Inhabitat attended the Ford Trends Conference last week, and naturally the highlight was test driving several cars on the company’s track at its Dearborn headquarters. Ford seeks a stronghold in the emerging electric vehicle market as the Honda Fit EV and Nissan LEAF attract plenty of buzz, but after taking the Focus Electric out for a spin, we think its handling, technology and comfort could charge ahead of the competition!
The Ford Focus launched this year, with the first models on sale in EV-friendly California, New Jersey and New York; sales will roll out to 16 additional states by the end of this year. Ford has not set an official sticker price for the 2013 Focus Electric yet, but its 2012 model’s price is set at $39,995. That price, of course, comes before government rebates that could knock that price down as much as $7,500, though a home Tier Two charging station will set back owners about $1,500. The reason why the Focus Electric’s price is on the high end is because of the battery, which costs anywhere from $12,000 to $15,000.
The battery is the juice behind the Focus Electric’s power; its permanent magnetic electric traction engine has a 100-kilowatt AC electric motor that offers 143 horsepower and 184 pound feet of torque. The LG lithium-ion battery provides a capacity of 23 kilowatt hours. According to Ford, the Focus Electric can rev up to a top speed of 84 miles per hour with a range of 77 miles and an MPG off 110 miles on city streets and 99 MPG on the highway.
Naturally, our lead feet wanted to slam the pedal right away since an EV’s torque is what makes these cars a hoot to drive. But Ford and the car itself encourages you to take a completely different approach to driving. The MyTouch dashboard is designed to remind whoever is behind the wheel to accelerate and break as efficiently as possible. Butterfly icons emerge on the monitor to give you an idea how much reserve power remains in the battery. And before you even start your journey, Ford suggests that drivers enter the final destination so that they can navigate smartly so that they can complete the entire trip with ease. As far as making the road trip enjoyable, the phone and music connections are easy to use and figuring out all the bells and whistles on the dash are seamless to figure out.
The interior sticks to the Focus Electric’s theme of being as eco-friendly of a car as possible. The seats’ upholstery are made from recycled plastic bottles. They aren’t as plush as conventional seating, but are still comfortable. For a tall fellow, the interior is more roomy than what one would assume walking up to the car. Five passengers sitting inside would feel cramped, but for someone 6’0” who is behind the wheel, the car’s comfort made you wish the range was longer than the 77-mile maximum. As far as cargo space, however, the fact that the 500 pound battery pack is under the rear seat and seat backs means that storage is limited compared to similarly-sized hatchbacks.
Then there is the actual drive itself. Despite Ford’s insistence we pay attention to the dash, naturally our instinct after pressing the power button was to slam the gas pedal to the floor as we began navigating around the testing track. The biggest surprise was how well the car handled and gripped the road. The combination of the MacPherson strut front suspension design, the “control blade” multi-link rear suspension and Michelin’s Energy Saver 225/50 17-inch wheels all contributed to blast on the track. The pylons sure did not appreciate our abuse, but the Focus Electric was amazingly resilient and maintained steady control as we whipped around the track’s corners. We could not decide what was more of a charge: accelerating as fast we could and enjoying the car’s impressive torque or the Ford Electric’s nimble cornering.
Ford’s biggest challenge will be evangelizing the car’s benefits to a market that is still resistant to EV’s. Buyers will have to opt for the tier two electric charging station, which, at 240 volts, can recharge the Focus Electric in two to four hours. The other option is hardly palatable: using the home’s standard 110/220 AC current means the driver would have to wait 18 or 20 hours for a full charge.
Overall, however, Ford Motor is definitely verging into the EV race lead with the Focus Electric. The spunky alternative to the LEAF, Fit and Chevy Volt offers the ecological and performance benefits one would expect from an EV with some of the enjoyable bells and whistles one would expect from a conventional car with an ICE engine.
Photos courtesy Leon Kaye and Ford Motor Company