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2012 Ford Focus Electric: First Drive

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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.

2012 Ford Focus Electric, New York City, April 2012

2012 Ford Focus Electric, New York City, April 2012

Enlarge Photo

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.

High-quality interior

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.

2012 Ford Focus Electric, New York City, April 2012

2012 Ford Focus Electric, New York City, April 2012

Enlarge Photo

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.

Add chimes...please

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?


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Comments (9)
  1. I really like the look of the Focus and that is a strong point for me over the LEAF which has a look that is ... well... ya know.

    On the other hand, the higher sales volume of the LEAF and Nissan's firm commitment to its success is a significant advantage. I feel like getting parts (including aftermarket) and service is more likely with the LEAF.

    As for turning the car on, I have the same complaint about my silly Prius. If you press the power button, without your foot on the brake, the car seems to turn on (all lit up) but it is not. My brother-in-law was stranded in a rented Prius because he couldn't figure this out. But he called me for the answer.

    At least Ford has an excuse, they are new at this. The Prius should have been fixed
     
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  2. How can an article on an EV be complete without giving the operating range?
     
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  3. Ha! You're entirely right; I spaced out while writing and forgot that info. Just added a paragraph (on p 1) that includes the EPA ratings. Thanks for the note.
     
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  4. I would like to point out that most 2011/2012 Leaf's already have a DC fast charger in addition to the 3.3 Kw charger referenced in the article. The DC fast charger is much faster than the 6.6 Kw charger, allowing for an 80% charge in 30 minutes. The focus lacks a DC fast charger. For the west coast and a growing number of states, that will be a big deal. The installation of fast chargers is picking up steam, particularly along I-5 from Canada to Mexico. Oregon already has a portion of the "electric highway" in place, with DC fast chargers every 25 miles. Washington has already installed several DC fast chargers with ribbon cutting on the entire project just weeks away. Ford has some catching up to do, IMHO!
     
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  5. "the company's first-ever production battery-electric vehicle", what about the Ford Ranger EV 1998–2002 (1,500 produced)? It was low volume fleet-only, but still a production EV.
     
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  6. @Patrick: I'm aware of the Ranger EV, and I debated with myself over that wording, but in the end, I think I'll stand by what I wrote.

    Ford *says* the Focus Electric will be available nationwide in due course, and the fact that it's being built inline with gasoline Focus models simply make it more of a production car than a limited-production conversion.

    My two cents.
     
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  7. I hope their are more Focus Electrics delivered than there were Ranger EVs, but currently the Ranger is still ahead in that race :)
     
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  8. John, you praised the Focus Electric for in 6.6kW charger but didn't mention that it does not support DC Fast Charging. There are currently 13 DC fast chargers in Oregon and more are being installed all along the Interstate 5 as part of The West Coast Electric Highway. This seems worthy of at least a brief comment when discussing charging.
     
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  9. The price may be "competitive" but that won't make it sell well because it is still overpriced in a world of $15k small cars that get 40 MPG. Price this car at $25k out the door and I'll consider it. Ford - are you listening?
     
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