Ford is at the onset of a massive push towards electrification. The Blue Oval estimates that between 10 and 25 percent of its products will be “electrified” by 2020, with a mix of traditional hybrids and plug-in versions joining a brace of new EVs. And its first all-electro-powered product is this: the 2013 Ford Focus Electric.
Ford announced plans to electrify its Focus compact at last year’s CES and the automaker has already begun handing out its EV hatch to fleets, including the delivery of the first Focus Electric to Google. Later in 2012, Ford will begin selling the Focus to consumers in 19 markets across North America, with prices starting at $39,200 – or about $4,000 more than the Nissan LEAF before taxes and any state or federal government incentives.
But do you want it?
We took to the streets of San Francisco for a brief drive in Ford’s first EV and discovered that while it might not boast the same range or bespoke body as its competition from Nissan, the Focus Electric wins on charge time and something that’s been missing from other mass-market EVs: genuine fun.
A cursory look at the Focus Electric’s stats aren’t going to stoke the flames of enthusiasts’ hearts. The front-mounted electric motor powering the front wheels is good for 141 horsepower and 188 pound-feet of torque, the latter of which is available – as with all EVs – as soon as you tramp the throttle. That makes for a spirited sprint from a stop, despite being down some 20 lb-ft from the Nissan. But more impressive is the tractability of the brushless motor and the single-speed gearbox putting the power down.
Unlike other EVs that begin to wheeze as you pile on the speed, the Focus Electric retains a suitable amount of punch above 40 mph. Credit the extra 31 horsepower over the LEAF, which does its best to counteract the additional 300 pounds the Focus Electric has to lug around over the Nissan.
But the additional tonnage over the standard Focus (around 500 pounds) added by the liquid cooled and heated 23 kWh lithium-ion battery pack and assorted plumbing is used to good effect, with Ford claiming weight distribution is an Ultimate Driving Machine-approved 50:50 front-to-rear. It’s just too bad the overly-grabby brakes aren’t up to par with the keenly tuned electrically-assisted steering, front MacPherson struts and multi-link rear suspension.
Even mild brake application is enough to send you and your passenger hurdling towards the windshield as the seat belts strain to keep you in place. There’s sure to be a learning curve – one that we weren’t able to scale in our short time behind the wheel – but the lack of EV-tuned brake regen to slow the car as we rolled off the throttle was notable.
More notable is Ford’s claimed charge time: 4 hours to fully top up the batteries with a 240-volt outlet, or a little more than half the time of the Nissan LEAF. That boosted charge time is thanks to a 6.6 kW Leviton charger (versus the LEAF’s 3.3 kW unit) sold at Ford dealers for $1,499, rolled into the purchase price of the Focus Electric and installed by Best Buy’s Geek Squad.
The 23 kWh of juice is good for a 76-mile range – a few miles off Nissan’s hypothetical pace – but because of the liquid-cooled and heated battery packs, Ford maintains there’s no degradation in range or performance, something that can’t be said for the LEAF’s air-cooled batteries.
And then there’s Ford’s killer app: an app.
Available for iPhone, Android, Blackberry and through a dedicated web portal, MyFord Mobile allows owners to keep tabs on charging, find 240-volt stations along their route and plan their trips accordingly, along with remote cooling and heating while the Focus Electric is plugged into the grid, boosting range in the process. The app even gives you tips on your driving style (ranging from “zippy” to “zen”) and the ability to automatically juice up during off-peak hours thanks to an exclusive partnership with Microsoft and its Value Charge program.
This all adds up to one of the most compelling EVs available from a mass-market automaker, combining a gas-free existence with a suitable entertaining driving experience. We’ve waited long enough for an automaker to deliver on both fronts, and Ford seems to have arrived there first. But we won’t make a definitive call until we can put the Focus Electric through its paces as a commuter-cum-corner-carver.