I managed to come into a lease of a Ford Focus Electric starting in August 2013, and this is my review of my time with it. For a little bit more background on me, and my newest primary car, please check out my review of my Cadillac ELR here.
The Ford Focus Electric (FFE) is an excellent first all-electric car to market. Coming out starting in 2012, there was not much competition, and in my opinion it was the best all-electric on the market at the time.
Ok, so the first Ford Focus Electric I had an experience with, wasn’t mine. But this is how we (my mother) came into the lease. My sister was just entering high school, and while it is extremely convenient for the kids to drive themselves, being a responsible parent you don’t get them something new or expensive to crash. Well it turns out to be costlier for us, and her car is in the shop almost weekly. We are looking for a replacement. Mom is thinking of giving my sister her car, and getting a new car for herself.
It was an advertisement. Yes, one of those annoying come into the Ford dealership now and get a limited deal. But this deal was crazy. They were offering 199/mo with 0 down for a brand new (MSRP close to 40k) car. They were intrigued. As they did more research they realized the benefits of an all-electric car. No maintenance, no transmission or gears in your drive, almost completely silent driving.
Tld;dr: My mom wanted a new car to give my sister her current car, and they saw an add for the FFE.
Now they are interested in electric cars. Everyone knows about Tesla. This is about the time the S is hitting the market and they are making a splash. We don’t have a time to wait 6 months for a car, and don’t really want a four-figure monthly payment, nor just dropping six-figures. So let’s look at what is available.
My parents, knowing I am a big technology guy, call me at school to let me know what they are thinking. They ask me to dive in and learn more, as well as go test drive the cars they have narrowed it down to considering. We ruled out cars that were limited run, like the Rav4 EV, and concepts like MiniE, BMW 3 series, or Volvo C30e. Here are the thoughts of three people on each of the cars we drove:
- Mitsubishi iMiev: It’s like a golf cart. No luxury whatsoever. It’s like every penny of your 22k goes towards the paltry battery. It can only go 60 miles, has the tiniest motor. Driving on the highway feels like a death trap, not enough power to get up to speed, and if you hit something, the sheet metal is not going to save you. Also, on an all-electric, how is one supposed to live with a 3.3kw inverter, charging the 60 miles in 8 hours? They don’t.
- Ford Focus Electic: Now it wouldn’t be a very good review if I ruined it here: J
- Nissan Leaf: Better than the iMiev, with a powerful charger (they learned from their 2012 mistake). The base leaf was bare bones. We would upgrade the feeling of this drive from golf cart to lunch box status. More spacious, and actual room for 5. Nissan didn’t do much for attractive design, and the media system is terrible even when upgraded.
- Fiat 500e: The sportiest without a doubt. Very cute, but also very loud. Surprisingly the back seats were usable by big people, but you either get a trunk or seats, not both. This is the best car Fiat makes, even the Abarth isn’t as fun to drive.
- Smart Electric: Again, small charger on an all-electric… It only has two seats, but it does have a much lower list price. For paying cash, we would totally go for the convertible version (we are in California).
- Honda Fit EV: It might be a good hatchback as an ICE, but that does not necessarily mean that it makes for a good EV. Better than the leaf, but not impressed.
- Chevy Spark EV: We were blown away with this car. It has supercharging so you could take road trips or wouldn’t get stuck for hours. While the interior is plastic, and it is very good plastic, and it pulled it off better than every other interior here (save FFE). It was fast, huge amounts of torque, but a little bit squirrely because of it.
Tl;dr: For those who are not early adopters, or sold on the electric car, there is not much here to get the main car buyer in.
Let’s get into the meat of the story, and I want to start with how it drives. Well. It is comfortable, has a good suspension, has enough pickup, and is responsive. This car has a top speed of 84 miles an hour, which is not a problem. Yes, I have hit the top speed a couple times, but in California that is not a problem. You never see speed limits above 70, unlike my home state of Texas with places at 85MPH.
The acceleration feels quick. I say feel because the official time is 10 second to 60MPH, which is quite slow. I did the math on it, and with the official rating of the engine power and curb weight, the car should be quicker. My guess is that the car’s acceleration, like its top speed, has been capped, mostly to make sure lead-foots don’t completely kill the range. Even with the capping, it is quick enough to pass people from the stoplight, and has enough juice to make most highway interactions safe. When you do slam on the accelerator, especially if on a curve (even a gradual one), there is a LOT of torque steer. The front left wheel tries to pull away and take off. This may have a lot to do with the fact that most of the weight is in the trunk.
