The 2012 Ford Focus Electric is the company's first-ever production battery-electric vehicle, and that alone makes it noteworthy.
But the fact that it's also pleasant to drive--somewhat on the fun side of unremarkable--means that it's the first compact all-electric competitor to the Nissan Leaf, also a five-door hatchback that runs entirely on battery energy.
Smooth, solid, sporty
Our turquoise test car was indistinguishable in New York City traffic from any other Focus, since drivers had no time to focus on the discreet chrome "Electric" badges on the doors or the left-front fender charging port.
On a quick 15-mile test drive, dodging in and out of unpredictable and competitive NYC traffic, the Focus Electric offered good power under most circumstances and enough torque to spin the inside front wheel accelerating into corners.
On the road, the 2012 Focus Electric is easy and predictable to drive. And while it's hardly a hot hatch, it has a sportier character than the occasionally bland, appliance-like Leaf.
It's clearly heavier than a gasoline Focus, which makes it feel clearly planted on the road. Pickup is good away from stops, but we occasionally wished for more mid-range torque in the 35-to-60-mph range--trying to get out of a cluster of slow-moving cars, for instance.
Some reviewers have criticized the feel of the generative braking, but we found it fine. It blends nicely, while remaining fairly aggressive for efficiency. But unlike the Tesla Roadster or BMW ActiveE, "one-pedal" driving wasn't on the menu--the Focus Electric is tuned to drive pretty much as a gasoline car would.
The gasoline Focus hatchback gets good reviews for its styling, interior quality, and sporty handling, and the electric version preserves all those virtues.
The seats are comfortable, though the seating position is lower than in the upright Leaf, and the upholstery and soft-touch plastics are very good quality. It's still a compact hatchback, but it's one made of very nice materials--and it gives a more upscale feel than the slightly Spartan Leaf.
In the rear, the car's built-in battery charger sits in a box perhaps 10 inches tall spanning the width of the load bay right behind the rear seat.
A hinged cover attached to its back end slopes down to the level of the tailgate opening, creating a hidden compartment on top of the space in the trunk floor that holds the 110-Volt charging cable.
But that hinged cover also has a two-position mount that allows it to sit up on legs,giving a level load floor--surprisingly clever.
The charger itself operates at 6.6 kilowatts, against the 2012 Leaf's 3.3-kW rating, meaning that 240-Volt Level 2 charging stations can recharge the 23-kilowatt-hour battery pack in about 4 hours--and topping off after trips of 30 miles can take as little as an hour.
We think the 6.6-kW charger is a big plus for Focus Electric owners. So does Nissan, apparently, since the company will upgrade the 2013 Leaf to a 6.6-kW charger as well.
The Focus Electric does not, however, offer any form of DC quick charging as the Leaf does.
The instrument cluster is entirely digital, unlike base gasoline Focus models. We've always credited Ford with excellent graphic design and fonts, and they're in evidence here too, displaying a variety of operating information--including the all-important miles of range remaining.
The display also shows a statistic we've seen on no other electric car: percentage of energy recaptured through regenerative braking. (Ours was 91 percent--which seems quite high to us.)
The EPA rates the 2012 Focus Electric at 76 miles of range and 105 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent). The comparable numbers for a 2012 Leaf are 73 miles and 99 MPGe.
We did have one confusing moment, putting the car in gear and trying to pull away, only to get no response--because, it turned out, the car wasn't switched on despite the dashboard being illuminated.
We'd strongly suggest to Ford that they add a "powering up" tone or chime, a la Chevy Volt, and one for powering down too, so the driver is better aware what mode the car is in. Our cheerful escort from Ford's PR agency confessed that he'd had the same experience as well.
Ford, are you listening?