Review: I'm not charged by Ford's Focus Electric

Aug 04, 2012 By Troy Wolverton
The brand new all-electric Ford Focus is displayed as Ford Motor Company President and CEO Alan Mulally delivers a keynote address at the 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show at the Las Vegas Hilton in Nevada.

I love the idea of electric cars. But I wasn't enamored with the Ford Focus Electric.

I drove the Focus Electric for three days this past week. During that time, I commuted to and from work, ran errands and made a trip up to San Francisco. In other words, I used it much like I would my own .

I found a lot to like about the . It's well built. Features like a navigation system, keyless door locks and a high-end sound system come standard. And while it's more expensive than a similarly appointed gas-powered Focus, the difference after federal and state rebates isn't outrageous.

But other than its all-electric powertrain, there's little about the Focus Electric that stands out. And the car offers practical problems - many shared with other - that can be hard to accept.

In designing the Focus Electric, Ford took a different route than Tesla. Instead of designing a car to be an electric vehicle from the ground up, it took an existing car and dropped an electric powertrain into it.

Thanks to that approach, the Focus Electric doesn't look like an car. Instead, it's a near-replica of the gas-powered Focus on the inside and out. So if your big concern about having an electric vehicle is that it will look weird or like some kind of glorified golf cart, the Focus Electric should put that worry to rest.

The problem with Ford's approach is that it had to shoehorn the electric system into the existing nooks and crannies of the Focus. In Nissan's Leaf and Tesla Model S, the battery pack is underneath the seats. In the Focus Electric, it's wedged into the behind the rear seats.

As a result, the Focus Electric has 9 cubic feet less in that space than does its gas-powered sibling. You can still fit your groceries in there - but not a lot more.

Similarly, Ford placed the Focus Electric's motor in the front of the car. In fact, when you open the hood, it almost looks like you have a regular gas engine in there. Unlike the Model S, the Focus Electric doesn't have what likes to call a "frunk," for front trunk.

Like other , Ford's vehicle has constant acceleration. Because it doesn't have gears, it accelerates from a standstill or at speed without pausing to shift. It's no race car - or even a Model S - but that instant power can feel like a rocket ship.

But the car sometimes felt as out of control as a rocket ship. When reversing, pressing on the accelerator can cause the car to lurch backward much more rapidly than a gas-powered car. And gunning the accelerator at a light sometimes seemed to cause it to veer to one side or another. It reminded me a bit of when I was a teenager and would drive my parents' '66 Mustang with its loosey-goosey power steering.

That said, the Focus Electric's driving quirks are ones to which an owner would likely grow accustomed over time.

Ford has been on mission lately to embrace technology, and the Focus Electric is part of that move. You can download an iPhone app - sorry, no Android version yet - that will tell you where the car is at any point in time and how much of a charge it has. The app also allows you to start the car remotely and send over driving directions to the car's .

Like other Ford vehicles, the Focus Electric comes with the MyFord Touch touch-screen console system. I had some of the same frustrations with it as I had when I tested the system earlier this year. It's frequently slow to respond to taps and often does a poor job of speech recognition, particularly of addresses. While driving around San Francisco trying find a charging station, I felt like punching the system, because I couldn't get it to search nearby; instead, it kept showing me charging stations in Brisbane.

That's a problem because, like many electric vehicles, the Focus Electric has very limited range. The EPA says it will go about 76 miles on a charge, but that can vary widely depending on traffic conditions, how you drive and whether you are running energy draining things like the air conditioner. I frequently found myself intensely focused on the car's range estimator and always thinking about where and when I would next charge the car.

Adding to my unease, the Focus Electric's range estimator was often wildly inaccurate. My drive home from San Francisco was about 52 miles, but the range remaining on the meter decreased by only about 41 miles. On the flip side, when I left home the next day, the range estimator said I had 92 miles of charge. But after going less than 19 miles, it said I'd already bled off 31 miles of charge.

So you can take those range estimates with a grain of salt. They're kind of like the warning light you get in some cars when you start to run low on gas. You don't really know how much farther you can go. That ambiguity can be stressful, because recharging stations for an electric car are much harder to find than plain gas stations.

One other shortcoming of the Focus Electric in terms of its charging is that it doesn't support rapid-charge technology. You can recharge it from empty in about 14 hours from a regular outlet or in about 4 hours from a 240V outlet. But you can't plug it into one of the new fast-charging stations that are starting to open.

Those kinds of frustrations would lead me to pass on the Focus Electric. It's not a bad car, but I'm holding out for something better.

FORD FOCUS ELECTRIC:

-Troy's rating: 7.0 (Out of 10)

-Likes: Well built; navigation, nine-speaker sound system come standard; quick acceleration; iPhone app shows car location, charge and allows for remote start

-Dislikes: More expensive than comparable gas-powered model; limited range; small storage space; inaccurate range gauge; slow console system; poor voice recognition; no fast-charge capability

-Specs: 92 kilowatt electric motor; 23 kilowatt-hour, 76-mile range ; cloth interior; 17-inch wheels

-Price: $39,200 before taxes, fees and rebates

-On the Web: ford.com

Explore further: Imec demonstrates organic photovoltaics modules showing excellent optical properties, high efficiencies

More information: Troy Wolverton is a technology columnist for the San Jose Mercury News.

5 /5 (2 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Ford's electric plans

Jul 18, 2011

When I think electric cars, I think the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt - then maybe Tesla and Fisker sports cars. But options for would-be electric car owners are fast expanding, and Ford is about to tap into the growing ...

