2012 Ford Focus Electric First Drive

2012 Ford Focus Electric First Drive

2012 Ford Focus Electric

(Electric 1-speed Direct Drive)

The Everyman Electric

There are plenty of interesting technical details about the 2012 Ford Focus Electric, but there's one number that trumps them all. That would be its MPGe, otherwise known as the official mileage number given by the EPA for electric vehicles.

On the Focus Electric, the combined rating is 105 MPGe, a number that makes this Focus the most efficient sedan on the road. And yes, that includes the all-electric Nissan Leaf.

As with other electric cars, however, this efficiency comes at a cost, in this case, nearly $40,000. That's a tough pill to swallow when a standard Focus that looks a lot like the electric version can be yours for less than $20,000. And that cheaper Focus will be faster, more agile and won't need to sit charging for long stretches of the day to keep it useful.

In that context, can the 2012 Ford Focus Electric possibly be worth it?

Turning the Power on
Ford has been both smart and pragmatic in choosing how to power the Focus Electric. Instead of going to the hideous expense of designing a car from scratch, developing and then tooling factories to build it, it's simply electrified the Focus.

This means it can be built on the same line as any other Focus, providing Ford with healthy insurance whatever the price of gas: If it goes up it'll put the Focus into full production and if it goes down it could be stopped altogether. Even now it's only built to order so, in theory at least, every Focus Electric that goes down the line will already have a buyer.

Those customers will find a car that looks like a Focus inside and out. In fact, were it not for the new grille at the front where the radiator once sat and a new electronic dashboard architecture, you might not realize its secret. Only when you open the hood and find a mass of electronic architecture, or the trunk and discover most of your luggage space has gone missing will you realize this is not a normal Focus.

The 2012 Ford Focus Electric gets its power from seven lithium-ion battery packs, each with 14 cells, capable of providing 23kWh of power to its 123-horsepower electric motor. The official range is 76 miles, but in optimal conditions, something nearer 100 miles should be possible.

Enough To Know It's Different
Inside the Focus offers just the right balance of reassuring normality with more than a splash of out-there electronic wizardry. The interior package is the same as the gasoline Focus, but the dash is distinctly different.

It's naturally all electronic, but there's an analog-style speedometer flanked by screens that allow you to display your range and navigation information along with how far it is to the nearest charge point. Fiddle with a few buttons and the screens can be changed to show a "driving coach" that helps to optimize your range by reminding you to drive less aggressively and noting which energy-sapping features are currently active.

It is indeed hard to imagine how Ford could have made the Focus Electric easier, more intuitive or more user-friendly. Granted, we're still not in love with MyFord Touch and its associated interface, but for an electric car Ford showed some restraint. It's an excellent blend of technical sophistication combined with intuitive design.

A Weighty Issue
None of this, however, makes it a remotely good thing to drive. The 2012 Ford Focus Electric may have a slightly longer range than the Nissan Leaf and be even more energy-efficient, but at least the Nissan feels unique from behind the wheel, thanks in no small part to the fact that all of its major masses are centralized low down between the wheels.

Not so in the Focus. Because it's an adaptation of an existing car, Ford had to put the heavy stuff where it fit, which means not only does the Focus Electric have to carry another few hundred pounds of weight, it's all where you don't want it, at the far ends of the car.

Perhaps it would not be so notable were the normal Focus not such an engaging car to drive. The Focus Electric just seems heavy and slow-witted by comparison. Nor is it going to set your heart aflame in a straight line. Like all electric cars it promises much between zero and 20 mph, but it's given its best by 40 mph and is starting to flag at 60 mph. Ford says it tops out at 84 mph and it sensibly declines to post any official acceleration claims.

How To Get the Best out of It
It's far easier to enjoy the 2012 Ford Focus Electric if you concentrate on the fact that it's an electric car and not a shadow of its more fun-to-drive gasoline counterpart. Instead kick back, ease off the pedal and relax. Challenge your brain to see how little electricity you can use, enjoy the view, admire the silence, savor the still-impressive ride quality. And thanks to impressive refinement and all that instant torque on tap, the Focus Electric can offer at least a genuinely enjoyable way of passing the time.

The problem is that however you drive it, you won't be enjoying it for long. It may have the best range of any electric sedan, but by any other standards, 76 miles is really not very far to travel before you have to park it. And, unless you spend around $1,500 on a 240-volt fast-charging unit that will refill the battery in around 4 hours, you're going to need to park for up around 20 hours before your next 76 miles.

Dedicated to Electric
Like every other pure electric car to date, the Focus Electric comes with a whole host of compromises. It costs more than a typical Focus, doesn't go nearly as far and lacks the precise driving dynamics that make the standard hatchback such a gem.

But we expected all that, as it's the price of admission these days. To those willing to pay it, the 2012 Ford Focus Electric is another solid choice in a very limited segment. It's not for everybody and Ford isn't crazy enough to consider it a mainstream choice just yet. But there are plenty of buyers out there clamoring for something like the Leaf or the 2012 Mitsubishi i MiEV without the funky styling and foreign nameplate. Starting this spring, the Focus Electric will play that role, in a few states at least. Ford doesn't expect wider distribution until the end of 2012.

Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.

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