Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing
Without question an electric vehicle's range, or lack thereof, is its defining characteristic. Everyone frets over it, and the very real phenomenon of range anxiety often scares potential EV customers away.
But range anxiety isn't really about range at all. The worry is really about how long it takes to recharge the car after the batteries are out of juice. Cut back on the time an EV spends leashed to a power cord and the hand-wringing becomes less vigorous.
The 2012 Ford Focus Electric has taken a giant step toward alleviating the issue. It not only delivers 76 miles of easily achievable range, it also offers a battery recharge time that's roughly half of the Nissan Leaf, its closest competitor.
Does that make this Ford EV anxiety-free? We put the new pure electric Focus to the test to find out.
How the Focus Charges So Fast
You know those charge points that plug into the side of electric vehicles? They're not really chargers; more accurately they're power supplies. In fact, the companies that make such charge stations make a point of calling their products Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment or EVSE.
That's because the actual charger resides under the hood of the car itself. This is where the business of monitoring the battery and controlling the speed of the charging process takes place, and it's the EV's own brain cells that are calling the shots.
The electrified vehicles we've tested to date — a list that includes the Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi i MiEV, Mini E and the plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt — all carry onboard chargers rated at 3.3 kilowatts. But not the 2012 Ford Focus. Its charger is rated at 6.6 kilowatts, so it can cram twice the juice into its liquid-cooled and heated lithium-ion battery in a given chunk of time.
That's why the EPA rates the full recharge time at 4 hours for the Focus Electric's 23-kWh battery versus 7 hours for the 24-kWh battery in the Leaf. The EPA offers no decimal precision for these numbers, but our data suggests 3.6 hours for the Ford and something between 7.2 and 7.3 hours for the Leaf is more like it. We're talking half.
Makes the Best Use of Its Power
On top of its quick charge time, the Focus is also more efficient than the Leaf despite weighing 249 pounds more. The EPA says the Focus Electric should use 32 kWh of electricity every 100 miles compared to 34 kWh/100 miles for the Leaf. This in turn leads to the Ford's superior range (76 miles versus 73) despite its slightly smaller battery.
We found these numbers easy to beat, too. Our observed consumption (reminder: lower numbers are better here) was just 28.4 kWh/100 miles and our projected range — trip odometer plus distance-to-empty gauge reading — averaged 82.2 miles after factoring in more than a dozen charges. One staffer even cracked the windows instead of using the A/C and arrived home with 54.9 miles on the trip meter and 54 miles remaining. Add it up.
Efficient regenerative braking is key to the efficiency of the Focus, enabled in part by the Ford's larger electric motor-generator (107 kW versus 80 for the Leaf) and greater charging capacity. A handy gauge on the dash showed that almost every routine stop we made recovered 90-94 percent of the braking energy as electricity, with 100 percent recovery within easy reach by simply easing off the throttle a bit sooner and lengthening the braking zone somewhat. The brake pads, it would seem, could well last the life of the car.
Beyond the Battery Numbers
There is no such conservation when it comes to our 60-0-mph stopping distance test, where pads and rotors participate fully. Here the Focus Electric comes to rest in 126 feet, a dead heat with the Nissan Leaf and some 4 feet less than the last gasoline-powered Focus SEL we tested, which wore fractionally skinnier 215/70R17 all-season tires instead of the P225/50R17 rubber found here.
On the acceleration side, the 3,624-pound Focus EV benefits from its 143-horsepower (107 kW) electric motor to the tune of 9.6 seconds to 60 mph (9.3 with 1 foot of rollout as on a drag strip) and 17.2 seconds at 82.1 mph in the quarter-mile, just shy of its 84-mph governed top speed. The lighter Leaf trails with 9.9 seconds to 60 mph and 17.3 seconds and 78.0 mph at the stripe because its motor only musters 107 hp, not nearly enough to best the power-to-weight ratio of the Focus Electric.
The Ford's permanent magnet electric motor and attached coaxial single-speed transmission sits farther back than a gasoline engine, and the two-tier battery sits both below and behind the rear seat. Paradoxically, the Focus Electric gains a full 676 pounds relative to a Focus SEL but achieves a more desirable 49/51 weight distribution in the process.