Tl;dr. It feels quick, is quiet, comfortable and only gets squirrelly when flooring it.
Charging and Range:
I managed to get a 2014 Focus when I was in Washington DC, based on having driven my mother’s 2013. Out there all the “highways” are capped at 50 or 55MPH. They are called highways, but have stoplights sprinkled in; how does a true highway have many stoplights in a mile?!
I digress, the range of the car, unsurprisingly, varies based on how you drive. When I was in DC driving at max 55, and constantly stopping and going, I got a lot more than the 76 miles of range than the EPA say I should get. There were a couple days when I got in the car and it reported over 100 miles of range. Now, the least amount of range I ever experienced was close to 60 miles, when I drove 80 on the highway in the winter with the heated seats and heater on. Given average driving and commuting in traffic, the reported range typically sits in the low 80s, and we get about that.
Charging in California is everywhere. With the faster charger than partial electrics, typically getting your money’s worth out of hourly charging is pretty easy. Both my mother and I rely on the home charger, and have actually survived on just the 120V wall plug. We never really drive more than the range of the car, and when we get home it is always charging. From dead plugged into the wall it charges in 16 hours, so longer trips back to back is not going to happen for us. When using the chargers at work, it is never really more than three hours.
Tl;dr. Range changes how you drive, but sits around 80. Charging is fast enough on the level 2 chargers.
Styling and Interior
This was the best looking all-electric car on the market in our opinion. This was the car that happened to be electric, not an electric motor that happened to be a car. Rather than the loud colors of the Fiat, or the ugly edges of a leaf, or both on the i3, this was a regular car. The only part that gives it away is a little badge on the doors and trunk and in California, the white HOV stickers. There are subtler things like no tailpipes or grill vents and the addition of charging port, but you really have to look.
This is not a car I would turn around to look at when I park it, but I am not slinking out of it like all the others, trying to avoid being noticed in it. When I walk up to it, I think “it’s cute.” The LED trim lights on the front make the car more appealing, and the tri-coat paint adds to the overall feel. It’s the most stealthy, unless it has a cord coming out of it, 99% of the population would pass it by as a regular car, which is a good thing for mass market adoption.
The trim gets better when you get inside. There are very few options on this car, and we both got the one that mattered: leather seats. These seats are interestingly perforated, but comfortable and hold onto you when you are trying to do a drift. The back seats are comfortable and spacious as well, which is surprising since usually very little attention is given to the back.
This is where the FFE falls a little bit: it still has the transmission trench. This means the 5th person gets to straddle a hump. Given all the batteries are in the back, and the motor is in the front, the floor could theoretically be flat. Which leads to another thing, that battery pack. All of the Ford plug-ins have this problem: they have a baby bump. I moved in to a new place in my car, and this hump gets in the way of utilizing the hatchback with seats down. This made me have to make more trips, which is kind of a problem in a car I Need to minimize driving in if I don’t want to waste time at a plug. For everyday things it is fine, but I am not able to have nearly as much space as the car looks like it has.
Being in the driver’s seat is great. The media controls are easily reachable and well organized on the wheel (more on that later). The instrument cluster is well laid out and beautiful, albeit a little bit ambition with the speedometer having a top speed of 120. I am a big fan of the traditional gear shift, it feels natural and solid in hand. The large emergency brake is solid, but seems a bit out of place on a car in this era. Also, I actually change the color in the car. Some of you may be aware that Ford has a color changing interior ambient light. I actually do change it from time to time, it adds a bit of variety.
Tl;dr: It is the most car-like of the economical all-electrics, and its nicely appointed. The transmission box and the battery pack show you that the car was adapted from an ICE and takes away a bit of the magic.
I really really like what Ford did by partnering with Microsoft. It is great to see an automotive company realize they are not a software company, and instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, they go to the people who make wheels. This is of course before Apple CarPlay and Andriod Auto, but they are continuing the trend by supporting both of those interfaces in Sync 3 on 2017 models.
Starting with the instrument cluster, the splitting of information is a well-executed idea. On the left you have battery information, estimated in range. This car is clearly a car not a science experiment, because many other auto manufacturers throw superfluous information at you such as current power being pulled, graphs of power usage, KW used etc. This shows what you need: how much range you have, and how well you have been driving. One of the best implementations is the driving coach. These three meters (accelerating, braking, and cruising) help you to drive an electric car more efficiently. The best part of this is it tells you what percentage of the theoretical maximum regeneration you achieved when coming to a stop. It’s like a video game every time you stop, trying to get 100%.