Ford unveils its first all-electric car (Update)

Jan 07, 2011

Ford unveiled its first strictly electric car on Friday, a Focus which is expected to get up to 100 miles (160 kilometers) on a single charge and will be available in North America late this year.

Spectrum of green cars eye LA auto show crown

Nov 16, 2011

Five environmentally friendly cars are vying for the crown of Green Car of the Year at the LA Auto Show this week -- each using different fuel or fuel combinations.

Recommended for you

Yale engineer to build 'hot' solar cells

19 hours ago

Associate professor of electrical engineering Minjoo Larry Lee has been awarded $2,540,000 to develop dual-junction solar cells that can operate efficiently at extreme temperatures above 750 degrees Fahrenheit. ...

Fracking's environmental impacts scrutinised

20 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Greenhouse gas emissions from the production and use of shale gas would be comparable to conventional natural gas, but the controversial energy source actually faired better than renewables on some environmental ...

User comments : 13

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

freethinking
2 / 5 (12) Aug 04, 2012
So how much does and EV cost? Do the math, Government subsidies in building the car, building charging stations, factor this in then each one costs over a 100K. A very poor investment. If you get in ANY accident even in the first year that in any way damages the battery pack, the car is trashed.

Buy an EV if you want, it is the most expensive, environmentally unfriendly car you can buy. A Hummer is more environementally friendly than a EV.
tekram
3.9 / 5 (7) Aug 04, 2012
Where did you learn to do math? There is a tax credit of $7500 for the 2012 Ford Focus electric. Ford didn't get a federal bail out although there was a plan for a line of credit which Ford never accepted. Where did your $100k come from? http://www.irs.go...,00.html
So how much does and EV cost? Do the math, Government subsidies in building the car, building charging stations, factor this in then each one costs over a 100K. ...
gmurphy
3.4 / 5 (5) Aug 04, 2012
@freethinking, what mindless drivel are you spouting?, whether you like it or not, Oil is becoming more and more expensive, EVs are the only viable means to maintain the sort of automotive lifestyles required by much of the suburban world. A Hummer does 13 mpg, the Ford Focus EV does 105. Hummer != environmentally friendly.
dschlink
3 / 5 (2) Aug 04, 2012
I'm familiar with FT's math. All you have to do is compare the environmental cost of the fuel burned by a Hummer with the total production impact of an EV, from the mines to battery disposal (which also ignores the ease of re-processing a large EV battery). It's supermarket apples to the cost of buying a farm.
Doug_Huffman
3.5 / 5 (2) Aug 04, 2012
EV=NIMBY The concept most are avoiding is infrastructure integrated pollution committed. The sum of the marginal pollution committed by each of the involved extant infrastructures plus that of the infrastructures required to be developed.

My 9 y.o. TDI gets 55 mpg when given the opportunity, has long been paid off and uses completely depreciated technology and infrastructure.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Aug 04, 2012
The sum of the marginal pollution committed by each of the involved extant infrastructures plus that of the infrastructures required to be developed.

That is a bogus argument sinve oil is finite - so that infrastructure will have to be developed anyhow.

As for environmental impact: EVs give you the chance to be mobile from sources with minimal environmental impact. they give us the chance to switch over to a mode of living that doesn't run down the environment. Other cars (no matter how optimized/devekloped) don't do that.

Some people think it's worth it to strive for a better planet and not just leave poisoned air/water and a screwed up climate behind.

..and evidently some people don't.
kochevnik
not rated yet Aug 04, 2012
Dimer pollution from any vehicle with rubber tyres, evey bicycles, is probably not included. Dimers are a major cause of urban cancers. Than again, that Chinese rubber you wear and use around the house offgasses and will probably kill you first.
freethinking
1.7 / 5 (6) Aug 05, 2012
Buy an EV car if you like, but it is about as Green as Al Gore is.

http://www.forbes...ad-idea/

kochevnik
5 / 5 (2) Aug 05, 2012
Buy an EV car if you like, but it is about as Green as Al Gore is.
Most city commutes are 40mi or less. That article recommends carrying around a gas can. What about the gas can leaking fumes on a hot day, igniting and killing everyone inside? You ask your woman to drive around with gas fumes? BTW petrol autos also break down and need towing. AAA has a free towing plan, I hear.
bogbutt
not rated yet Aug 05, 2012
I was just wondering why there can't be some sort of small removable diesel generator that can be put in the car for semi-long trips or towed on a small trailer or something like that.
CapitalismPrevails
1 / 5 (3) Aug 05, 2012
freethinking is right. BTW, any kind of tax credit means its value per $ is lower than average in comparison to mainstream cars. Also, calling it an electric vehicles doesn't do justice. It's a coal vehicle.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Aug 05, 2012
Dimers are a major cause of urban cancers.

Source? And please also provide a source that shows that rubber tires are the major source of dimers.

What about the gas can leaking fumes on a hot day, igniting and killing everyone inside?

It used to be quite common in the past century to have some spare gas aboard. And no: there weren't millions of explosions in summer (or even a single one) because of this.

, any kind of tax credit means its value per $ is lower than average in comparison to mainstream cars

Only if you omit that niggeling detail that climate change is going to kill us all if we don't do spomething about it.

OF COURSE something that you use up will be cheaper than something that is sustainable in the short run. In the long run, however, it's not. And I do hope we all would like to hand over the Earth to the next generation (and not be the LAST generation)
dschlink
1 / 5 (1) Aug 05, 2012
I have no interest in a car controlled in any way by a touch-screen. Switches that are always in exactly the same place require very little diversion of the driver's attention to operate. The rising number of texting crashes demonstrate how dangerous it is to take your eyes off the road, even for a few seconds.