The days of $1.00 per gallon gas are long gone. The new normal has gas hovering between $4.00 and $5.00 per gallon for the foreseeable future, meaning you might want to trade in your 9 mile per gallon Hummer H2 for something a bit more economical. Thankfully, the market for fuel-efficient vehicles has never had as many exceptional offerings as right now. Enter the Ford Focus EV, the Blue Oval’s first all-electric vehicle and one sweet looking five-door hatchback.
Available for just under $40,000, the Focus EV marries the body of a standard Focus, with the brains of a supercomputer and a battery big enough to power your TV remote for a 1,000 years. With tech practically pouring out of the Focus EV, we knew we had to take it for a test drive. So we strapped in and took to the busy streets and choked intersections of the Big Apple, to see how well this rocket scientist of a car runs.
The Focus EV is powered a 23 KWh Lithium-ion battery capable of producing the equivalent of 141 horsepower and 188 lb.-ft. of torque. According to Ford, the Environmental Protection Agency has certified the Focus EV with a 110 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) rating during city driving and 99 MPGe on the highway for a combined 105 MPGe.
One of the biggest drawbacks to owning an electric vehicle is the amount of time it takes to recharge its batteries. Drivers are used to sitting at the pump for less than five minutes, filling their tanks and driving away. But with an electric vehicle, it can literally take hours to completely recharge its batteries. Nissan’s all-electric leaf, for example, can take upwards of seven hours to charge from empty. Thankfully, Ford has managed to cut those times down to a more acceptable four hours, by equipping the vehicle with a larger internal charger. For charging at home Ford offers a $1,400 Leviton 240V home charging station.
Charging the Focus is as simple as plugging a plug into an outlet. When plugged in, an LED ring surrounding the charging port on the front left fender lights up letting you know how much of a charge the battery has. The ring is broken down into four quadrants, each representing 25 percent of the battery’s charge. This gives users a quick and easy way to see how much of a charge they have left in their batteries without having to start the Focus EV.
Of course the Focus EV does come with some pretty steep tradeoffs. For instance, range for the vehicle is limited to 76 miles, fewer if you accelerate quickly and use accessories like the radio, air conditioner or heater. Ford, however, says the car can get as much as 100 miles out of a single charge if you are especially judicious with your driving habits. The Focus’ top speed is also set lower than its gas-powered cousin, topping out at just 84 mph. But considering Ford is marketing the Focus EV as a vehicle meant for the city dweller set, 84 mph should prove more than efficient.
The Focus EV’s MyFord Mobile is unlike any other app Ford has released for its vehicle lineup. Available for iOS, Android and BlackBerry devices, the app allows drivers to monitor and schedule charge sessions for the Focus EV directly from their phones. To get the app to talk to the Focus, Ford partnered with AT&T to install a 3G transmitter in the dash.
At its most basic level MyFord Mobile serves as a means to help reduce range anxiety, the fear that your car’s battery will run out of juice before you reach your destination. leaving you stranded on the side of the road. But that’s not all. Drivers can also use the app to plot trips to determine if they have a strong enough charge to reach their destination and search for nearby charging stations.
We weren’t able to use the app ourselves, but during a demo provided to us by Ford, the app seemed to be surprisingly easy to use. The homescreen offers users a glimpse of their vehicle, where it’s currently located, as well as the current level of charge left in its battery and the estimated number of miles you can get out of it.
The app’s biggest feature is its charging option, which allows users to schedule charge times for their vehicle. If your Focus is plugged into your home charger for instance, you can set it to begin charging between certain hours or whenever electricity rates are at their lowest, usually between 12:00 a.m. and 6: 00 a.m.
A charging station locator zeroes in on your car’s location and provides you with a map of the nearest charging stations. Tap a station location on the map, and the app will bring up vital stats like how far away it is, whether it has 240V or 120V chargers, if it is open to the public, when it is available and how much a charge will cost.
MyFord Mobile also includes an advanced navigation option that lets you map out trips based on your Focus’ battery state. Each time you type a destination into the appropriate dialogue box, the app will put either a green, yellow or red bubble next to it telling you if you have enough power to get to there. According to Ford, Trip Planner calculates routes based on how economical they are, as well as their relative proximity to charging stations. Trip Planner will also automatically set your ultimate destination – home, the office, etc. – as a charging station.