On the right side of the cluster, you can connect to the media system. Almost anything that isn’t settings can be done from the steering wheel. I can get the next GPS instruction, I can change between media sources and songs, and see the silly butterfly efficiency meter. The steering wheel controls are well designed. Every button is visible and self-explanatory. There are two navigation wheels that align with each of the two screens. There are no hidden-on-the-back-of-the-wheel buttons, and the media/phone buttons fit nicely into the wheel and the design of the system.
Now moving to the actual Sync system. The four panels on the home screen makes the screen busy, but it gives you the important information. Tap on any of these areas and logically the screen changes to that main area. The media system connects and displays the artwork from multiple apps when connected to USB. The phone menu downloads the phonebook and connects to a very accurate speech recognition system that is fast. I only wish the steering wheel button could be remapped to Siri or Google. In the lower left, is the HVAC screen, which seems a bit redundant. There are physical buttons for the heated seats, air conditioning and heater (which has its own rather nice crisp screen).
The illustration of energy flow is rather underwhelming. It does show where energy is coming from or going, but the animation is so subtle one has to focus hard to see when it changes. It is not a screen I would leave it on, especially since the home screen is so well laid out.
The GPS is very very nice. It doesn’t have nice 3D city views, which other manufacturers think is important, nor does it have Google Maps satellite views, but I like it. Why? Because it is clean. The animations are fast, there is no jumping or updating. Once you are in a view, it is buttery smooth how your car icon moves along the map. Also, when driving on a route, the instructions are clear, the the images vivid. One of the most underrated features of this system, is that is shows the remaining miles, and not just arrival time, which helps when you try to drive near the edge of your range. Only shortfall is how long it takes to input a destination.
The speakers connected to this system, are Ford’s premium Sony speakers. They sound good, and are certainly nice for an economical car. An audiophile like myself would like more, but they do a good enough job rocking out. Sync comes with the standard stuff of big media systems, like Sirius traffic and radio, but also comes with the surprising ability to be a WiFi hotspot. I have tethering on my cellphone, and can configure Sync (via Bluetooth or USB) to share the internet connection to a network in the car. This is really cool, but would be better suited for a car that can go longer than an hour before needing recharging.
The 2013 my mother has differs from my 2014 in one way: Hers has an RCA input. I have, when parked, plugged a GameCube into the cigarette lighter and the the Sync system, and played some Super Smash Brothers while waiting to pick up my sister. Cool, but I understand why they removed that complexity as I am sure it is very rarely used.
Tl;dr Great job partnering with Microsoft. One of the best designed systems I have worked with.
There are a couple things that seem like they should have been no brainers on a car of this class and usage type. The first and most brazen exclusion is the garage door opener, or any homelink system. For a car that is designed to be plugged in every night, that seems like something useful. Most plugs are in a garage, and if you’re installing something, it’s likely going to be in a garage. The worst part, the is no option to add this even in today’s car, and you would have to get something off eBay to retrofit it.
Another thing that seems necessary but I can understand its omission because of the weight: memory seats. This car is used for tooling around town, and the family tries to utilize electric driving and we are not all the same size. So manually moving the mirrors, seat, lumbar, and wheel all the time can be a bit annoying.
The last thing I would like to see is the SAE combo port for level 3 DC fast charging on the car. With the early development and understanding of driving on batteries, I understand Ford’s hesitation to add this extra stress on their pack. This does mean that, even though the FFE is the best all-electric car, it does provide an even bigger limitation that its competitors.
Tl;dr. How do you forget a garage door opener on a car that needs an outlet?
My mother was initially pulled into the electric car market by a great deal assisted by rebates. The car has been very easy to plan for financially, no maintenance or fuel cost really to speak of. It is comfortable, quiet, spacious, and lovely. I then got a lease for it the next year, that is how much I liked it. It is really a great all-electric car. Unfortunately, the market has moved forward. Mom is coming up on her lease, and will not be getting a new one. Immediately available to her is a longer range Leaf, the newer Chevy Bolt, and even the Chevy Volt with longer range. This is to say nothing of the Model 3 coming out in a few years. I am so glad we have these cars, and they were a great entry to market, but please Ford, update to longer range and don’t let the others win the electric race. You started it so well.