The Ford Focus Electric makes a return appearance in the CNET garage, this time for the 2015 model year. The EV car market has had two years to evolve, and the charging infrastructure has had as much time to grow. How does this former Editors' Choice Award winner fare, today? We charged it up and hit the road to find out.
The fully electric Focus
Under the hood is the 107kW electric motor. Those kilowatts work out to a more familiar 143 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque being sent through the Focus' single speed gearbox and to the front wheels. The Focus has a top speed of 84 mph and gets to 60 mph from a standing start in a respectable 10.1 seconds.
Top speed and acceleration aren't really the point when you're behind the wheel of a battery electric vehicle -- range is. The EPA reckons the Ford Focus Electric will do an average of 76 miles on a fully charged battery. That works out to about 110 MPGe in the city, 99 MPGe on the highway, and 105 MPGe combined. Our testing seems to back this claim up. Ford's SmartGauge also gives the driver tools to help maximize, and potentially, exceed this range. We'll come back to this shortly.
The Focus' 23kWh lithium ion battery pack is liquid cooled and heated to maximize its power holding efficiency and operational lifetime. The pack is located beneath the rear bench seat and protrudes behind the seat back into the hatchback's storage area.
Charging that battery takes about 3.6 hours when you're plugged into a 240-volt fast-charging power source and the Ford's 6.6 kW onboard charger is working at its hardest. If you can't find a fast charger and need to plug into a standard 120-volt wall outlet, a full charge could take up to 20 hours.
Helping the driver to monitor and maximize their range is the Ford SmartGauge with EcoGuide -- a combination physical, analog speedometer and dual-display LED instrument cluster. On the right-hand display, there's a mirror of the MyFord Touch infotainment system's functionality. On the left, a configurable display puts a Range Budget feature at the driver's fingertips.
The Budget feature works by making an estimate of the Ford's range based on the battery level at the beginning of every trip. When you're on the road, the computer continuously re-evaluates the range based on your current driving technique and lets you know where you are above or below the budget. Drive with a light foot and use more regen than brakes, and you'll find yourself with more range than budgeted. Test the Focus' zero-to-60 time and you'll end up low on juice sooner than planned.
The SmartGauge can also display information about how effectively you're using the regenerative braking system and show separate graphs indicating how efficiently you're cruising, braking, and accelerating.
Over in the center of the dashboard, the touchscreen MyFord Touch infotainment system is identical to what we've seen across the fleet of Ford vehicles of this generation. The interface is split into quadrants and features a wide selection of digital and analog audio sources, Bluetooth hands-free calling and text messaging, climate controls and SD card-based navigation. The navigation system now features an EcoRoutes pathfinding engine that allows it to plan routes that make the most efficient use of the battery's range and features the ability to search for and display icons for nearby EV charging stations on its map. However, the system doesn't appear to be able to tell you, the driver, whether those charging stations are or will be available when you get there, which is an issue we'll discuss in the next section.
Finally, the MyFord Touch infotainment system features built-in telematics features, which grant the driver limited remote control over the EV's charging and operation via a smartphone app. Drivers can monitor the Focus' charging and receive notifications if the EV is unplugged. At home, the driver can schedule the Focus to delay its charging until off-peak utility hours when the cost per kilowatt hour drops, or schedule the climate control system to power up in the morning to cool or warm the cabin before you unplug and hit the road.
Let's get anecdotal
We've been pretty objective up until now about the Focus' specs and capabilities, but let's talk for a moment about how my personal experience with the battery electric hatchback went.
The 2015 Ford Focus Electric came into my possession one morning with the battery close to full and the SmartGauge indicating 70 miles of available range. That seemed about right to me, so I hit the road to run the day's errands. Leaving our San Francisco office, I set out across the Bay Bridge and headed for Oakland. With a light foot and moderate traffic, I was doing a pretty good job matching the computer's budget. An impromptu zero-to-60 test and the day's errands left me with about 50 percent battery by lunchtime, the SmartGauge indicating I was at 40 miles range and 2 miles under budget.
The EV's acceleration felt good and torquey; the Focus is a very driveable car that hides its weight well around the relatively flat streets of Oakland, Calif. When we previously tested the 2012 Focus Electric, editor Wayne Cunningham found that San Francisco's steep hills were a bit of a challenge for the electric motor, so your enjoyment of the drive may depend on the local topography.
