIA SANDERO STEPWAY
How thorough is the crossover conversion?
Most popular Dacia in the UK had a 2018 facelift that introduced some tweaks and some Stepway treatment edges fresh WLTP-compliant Sandero close to Duster engines. Standard crossover styling present and correct. It’s 104mm taller than a regular Sandero and there are some handy Stepway decals on the flanks, in case you forget.
Can it pull the skin off a rice pudding?
Ours has Renault’s 898cc turbo’d petrol triple, as seen in the Twingo and Clio. It’s easily the quickest car here in a sprint, but you have to treat the engine like an old diesel: a whopping lump of torque goes as quickly as it arrives.
Fun to scoot around the car park?
Not really. The steering is vaguer than Theresa May on Brexit and twitches more than a caffeinated squirrel over lumpy roads, which is rather startling. Ride is firmer than the Ford and softer than the Kia, but bodyroll is considerable.

VAUXHALL VIVA ROCKS
How thorough is the crossover conversion?
Vauxhall’s chunky city car is now the only Rocks model in the range since the recent demise of the Adam Rocks. Most expensive Viva is taller and looks appropriately chunky but is miserly on equipment compared to cheaper Viva SL.
Can it pull the skin off a rice pudding?
Just one engine is available across the entire Viva range. It’s only marginally quicker than the Ford, with the biggest difference coming from a more eager attitude to pulling away, but the engine is more vocal when you boot it and the power curve drops off near the redline.
Fun to scoot around the car park?
Light controls are excellent for in-town lane-swapping and swift parking manoeuvres. It comes close to the Ka+ in terms of smiles per mile, thanks to accomplished body control and accurate steering. The gearbox is a little mushy and the shifter has long throw, mind.

KIA PICANTO X-LINE
How thorough is the crossover conversion?
It’s certainly funky, thanks to this Lime Light paint, exclusive to X-Line, which combines with green in the grille Picanto at its best
and foglights. Bulbous bumpers, unique rims and LED DRLs and rear lights all standard. It’s just 15mm taller than other Picantos.
Can it pull the skin off a rice pudding?
It’s not far behind the Dacia for outright pace. Misses out on the Picanto GT-Line’s great turbo triple, but the 1.25-litre four’s power is purposeful and linear all the way up to the redline. It’s quite literally crying out for some extra soundproofing, though.
Fun to scoot around the car park?
Sort of. It handles like a larger, more sophisticated car. Sharp steering, bitey brakes and stubby gearshift are
an engaging mix, but the ride is too firm for low-speed driving around town and tyre roar gets a little excessive at motorway speeds.

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FORD KA+ ACTIVE
Interior from the bargain basement?
The cockpit is like a cleaner, hollowed-out version of the last Fiesta’s. Door cards and handles are particularly tinny. Thick padding on the seats bring a comfy vibe but vertical dashboard vents just blow air onto your hands.
Any tech highlights?
It comes with cruise control and Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment as standard, with a crisp, glossy screen and both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto included. Ford’s QuickClear heated windscreen and heated front seats are optional.
Is all that height put to good use?
It’s taller than not only a Ka+ but also a Fiesta, and the wheelbase is nearly as long as the Fiesta’s, so lanky folk will fit in the back completely fine. Boot is also the same size as its supposedly larger counterpart’s at 270 litres. Shame about high load lip and tailgate catch jutting out.

VERDICT
Slow but practical, good to drive and cheap to insure.

