With the introduction of electric vehicles like the Nissan LEAF, Tesla Model S and Honda Fit EV, do you ever wonder what it would be like to actually own one? A quick ten minute test drive at a dealership only tells part of the story. Ford recently loaned me a 2013 Ford Focus Electric to drive for a few days in the San Francisco Bay Area. I had one challenge in mind: To see if the Focus Electric could do everything that a gas powered car could do. After four days with the Focus Electric I gave back the keys mostly impressed with Ford’s newest electric car.
The 2013 Ford Focus Electric is a recent introduction into the electric vehicle segment. It’s a direct competitor to other fully electric cars like the Nissan LEAF and Honda Fit EV. Many buyers may think that the Focus also competes with the Chevy Volt, but due to the Volt’s range extending gas engine, it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison.
The long weekend in San Francisco was the perfect opportunity to see if an electric car could actually replace a standard gas powered car. Over the course of the weekend I planned to drive to various spots in San Francisco, a baby shower in Oakland and down to San Jose to catch up with friends. How did it do? Well I can say that at least I didn’t have to call Ford’s PR team to inform them that I ran out of juice somewhere on the 101 freeway.
The Focus Electric shined in so many areas, but was largely let down by its limited driving range. The first day that I received the Focus Electric I drove about ten miles to Oakland, CA to have brunch with the family. I was very excited to see that there was a quick charging station located in the parking lot of a Wallgreens just a few blocks away. After a quick call with a very helpful Ford rep in Detroit I was able to get the charging door open and the charging station’s plug connected. The best part was that the charger was one of the free ones. Who wouldn’t be excited about free “fuel” for their car. An hour later the battery’s expected driving range went from 50 miles to just over 70. Next stop San Jose…
San Jose, CA is about 50 miles south of Oakland. With the battery gauge reading 70 miles I took off. One of the benefits of the Focus Electric’s drivetrain is that the motor has immediate power and the transmission only has one speed, which translates to an unexpected amount of fun that you don’t necessarily get in a hybrid. Given this new found level of fun I drove the Focus Electric like any other car with a bit of power under the hood: hard. Of course that kind of driving will severely suck down the battery. So much so that when I finally reached my friend’s place in San Jose, the battery was nearly empty.
Here comes the first problem with the current state of the electric car segment. The Focus Electric has a plug on board that can be plugged into a regular household outlet, but doing so means that an empty battery will take about 20 hours to recharge. Pretty frustrating considering that I only had a few hours before I needed to head back to San Francisco. But thanks to Ford’s MyFord mobile app I could quickly locate a charging station with a 220 volt outlet that would recharge the Focus Electric much faster. Well San Jose is a suburban area, which mainly consists of residential houses and strip malls. Sadly the closest charging spot was almost five miles away. After convincing a friend to follow me, we slowly made our way over to the charger that would save the day. After the Focus Electric was on life support for three hours, I finally had about 50 miles of range to get me to my next destination.
The trip back up to San Francisco was not nearly as fun as the trip to San Jose. Rather than keeping up with the speedy drivers in the fast lane, the limited range that I got in San Jose meant that I was confined to the slow lane. And not just the slow lane, but the uber slow lane. I maintained a speed of around 55 MPH and tried to brake whenever possible to send more juice to the battery. It was incredibly stressful. I equated the feeling to when the battery in your iPhone says that you are at 10 percent; you do everything possible to keep it alive.
When I made it back to San Francisco the battery gauge said I had three miles until empty, which meant that my fun was over for the day. The Focus Electric was plugged into a standard outlet at a friend’s house and we drove off to dinner in his car.
While my experience with the Focus Electric that first day may automatically put it on the “do not buy” list, the rest of the weekend showed many of its strengths. San Francisco has many charging stations positioned all over the city. Most parking garages had them and they were all free. That quickly translates to emissions free driving, free power and a lack of range anxiety. Also this meant that I could fully tap the performance potential of the Focus Electric. It was an absolute joy to drive up many of San Francisco’s winding roads.
So after a weekend with the Focus Electric I came away with high hopes for the electric vehicle segment as a whole. With the current battery technology and infrastructure, today’s electric vehicles can largely only serve as a second vehicle. For now the best option if you can only afford to have one car, would be to purchase a plug-in hybrid like the Chevy Volt and Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid. This fall Ford is also releasing plug-in hybrid versions of the C-Max and Ford Fusion.