Ford Focus Electric: The Test Drive

A Review of the Focus Electric

There's buzz aplenty swirling around Ford's all-electric Focus, which the automaker quietly started selling last December. It's the first American-made 100% electric car to hit the mass market. That, and it sports a much more conventional ("non-futuristic", one might say) aesthetic than its closest competitors, the Volt, the LEAF, or even the Prius.

It's a standard-but-sleek looking sedan that definitely won't be turning heads on a crowded road. As such, Ford seems to be wagering that drivers are past the point of wanting a green car that tows along a proverbial banner reading "I am eco." Indeed, at the test drive event in New York City yesterday, one of the Ford reps noted that company research indicated that the #1 reason people wanted an EV was for purely practical reasons: they save money on gas.

But they also want nice cars. And the Focus Electric is nice. Real nice. I can attest to that, as I took one for a spin around the west side of Manhattan yesterday. During my test drive, I checked off the requisite consumer guide stuff: luxurious interior, responsive, not-too-sticky braking, fun handling; that kind of thing. It was just a quick stop-and-go loop along 10th Ave and the West Side Highway, but it was enough to tell that the car runs well in traffic and that the seats are comfortable.

On a full charge, the Focus Electric typically gets around 80 miles of range, though smart driving can extend that well past 100. That's more than plenty for the vast majority of America's commuters. And it refuels pretty quickly, too: 3-4 hours is enough to charge the battery.

ford focus electric interiorBrian Merchant/CC BY 3.0

As with many new EVs, a display behind the wheel helps you better retain that charge—there's a series of gauges, of course, that monitor how efficiently you are driving. And there's also a little game you can activate that gives you a visual reward for good driving practices: the less you gun it, the more right turns you take, the more little blue butterflies you collect in a little screen. A Ford rep explains that this is somehow related to the "Butterfly Effect," which is either an allusion to the 2004 Ashton Kutcher masterpiece or the idea that a butterfly flapping its wings in Cambodia can cause a tsunami in California.

But the bottom line is that electric cars are getting better at better at approximating the experience of driving a non-electric car (I am told by engineer after engineer that this the great goal of EV performance). The casual driver wouldn't begin to notice the difference, besides the slightly amped-up torque and the absence of a gas-guzzling engine hum. There is absolutely nothing off-putting here, other than the $40K ticket price (after a $7500 federal credit and any state incentives, it often dives closer down to $30K). Anyone in the market for an upscale around-town car would be well served by the Focus Electric. It will appeal to the environmentally-conscious commuter, sure, but also to upper-middle class parents and young professionals.

The Focus Electric is a good car. And its calculated normality could help EVs further pervade the mainstream. By buying this car, you will help make electric cars more normal. That's how the theory goes, anyway, and why not? You will act as a tiny agent of social contagion, spreading the good gospel of how normal and available electric cars are. You will be part of (part of) the solution—but without the banner that proves it to everyone you pass on the highway.

Ford Focus Electric: The Test Drive
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