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2012 Ford Focus Electric review:

2012 Ford Focus Electric

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2012 Ford Focus Electric
The app for the Focus Electric shows charging statistics. Josh Miller/CNET

The car's instrumentation takes into account driving styles, as the Budget showed anywhere from 76 to 81 miles after a full recharge. Plugged into a 110-volt source, the Focus Electric takes 20 hours to go from a dead battery to full, but only 4 hours when connected to a 240-volt source.

Ford offers an app for the car that let me view its charge status, schedule when it should begin charging, and even unlock the doors remotely. The app includes a map of nearby charging stations, as does the car's navigation system. In fact, there is good acknowledgment of the car's electric drive in the navigation system. Whenever I entered a destination, the navigation system asked if I would be recharging at that location. If yes, the Range view on the instrument cluster display showed how many miles to the next recharge point.

And that is about the best thing I have to say about this navigation system. Otherwise, it was wildly frustrating to use. The maps are stored on an SD card, but take a surprisingly long time to render on the car's touch screen. And while the maps are shown at an easy-to-read resolution, there is often no distinction made in the graphics between actual roads and walking paths. Driving through Golden Gate Park, the map made it seem like roads ran everywhere, but in reality the majority of them were paths. This lack of differentiation proved annoying when I wanted to find a cross street to a parallel road, and the map made it seem like there were any number of them just ahead.

2012 Ford Focus Electric
The navigation system had trouble finding the car's actual position, here showing it driving through a building. Josh Miller/CNET

Another complaint about the navigation system was its slowness in determining the car's position on startup. When I began a drive from the CNET garage, the navigation system could not find my location for a full 10 minutes while I drove through downtown streets. It even showed the car driving through the San Francisco Bay at one point. This problem is most likely due to either a weak GPS antenna or an inadequate chip.

The Focus Electric uses the newest version of MyFord Touch, which includes the touch-screen interface and displays to either side of the speedometer. The instrument cluster displays are the most successful aspect of this interface, as I could use the steering-wheel controls to access some of the infotainment features and change the drive system screen.

2012 Ford Focus Electric
The LCDs to either side of the speedometer show energy usage and infotainment screens. Josh Miller/CNET

Ford significantly cleaned up the MyFord Touch interface for this generation of the system, and while it's more refined, it still suffers from menu overload. For example, choosing an album from the music library of a USB drive or iPod plugged into the car involves about five screen touches from the main playback screen.

Using voice command is a much quicker and safer method of selecting music while driving. Of course, the Focus Electric comes with the very capable Ford Sync system, which let me not only request music from an attached device by name, but also initiate phone calls by a contact name from a Bluetooth-paired phone.

The Bluetooth phone system works very well in the Focus Electric, and can even read out incoming text messages for phones that support this function. Through Sync, the Focus Electric also offers AppLink, which lets the driver control supported apps running on a paired smartphone with the car's touch screen. Apps include Pandora, Stitcher, and about eight more.

Along with the phone and app connectivity, I also liked the Focus Electric's stereo. The car comes with two USB ports, so I could plug in a USB drive and my iPhone. I could also use Bluetooth streaming to listen to music from my iPhone, although the car interface for that source is very minimal. And along with satellite radio, the car had HD Radio.

The Focus Electric includes Sony's premium audio system, which I find one of the best available in an economy car. Using 10 speakers, including a subwoofer and center channel, the system produces excellent sound, with clear highs and palpable bass. Music sounds very crisp and clear throughout the frequencies, with very balanced playback.

In sum
Appropriately for its cutting-edge electric-drive system, Ford loads up the 2012 Focus Electric with technology. The car not only gets the latest version of MyFord Touch, including its very useful instrument cluster displays, but also the very capable Sync system, which offers voice control over devices brought into the car. The included Sony audio system delivers excellent sound quality, but the navigation system largely proved a failure. While feature-rich, it just didn't perform well.

The drive system is the real star. Given its limited range and recharging requirements, the Focus Electric will be best for early adopters who want to try out gasoline-free driving. However, these potential buyers will need to fit a certain profile, such as having a place to charge the car and not needing to drive more than 75 miles or so on a regular basis.

Tech specs
Model 2012 Ford Focus Electric
Trim N/A
Power train 23kWh lithium ion battery pack, 143-hp electric motor, single-speed reduction gearbox
EPA fuel economy 110 mpge city/99 mpge highway
Observed fuel economy Not recorded
Navigation Standard flash memory-based system with traffic
Bluetooth phone support Standard, with contact list download
Digital audio sources Bluetooth streaming, iPod integration, USB drive, SD card, satellite radio, HD Radio
Audio system Sony 10-speaker 355-watt audio system
Driver aids Rearview camera
Base price $39,200
Price as tested $39,995

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