The CNET garage is, unfortunately, not equipped with a 240V fast charger, so I set out to find a public charging point to top off the Focus' battery before heading back to base. Firing up the MyFord Touch infotainment, I spotted that there was a fast charging station nearby, which I selected as a destination and headed toward. I was disappointed to learn that both of the spaces at the location were occupied by a Nissan Leaf and a Chevrolet Volt. Undaunted, I selected another location, a pay-to-park lot with five available spaces, but when I got there all five space were occupied.
After a few more attempts, I was getting a bit frustrated, so I fired up the ChargePoint app on my smartphone and searched for all of the charging stations in Oakland only to find that almost every single one was reporting as occupied. By now, it was late afternoon and the SmartGauge was indicating that I'd only had about 25 percent battery life remaining. On the brighter side, it was also indicating that my driving all over Oakland at 35 mph looking for a charging station had left me 6 miles under budget with 25 miles of available range.
Noting the irony that I'd wasted most of my battery looking for somewhere to charge up, I set the navigation for CNET's garage to plug into a wall outlet for the night. The approximately 10 mile ride back to the office was mostly at highway speeds in moderate traffic, which made maintaining a smooth cruising speed difficult and soaked up much of the surplus range that I'd accrued. When I finally parked and plugged in for the evening, the SmartGauge indicated about 10 percent charge remaining with 7 miles of range.
Now, it's not the Focus' fault that I couldn't find anywhere to fast-charge it, despite there being dozens of fast-charging stations in the area. However, it appears that the number of electric cars -- at least in my area -- massively outscale the available public charging infrastructure. The vast majority of the public charging stations that I encountered were located inside private lots and garages, which required that I pay for parking on top of paying for charging.
On top of that, the public charging points in the area belong to at least three different charging networks, most of which don't accept a credit card swipe. So the EV driver is faced with carrying multiple tap-to-pay keyfobs for Blink, eVgo, and ChargePoint. Again, this isn't the Focus' fault and doesn't count against the vehicle's score, but I feel that prospective owners will find my anecdotal experience helpful.
Obviously, the ideal situation for owning an EV is one where you also own a garage where you can install a fast-charging station of your own that you can, reliably, plug into every night. This pretty much rules out apartment dwellers from the pools of potential EV drivers.
Pricing and the cost of ownership
The 2015 Ford Focus Electric starts at $29,170 (about $6,000 less than last year) and there aren't many options to choose from; the base model comes pretty close to fully loaded. The only major option that I could find are the $995 leather seats, which our model was equipped with. Add destination charges to reach our as-tested price of $30,960. Interestingly, Ford's website lists about $10,000 worth of incentives and rebates that can knock the final net cost below $20k.
The EPA reckons that the Focus Electric will cost the average driver about $600 per year to keep charged and rolling, which is $900 less than the gasoline Focus base model will cost to fill up.
The public charging stations in my area averaged about $0.49 per kWh, which means that a full charge would cost me about $11 and change (on top of the price of parking). Doing the math, that's about 3.9 times the the EPA's guess and about 23 percent more than the EPA's cost-per-mile of the gasoline Focus. The moral of the story: do most of your charging at home during off-peak hours.
The battery-electric Focus is not available in Australia, but you can find it in the UK for about £33,580.00 (including VAT). Local government incentives for electric vehicles can potentially knock the net price down to about £28,580.
The Ford Focus Electric finds itself in direct competition with the likes of the Nissan Leaf, the Fiat 500e and the Kia Soul EV. The Focus compares favorably against the Leaf where range is concerned, but the Kia Soul EV boasts better range, more cabin space, and according to my testing, better acceleration than the Ford. The Fiat also boasts a better range than the Focus but is also a much smaller vehicle. The Leaf and the Soul have the availability of the super-fast ChaDeMo charging option working for them, which is notable for its ability to juice the battery to an 80-percent charge in about 30 minutes.
For the money, I think I prefer the Soul, but the Ford is still a solid and less expensive choice.
2015 Ford Focus Electric
107kW electric motor, 23kWh battery pack, 6.6kW onboard charger, 1-speed transmission, FWD
EPA fuel economy
105 MPGe combined, 110 MPGe city, 99 MPGe city
Observed fuel economy
Standard, SD card-based
Bluetooth phone support
Digital audio sources
USB, HD Radio, satellite radio, CD
Sony premium audio
Standard rear camera
Price as tested