FORD KA+ ACTIVE 1.2 TI-VCT
> Price £12,950 > As tested £13,595 > Engine 1198cc 12v 3-cyl, 84bhp @ 6300rpm, 85lb ft @ 4000rpm > Transmission 5-spd manual, front-wheel drive > Performance 13.5sec 0-62mph, 105mph, 49.6mpg, 129g/km CO2 > Weight 1088kg > Example insurance quote* £280.83 > On sale Now > Rating ****

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DACIA SANDERO STEPWAY
Interior from the bargain basement?
Plain but functional, just how Dacia likes it. There’s a huge steering wheel, and a digital trip computer reminiscent of an old scientific calculator. Nowhere to rest your left foot, which catches on the underside of the dash moulding.
Any tech highlights?
Rear sensors, cruise control and electric rear windows are standard, as is MediaNav infotainment, featuring satellite navigation with graphics from a Nintendo DS. Available later in 2019, MediaNav Evolution will add extra connectivity. A reversing camera is optional.
Is all that height put to good use?
It’s a size up from the other three – while being cheaper – and is darn roomy. Rear space is good, headroom will benefit those with beehives and stovepipes, and 320-litre boot is the biggest here. Tailgate opens via the key only, not the plipper, which is a bit ’80s.

VERDICT
So cheap it’s hard to ignore.

DACIA SANDERO STEPWAY COMFORT TCE 90
> Price £10,595 > As tested £11,390 > Engine 898cc 12v turbo 3-cyl, 89bhp @ 5000rpm, 103lb ft @ 2250rpm > Transmission 5-spd manual, front-wheel drive > Performance 11.1sec 0-62mph, 104mph, 50.4mpg, 115g/km CO2 > Weight 1023kg > Example insurance quote* £444.79 > On sale Now > Rating ***

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VAUXHALL VIVA ROCKS
Interior from the bargain basement?
It’s very mature in here, and very familiar if you’ve driven a recent Corsa or Astra. The materials are decent, with chunky dials and switches. But the cupholders are shallow, so your bottles will fall out, and the seats are firm.
Any tech highlights?
Pretty much all the tech is relegated to the options list, as illustrated by the ‘as tested’ price on our car. Go for the IntelliLink infotainment with simple navigation, a responsive display and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. Heated seats and cruise control also available.
Is all that height put to good use?
Shortest wheelbase means rear room is tight, with short rear doors making access a bit of a faff, too. Viva has the smallest boot here at 206 litres, so this city car is likely to stay in the city. The already-light steering has a City function to make it even lighter.

VERDICT
A sweet city car, but the non-Rocks SL has more kit.

VAUXHALL VIVA ROCKS 1.0 75PS
> Price £11,940 > As tested £14,200 > Engine 999cc 12v 3-cyl, 72bhp @ 6500rpm, 70lb ft @ 4500rpm > Transmission 5-spd manual, front-wheel drive > Performance 13.1sec 0-62mph, 106mph, 60.1mpg, 106g/km CO2 > Weight 939kg > Example insurance quote* £396.93 > On sale Now > Rating ***

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KIA PICANTO X-LINE
Interior from the bargain basement?
No way: premium materials, cute green accents, a flat-bottomed steering wheel and a sensible layout. X-Line has fake-leather seats as standard, clever pop-out cupholders that actually hold drinks and a dinky armrest cubby.
Any tech highlights?
Torque vectoring is standard (although not unique to
X-Line) to help enthusiastic cornering, as is an easy-to-use seven-inch infotainment system, plus keyless entry, cruise control and on-board safety kit that warrants a four-star EuroNCAP rating (rather than the Picanto’s usual three).
Is all that height put to good use?
Headroom in the rear is acceptable for the taller among us, but legroom behind an equally tall driver is sub-par. The boot has an unhelpfully high load lip, while the redesigned rear end seems peculiarly vulnerable to road gunk being sprayed up on to the window on wet days.

VERDICT
Has character and a great interior, but a little coarse.

KIA PICANTO X-LINE 1.25 MPI
> Price £12,595 > As tested £13,110 > Engine 1248cc 16v 4-cyl, 82bhp @ 6000rpm, 122lb ft @ 4000rpm > Transmission 5-spd manual, front-wheel drive > Performance 11.6sec 0-62mph, 107mph, 61.4mpg,
106g/km CO2 > Weight 939kg > Example insurance quote* £352.66 > On sale Now > Rating ***


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