Turns out this near-perfect balance is enough to offset the significant EV weight penalty, as the 2012 Ford Focus Electric posts the same 62.6-mph slalom time as the much lighter gas-powered SEL. Centrifugal force finally catches up on the skid pad, though, where the EV's larger orbital mass limits performance to 0.76g on its Michelin Energy Saver tires, down from 0.79g in the standard Focus.
In practice, the instant-on torque of the electric motor and the seamless quality of direct drive makes the Focus Electric feel willing, able and serene in suburbia. After all, it's less than a second slower than an automatic-equipped gasoline Focus and undeniably smoother. It's quiet, too, quieter even than many other EVs because the regenerative braking system doesn't emit much whine as it goes about its business.
Ford's recent success with electric power steering (EPS) in many of its models means it didn't have to step out of the box to implement good EPS here. The same 14.7-to-1 steering ratio is used, and the familiar Focus turn-in response and linearity remain intact. In terms of driving dynamics, there's no EV penalty.
The same is true of the interior, where the controls and dash layout are pure Focus. Some of the configurable animated instrument panel displays differ out of necessity, offering the sort of range and consumption feedback we really like in an EV, but that's as far as it goes. Ford has wisely gone without a unique shifter or implemented any oddball interior styling choices just for the sake of making its new EV "different."
But then there's the hatch area, where the two-tier battery exacts a notable toll on cargo capacity. The portion of the battery that's housed behind the seat consumes 9.3 cubic feet of space, leaving behind 14.5 cubes with the seats up. But this is a hatch, not a sedan, and even though the battery housing juts up like an inverted T-shaped Tetris piece there are still 35.5 cubic feet with the 60/40 seats folded.
Back to the Charging Issue
Published charge times assume an empty battery, an unlikely (and unwise) scenario that leads to a useless number because trip lengths vary and frequent daily charging is the norm. Our detailed test records reveal perhaps a more useful way to quantify the issue.
When we combined charging rate with vehicle consumption we found that the 2012 Ford Focus EV charges on 240-volt power at a "speed" of 20-26 mph, as in 26 miles of driving for every hour of charge time. The Nissan Leaf's battery, on the other hand, gains about 10-13 mph of 240V charge time.
With the Ford's fairly substantial charge rate we found we could go about our daily business of errands and commuting in the Focus Electric quite comfortably, as downtime between trips was rarely an issue. We didn't have to plan our day around a single overnight charge.
There is one crucial prerequisite that determines if you can take advantage of the Focus Electric's gonzo 6.6 kW onboard charger: You must be connected to 40-amp service if you want to use the 240V power supply. This is no problem at public charge ports, but home units come in multiple flavors, with the cheaper entry-level ones made for 20-amp circuits.
A few such lo-cal EVSE stations are out there, in some cases in the garages of early adopters who bought the first wave of EVs with 3.3 kW onboard charge capacity. Folks in this category wishing to upgrade to a 6.6 kW car like the Focus Electric (or 2013 Honda Fit EV) need to have a 40-amp charge station to achieve those speedy recharge rates. To this end Ford has partnered with Leviton to make sure prospective purchasers can get the charger they need.
A True Daily Driver
To this point we're convinced the 2012 Ford Focus Electric and its quicker 6.6 kW charger is an EV most people could live with and enjoy on a daily basis.
And by "most people" we mean folks who live 30 miles or less from work, folks who perhaps commute in light traffic that keeps them from cruising the whole way at 65-70 mph, a speed range that inhibits the overachieving performance we saw. Leadfoots should lop 5 miles off that commute radius, but even then we're including most people.
Importantly, "most people" also describes folks who have a second car they prefer for long trips. The Focus EV remains a home-bound runabout because the reality of range cannot be ignored, quicker charging notwithstanding.
What most people can't do is pay $39,995 for a compact hatchback, let alone a couple grand more for a proper Level 2 charger (and installation) to go with it. Yes, there's a $7,500 tax credit waiting out there, but after folding that in, the Focus EV will still cost you near $34,500. With a gasoline engine, the same car costs roughly $24,380.
But Ford doesn't need to sell to most people at this early stage. It's counting on well-heeled early adopters to meet its very modest sales goals.
To that end the 2012 Ford Focus Electric is a compelling choice that combines solid Focus driving manners and the allure of the EV driving experience with a usable range and efficiency. More importantly, it can offer that range with considerably less down time. That makes for much less "range anxiety" and much more real-world usability.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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