The electric Ford Focus has the same handsome appearance as the gas-powered version of the car. Auto critics have nearly unanimously rated the Focus as one of the most refined and best looking small cars on the road.
Unlike some competing electric car models, when you sit in the low-slow comfortable seats of the battery-powered Focus, you feel completely normal. From the outside, and inside the cabin, there are no EV motifs, sci-fi start-up sounds, Prius-like shifter knobs or special Eco modes. The driver chooses among standard gear selections: park, reverse, neutral, drive and low.
A small “Electric” badge is the only indication that this vehicle doesn't have a gasoline engine on board, but is purely powered by an electric motor. You will also see a charge port, with a periphery of lights that illuminate when the car is plugged in. It's a great feature: showing charging progress at a glance from a distance by lighting up successive sections of what serves as glowing state-of-charge pie chart.
Standard features on the Ford Focus Electric include dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, push-button start, a nine-speaker Sony stereo system, satellite radio, navigation and the MyFord Touch infotainment system, which allows you to connect your smartphone via USB or Bluetooth and control it using voice commands.
Ford denies that the Focus Electric was exclusively created to comply with California's zero emissions mandates, but Edmunds.com senior analyst Michelle Krebs told The Detroit News, “It's almost like an obligatory vehicle they have to have for fuel economy and image. Ford’s heart is not in this.” Ford director of global electrification Nancy Gioia more or less confirmed as much, telling the paper, “We still see battery electric as niche.”
For the record, Ford sold 1,738 units of the Focus Electric in 2013— compared to Nissan's achievement of selling 22,610 units of the LEAF.
All electric cars earn points for high torque at zero rpm. In our week with the Focus Electric, the powertrain felt as if it had been configured for highway driving, offering rapid bursts of acceleration from 30 to 50 mph, and from 55 to 75, with oomph left in reserve. The Focus employs a 107-kilowatt (143 horsepower) motor, compared to the LEAF’s 80-kilowatt (110 horsepower) motor.
Ford engineers managed to deliver its wallop of power while keeping the cabin extremely quiet by using extra insulation and sound damping. The single-speed transmission produces direct linear velocity. In city driving, the Focus is well planted, and and controlled by taut steering. With its 650-pound battery pack, the car is relatively heavy, at 3,642 pounds. Engineers compensated by adjusting springs and shocks to handle the extra weight in the rear. The car feels substantial.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s estimated driving range is 76 miles. Based on our test drives, that is an accurate estimation of daily driving, even if a little bit conservative. With careful driving, you should be able to push the range to between 80 and 90 miles per charge.
For comparison, the LEAF with a 24 kWh pack has a slightly lower EPA-estimated driving range of 73 miles. (The Focus Electric’s pack is 23 kilowatt-hours.) The LEAF uses passively air-cooled temperature management system, while Ford opted to utilize an a more robust active liquid cooled and heated battery pack—allowing for more stable battery operation over a wide range of temperatures.
The EPA ratings for efficiency are 110 MPGe in the city and 99 MPGe on the highway—for a combined rating of 105 miles per gallon equivalent.
The Focus Electric uses a 6.6-kilowatt on board charger capable of adding about 20 to 25 miles of driving range in an hour, when pulling 240 volts. Essentially, this is the state-of-the art in terms of charging speed, and most drivers will find this rate quite adequate (especially considering that the vast majority of charging takes place overnight).
Ford executives were among the leaders of the development of the SAE quick-charge combo cord protocol. This move was somewhat controversial, but if given the benefit of the doubt, Ford and other American and German automakers were intending to improve upon the CHAdeMO quick-charge standard used by Japanese automakers.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the Focus Electric, it's a moot point. The battery-powered Focus does not offer any type of QC port—found in public charging stations to provide a charge from empty to about 80 percent in less than 30 minutes. The lack of a quick-charge port, in our estimation, is not a deal killer. In real world driving, it is seldom used except by those making frequent long-distance commutes.
The five-seat 2014 Ford Focus Electric is well regarded for its well-designed interior—with materials of a higher quality than found in many affordable small cars. The EV's front seats—which come heated as a standard feature—are comfortable, with decent head- and legroom. Leather upholstery is optional. Seating in the back is adequate, although not as spacious as some of its competitors.
