New & Used Ford Focus Electric: In Depth
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The Ford Focus Electric, launched in 2012 and essentially unchanged since then, is a low-volume, compact hatchback powered by a battery pack and an electric motor. All but indistinguishable from a conventional gasoline-powered Focus, it's sold only in a handful of locations, most prominently California. And while its specifications were competitive with those of the high-volume Nissan Leaf when it launched, improvements to the Leaf's battery range, charging capability, and other specs have put the Focus Electric somewhat behind the curve.
The electric Focus is the only battery-electric car the automaker sells anywhere in the world; it's also the company's most energy-efficient vehicle. It's a variation of the gasoline Focus, built on the same assembly lines in Michigan. Like the newer Volkswagen e-Golf, it's an electric car for drivers who don't want the alternative powertrain to be noticed by the neighbors. Apart from the charging port on the left front fender and a couple of chrome "Electric" door badges, you'd never know by looking at it that the Focus Electric has no engine.
Its powertrain is a 23-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery that sends electricity to a 107-kilowatt (143-horsepower) electric motor that drives the front wheels. That battery pack is liquid-cooled--unlike the Nissan Leaf battery, which is only air-cooled--which should make the Ford pack somewhat more resistant to temperature extremes. Its cells are supplier by LG Chem, which provides similar cells to GM for the Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car--meaning Ford has benefited from GM's extensive cell test and development work.
The EPA rates the Focus Electric at 76 miles of range (on combined city and highway cycles), a figure that hasn't changed in its five model years. Its energy efficiency is 105 MPGe, or miles-per-gallon-equivalent, a measure that indicates the distance an electric car can travel on the same amount of energy as in 1 gallon of gasoline. That efficiency is about average for the class, but the Focus Electric now looks deficient on range, wtih the VW e-Golf at 83 miles, a base Nissan Leaf S at 84 miles, and the two higher-end Leaf models now at 107 miles for the 2016 model year.
The Focus Electric's on-road behavior essentially mimics the behavior of an automatic-transmission car, though the regenerative braking is somewhat on the aggressive side. On the road, the motor is powerful enough to spin the inside front wheel when accelerating out of turns. The electric Focus provides the same enjoyable roadholding as gasoline Focus models, though like most electrics, it's punchiest away from stoplights, making it a good car for urban traffic jousting. The weight of the battery sits low, under the floorpan, and its substantial weight gives the car a well-planted feel on the road. It runs well and smoothly on highways, but it does start to run out of steam under heavy load at higher speeds--above 50 mph, say.
Inside, the Focus Electric is largely identical to any other Focus five-door hatchback. There are different screens in the digital instrument cluster display and center-stack display, of course, showing energy consumption and remaining range. The main difference--or drawback--inside the electric version of the Focus is a hump on the load floor that contains the car's onboard charger. Ford has fitted a clever movable floor, but cargo volume remains a major compromise.
That charger runs at 6.6 kilowatts, meaning a full recharge takes only about four hours at a 240-volt Level 2 charging station. But no option for DC quick charging is offered on the Focus Electric, unlike the Nissan Leaf, the VW e-Golf, and most other battery-electric cars on the market.
The starting price of the Ford Focus Electric is now about $30,000; its buyers qualify for a $7,500 Federal income-tax credit, plus a $2,500 purchase rebate and single-occupant use of the carpool lane n California, plus a long list of other state, regional, and corporate incentives. The sole change for 2016 is the addition of Ford's latest Sync 3 infotainment system, with an easier-to-use menu design and interface than the previous MyFord Touch system it replaces.
Despite its no-longer-quite-competitive range, the Focus Electric is a pleasant enough electric car from Ford. But the company seems to view it as a cautious experiment, and one it has said it doesn't think will find many buyers. It's a perfectly competent electric car that has seen no quality issues, and owners are generally satisfied. The bulk of electric Focus cars are likely leased, so they may be rare as used cars--though possibly a good value for informed electric-car shoppers willing to work a little harder at finding service if it's needed.