The 2016 Ford Focus Electric, now in its fifth model year, remains the only battery-electric car sold by Ford anywhere in the world. It’s the most energy-efficient car the company sells. The compact five-door hatchback is an adaptation of a gasoline model, built on the same assembly line in Michigan as all other North American Focuses, but it’s sold only in small numbers in specific regions–and only in low numbers.
The Focus Electric competes with the Nissan Leaf, by far the world’s highest-volume electric car, as well as the Volkswagen e-Golf, both of them similarly all-electric compact hatchbacks. Ford’s electric Focus also faces off against a handful of smaller electric cars from other makers–the Chevy Spark EV, Fiat 500e, and Mitsubishi i-MiEV–also sold only in small numbers in limited markets.
Over five model years, the electric Focus has changed very little. While it was initially distinguished by a unique grille design, a 2015 restyle of the gasoline Focus gave the whole lineup the same look. Now, aside from a couple of chrome “Electric” door badges and the charging port on the left front fender, you’d never know just by looking that the Focus Electric has no engine.
The sole change to the 2016 model is the addition of Ford’s latest Sync 3 infotainment system, which promises an easier-to-use interface and menu design than the much-reviled MyFord Touch system it replaces.
The powertrain of the Focus Electric remains a 23-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack that provides energy to a 107-kilowatt (143-horsepower) electric motor that drives the front wheels. The battery cells are provided by Korean maker LG Chem, which supplies similar cells for the Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car–meaning that Ford has piggybacked on GM’s extensive cell test and development work. The Focus Electric pack is liquid-cooled–unlike that of the Nissan Leaf, which is only air-cooled–and that should make it somewhat more resistant to temperature extremes.
On the road, the motor is powerful enough to spin the inside front wheel when accelerating out of turns. Ford has tuned the regenerative braking to be somewhat on the aggressive side, but its acceleration and deceleration will still be relatively familiar to drivers used to automatic-transmission cars.
Despite several hundred pounds of extra weight, the Focus Electric has the same enjoyable roadholding of the gasoline Focus models. Its weight sits low, with the battery under the floorpan, so the car feels well planted, and its torque makes it a particularly good car for urban traffic jousting. It does start to run out of steam under heavy load approaching highway speeds, say above 50 mph. It runs well enough on the highway, but like most electrics, it’s punchiest away from stoplights.
The EPA rates the Focus Electric at 76 miles of range (on combined city and highway cycles) and 105 MPGe, or miles-per-gallon-equivalent, an efficiency measure that specifies the distance a car can travel electrically on the same amount of energy as in 1 gallon of gasoline. While the efficiency is about average for the class, the range is slightly lower than the comparable Leaf (84 miles) or VW e-Golf (83 miles). That discrepancy will become more marked when a model of the 2016 Nissan Leaf is launched with more than 100 miles of rated range.
Because its charger operates at up to 6.6 KW, for Focus Electric can fully recharge its battery pack in no more than four hours when using a 240-volt Level 2 charging station. The Focus Electric offers no option for DC quick charging, however, which the Nissan Leaf and VW e-Golf do.
Inside, the Focus Electric is largely identical to any other Focus five-door hatchback. There are different screens in the digital instrument cluster display and center-stack display, of course, showing energy consumption and remaining range. The main difference–or drawback–inside the electric version of the Focus is in the rear load bay, due to the onboard charger sitting in a box that spans the area between the rear wheel arches, creating a hump perhaps 10 inches high. Ford has fitted a clever movable floor that either tilts down to meet the bottom of the hatchback opening or lifts up to provide a level floor in what remains of the load space, but it’s a major compromise.
The Focus Electric was launched at a price of $40,000, but as electric-car prices have fallen, Ford has had to follow suit. The car now starts at about $30,000, very much line with the base models of the Leaf, which is now the standard to which other makers must compare. Buyers of the car qualify for a $7,500 Federal income-tax credit, a $2,500 purchase rebate in California, and a long list of other state, regional, and corporate incentives–including single-occupant use of the carpool lane on California freeways.
Putting the Focus Electric in perspective, it’s a very low-volume entry that is available only in limited regions. It can be viewed either as a cautious experiment in which Ford dips its toe into the electric-car market or solely a “compliance car” that enables the company to meet its requirement for sales of zero-emission vehicles in the state of California. It’s a perfectly competent electric car that has seen no quality issues, and owners are generally satisfied with their electric Fords.
But the company puts far more marketing effort behind its C-Max and Fusion Hybrid models, both of which also offer Energi plug-in hybrid versions as well. Ford appears to believe that plug-in cars will be much more popular if they have gasoline engines as well.