The Car Connection Ford Focus Electric Overview
The Ford Focus Electric is a compact hatchback that the automaker sells in small numbers in limited areas. It's the only electric car Ford sells—for now.
It doesn't wear its green credentials on its sleeve. The Focus Electric is virtually indistinguishable from its conventionally powered counterparts, aside from a charging port on the left fender and a handful of "Electric" badges scattered on the car's exterior.
The company's most energy-efficient vehicle, the Focus Electric is a variant of the gas-powered Focus, and is built on the same assembly lines in Michigan.
MORE: Read our 2018 Ford Focus Electric review
The Focus Electric was launched in 2012, and remained essentially unchanged for five years. For 2017, its lithium-ion battery got a capacity increase from 23 to about 34 kilowatt-hours. That boosted its rated range from a bottom-of-the-list 76 miles to 115 miles, slightly more than the same year's Nissan Leaf, at 107 miles. It also received, at long last, the ability to use DC fast charging—which recharges the battery to about 80 percent of its capacity within half an hour or so.
The Focus Electric remains 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. While its specifications were competitive with those of the high-volume Nissan Leaf when it launched, it lagged significantly until 2017, a sign of Ford's essential disinterest in the car, whose primary purpose is to let the carmaker comply with California rules requiring a certain number of zero-emission vehicles to be sold in the state each year.
The electric Focus's 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 General Motors for the Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car, meaning Ford has benefited from GM's extensive cell test and development work. It sends electricity to a 107-kilowatt (143-horsepower) electric motor that drives the front wheels.
The EPA rated the 2012-2016 Focus Electric at 76 miles of range (on combined city and highway cycles) with an energy efficiency is 105 MPGe. (Miles Per Gallon equivalent is a measure that indicates the distance an electric car can travel on the same amount of energy as in 1 gallon of gasoline.) The 2017 Focus Electric saw the rated range rise to 115 miles, and its efficiency rose incrementally to 107 MPGe. The Focus Electric now looks average on range, with the Volkswagen e-Golf at 125 miles, the Hyundai Ioniq Electric at 124 miles, the Nissan Leaf at 107 miles, and the pricier BMW i3 at 114 miles.
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 car's onboard conventional charger runs at 6.6 kilowatts, meaning a full recharge takes only about four hours at a 240-volt Level 2 charging station.
But despite the battery capacity increase for 2017, and the addition of DC fast-charging, Ford failed to address one main failing of the electric Focus. That is a large hump on the load floor that contains the car's onboard charger. Nissan fixed a similar problem way back in 2013, but while Ford has fitted a clever movable floor, cargo volume and load-bay usability remains a major compromise.
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 in California, plus a long list of other state, regional, and corporate incentives. The sole change for 2016 was 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. The big update was in 2017, and the sole change for 2018 was a new paint color.
The Focus Electric is a pleasant enough electric car from Ford. But the company remains notably unenthusiastic about the car, and fewer than 7,000 have been sold over five years, against more than 100,000 Leafs. It's a perfectly competent electric car that has seen no quality issues, and its small number of 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. But potential buyers need to understand that not every Ford dealer will be familiar with the electric Focus, and so it's not even an option in a majority of states.