Users can also sync their smartphones with the Focus EV’s MyFord Touch infotainment system to transfer navigation information from their phone directly to their vehicle’s in-dash display.
For users who want to monitor their overall battery usage, Ford has included the Trip & Charge Log. The feature gives provides you with an in-depth look at the number of KWh you’ve used while driving, as well as the amount you’ve recouped through the Focus EV’s regenerative braking system.
To help ensure drivers continue using the MyFord Mobile app, Ford has included My Achievements. The feature is basically a game played between other Focus EV users to determine who has the best driving behavior, who can recoup the most energy from their vehicle’s brakes and a host of other challenges. Users can also share their rankings via Facebook and Twitter.
To help get drivers acclimated to driving an electric vehicle, Ford has equipped the Focus EV with its proprietary SmartGauge with EcoGuide feature. Located in the vehicle’s information menu to the right of the Focus EV’s speedometer, SmartGauge provides drivers with information on the battery’s current state of charge, similar to the fuel economy information systems seen in gas-powered vehicles.
SmartGauge breaks down your power usage based into 5, 10 or 15 minute intervals. The feature includes a battery icon that slowly empties as you deplete your vehicle’s battery and lists the number of miles you can drive on your current charge level.
SmartGauge can also tell you how much energy you are recouping from the Focus EV’s regenerative braking system. When you apply the brakes and come to a complete stop, SmartGuage will tell you the total percentage of energy from the brakes you managed to recapture.
If you’re an overly aggressive driver and like to hit the brakes at the last second, you’ll only regenerate a small amount of braking energy. Apply the brakes early enough though, and you’ll recoup a sizeable amount of energy, up to 100 percent. During our drive around the gridlocked streets of Manhattan’s Meat Packing District, we were able to regenerate an average 97 percent of the braking energy from the Focus EV’s brakes.
In addition to the Brake Coach, SmartGauge also provides drivers with information on how their braking, acceleration and cruising habits impact the Focus EV’s battery’s charge via its Energy Coach. Each category is represented by a blue bar that depletes based on the amount of energy each uses. Accelerate too quickly and you’re Acceleration bar will drop, likewise the Cruising and Braking bars.
The entire SmartGuage feature is setup to help drivers get the most out of the Focus EV’s battery without beating you over the head with information. If you don’t feel like seeing how you’re doing, you can always switch to a different menu option and completely forget about SmartGuage. It’s all up to you.
Press the Focus EV’s Start button the car comes to life without so much as a whisper. That’s because as an electric vehicle, the Focus EV creates no engine noise. So instead of the telltale burble of an engine turning over, Ford has provided drivers with a series of indicators to help them identify when the vehicle is running, including a pop up box on the in-dash display and a green car icon near the indicator lights.
We took the Focus EV for a 10 minute jaunt through the Manhattan’s Meat Packing District and were thoroughly impressed with how well Ford managed to mask the fact that we were driving an electric vehicle. Because electric vehicles have just one gear, there’s no need to build the vehicle’s momentum to feel all of its torque. Instead, all 188 lb.-ft. of torque is available instantly. For city drivers this is a huge benefit, especially when you’re trying to squirt between cabs at busy intersections.
The Focus EV’s regenerative brakes felt firm, although at times bit too hard, causing some hard stops. We also found ourselves stealing quick glances at the Brake Coach to see how much energy we were capturing from the brakes. Could this be a distraction? It depends on how often you use the feature really. We would expect most drivers to use the system sparingly if at all after owning the vehicle for more than a few weeks.
Overall, we were impressed with the Focus EV’s driving performance. Steering was well weighted and despite its relatively small size, the car was able to swallow the crater-sized potholes that litter Manhattan’s roadways.
The Focus EV is one of the most advanced vehicles we’ve laid our eyes and hands on. The amount of tech the Blue Oval has managed to pack into this five-door hatchback is simply stunning. And the fact that you can pick one up for less than $40,000 is the icing on the electric cake. While the vehicle’s limited range may not be for everyone, it will almost certainly meet and exceed the needs of a wide swath of the population.
Unfortunately, if you’re looking to drive one of these hatches off the lot, you may have to wait. Availability is currently limited to California, New York and New Jersey. Thankfully, that wait will be short-lived. Ford says it expects to expand availability for the Focus EV to a total of 19 markets across the U.S. by the end of 2012.