The big drawback with the Ford Focus Electric is the cargo space, or lack thereof. By converting an existing model to an electric car, rather then building an EV from the ground up, Ford had to get creative with the packaging of batteries, using spaces originally designed for the gas-powered version of the car. As a result, some of the batteries are placed where the regular Focus’s gas tank would be, but the main battery pack is under the liftgate, reducing hatch cargo space by 39 percent, to just 14.5 cubic feet. Don’t expect to fit more than few bags of groceries.
The Focus Electric aced all the safety and crash tests from both the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That means “Good” and “5-star” ratings—the highest possible scores—across the board.
Safety features on the vehicle include the full array of airbags, as well as 4-wheel ABS, 4-wheel disc brakes, brake assist, electronic stability control, integrated turn signal mirrors, and traction control.
In late 2013, a couple of technical issues were reported.
In September, Ford confirmed that 12 complaints were filed against its all-electric Focus with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, prompting an official safety investigation. Complainants said their cars, 2012 and 2013 versions of the Ford Focus Electric, suddenly displayed a “Stop Safely Now” message on their dashboards while being operated. As soon as the message is displayed, complainants say their cars’ on-board electronics systems “stop responding,” forcing them to pull over at the side of the road.
In October, a few weeks after releasing a faulty update to its iPhone MyFord Mobile EV app, Ford wrote to owners warning them about an upcoming temporary outage to its service, and the removal of key features. Owners were encouraged to upgrade to the latest version, in order to retain functionality and connectivity.
The Focus Electric is among the all-electric models available with an attractive lease of less than $200 a month. The Ford website outlines an offer of $166 per month, with $4,411 due at signing, for a 36-month lease.
Alternatively, the MSRP starting price for a purchase is $35,170, before federal and state incentives are considered. In 2013, Ford announced that the Focus Electric's base price would be reduced by $2,000 for “cash” sales, through an offer of zero-percent financing for 36, 48 or 60 months or 1.9 percent financing for 72 months.
These offers make the Focus Electric an enticing proposition: a net purchase price after incentives of less than $30,000; or a monthly lease of $166 per month. However, given the motivation of Nissan dealerships to maximize volume—and considering that even cheaper prices for smaller slightly less capable electric cars—Ford’s only purely electric car is not the best deal on the block.
Comparisons of Similar Cars
There are nearly 20 plug-in electric vehicles available today in the US market, but only two of them neatly compare with the Ford Focus Electric in terms of price, capability, and positioning as an all-electric small sedan. There is a set of smaller more compact EVs, like the Chevrolet Spark Electric and the Mitsubishi i-MIEV—and a couple of luxury-brand electric cars, with higher price tags, have also emerged from BMW and Mercedes. But we see only the Nissan LEAF and Honda Fit EV as the real competitors.
On the surface, the biggest difference between the LEAF and battery-powered Focus is outward design. The Focus has a sleek European small car appeal, while the LEAF gives off a high-tech vibe. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.
The more important distinction is the enthusiasm of Nissan Motors for electric cars, whereas Ford seems barely interested. Nissan sells its electric car throughout the United States, while Ford dealerships are sparse, less trained, and according to multiple reports, not eager to sell or support the Focus Electric. Therefore, you can get better deals—and generally feel better about the purchase–when working with Nissan. Yet, if the design of the LEAF is just too geeky, then a trip to the local Ford dealership (if there is one that sells the Focus Electric) is worth the effort.
Meanwhile, Honda has also been ambivalent about its all-electric entry, the Fit EV. Again, choosing the Fit over the Focus comes down to platform. The Fit, which maintained its cargo capacity as opposed to the compromised hatch space on the Focus Electric, is highly regarded as one of the most versatile small cars on the market. It's more like an ultra-small utility vehicle, rather than an attractive compact in the form of the Focus.
All three vehicles have similar battery sizes, and therefore driving range—about 80 miles after a full charge.
According to company press releases, approximately 900 Ford dealers have been certified to sell electric cars. But we repeatedly hear stories about sales staff having no information about the vehicle—and in fact, discouraging people from buying one. In Los Angeles—a red hot hotspot for EV adoption—one shopper told us that he couldn’t get any information from the dealership about buying a Ford Focus Electric, despite making it crystal clear that he was a customer with cash in hand and ready to buy. Hopefully that's just one anecdote, rather than any sign of trouble—but be prepared for similar treatment.
The official 19 markets for the Focus Electric are: Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Orlando, Phoenix, Portland, Raleigh Durham, Richmond, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Tucson and Washington, D.C.
Click on links for searching local inventory or requesting a price quote, on Ford's webpage dedicated to the Focus Electric: