First Drive: 2012 Ford Focus Electric ford first drives electric green news
2012 Ford Focus Electric. Click image to enlarge

Test Drive: 2012 Ford Focus SEL hatchback
Ford unveils Focus Electric
Test Drive: 2012 Nissan Leaf
Test Drive: 2012 Mitsubishi i-Miev

Manufacturer’s web site
Ford Motor Company of Canada

Review and photos by Greg Wilson

Photo Gallery:
2012 Ford Focus Electric

West Vancouver, British Columbia — Ford’s new 2012 Focus Electric hatchback goes on sale this May at selected Ford dealerships. Its stealthy introduction to the marketplace is somewhat surprising given the high-profile promotions for its main competitors, the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi iMiEV, which were promoted a year in advance with pre-ordering web sites, contests, and cross-Canada promotional tours.

That doesn’t mean the new Focus Electric is any less significant. In fact, in a brief test drive in Vancouver last week, we came away with the impression that the electric Focus is leading the pack, not following it.

Priced at $41,199 (plus $1,500 Freight and PDI), the 2012 Focus Electric comes in one well-equipped trim level. The Nissan Leaf is available in two trim levels: the $38,395 (SV) and $39,995 (SL). The smaller Mitsu iMiEV goes for $32,998 and $35,998 (Premium). (We haven’t included the Chevrolet Volt in the comparison because it’s not a pure electric vehicle: it includes an onboard gas engine capable of recharging the battery).

First Drive: 2012 Ford Focus Electric ford first drives electric green news
First Drive: 2012 Ford Focus Electric ford first drives electric green news
2012 Ford Focus Electric. Click image to enlarge

If you live in Ontario, Quebec or B.C., you can reduce the sticker shock with a provincial government rebate: Ontario’s is $8,500; Quebec’s is $8,000, and $5,000 in B.C. And some provinces provide additional incentives for installing 240-volt chargers in your home. As well, Ford has made arrangements with Best Buy to supply and install charging stations for retail and small commercial customers for an average installation cost of $1,599.

The Focus Electric’s powertrain includes a 107-kW electric motor and a 23-kWh lithium-ion battery pack that is liquid-cooled and -heated to help maintain the right temperature for efficiency and durability. (The Leaf and iMiEV’s lithium-ion batteries are electrically heated for cold weather only). Charging the Focus’ battery pack from empty to full takes three to four hours with a 240-volt charger — that’s a significant advantage over the Nissan Leaf which takes seven hours to charge, and the Mitsubishi iMiEV which also takes seven hours to charge on a Stage 2 charging station.

However, using 110-volt household current, the Focus Electric isn’t much quicker than the other two cars, taking 20 hours to fully charge, compared to 21 hours for the Leaf and 22 hours for the iMiEV. How long and how often you’ll need to charge will depend on your driving distances: if your daily commutes are short and the battery is only half depleted, you will have shorter charging times and you may be able to get away with using standard household current. A 120-volt charging cord is included with the car.

Maximum driving ranges for the three cars are comparable: up to 160 km in the Focus, 160 in the Leaf, and 150 in the iMiEV.

Like the Leaf and iMiEV, the Focus Electric has a one-speed transmission and regenerative braking system to help recharge the battery when braking and coasting.

First Drive: 2012 Ford Focus Electric ford first drives electric green news
2012 Ford Focus Electric. Click image to enlarge

Behind the wheel of the Focus Electric, our first impression was how quiet it was. Yes, we know electric cars are quiet, but in the Focus Electric, we couldn’t even hear the familiar whine of the electric motor, which is usually audible when coasting to a stop. As well, the “shiftless” one-speed transmission was quiet and smooth. We didn’t get a chance to drive the car on the freeway, so we can’t testify to wind and tire noise. But around town, the Focus Electric may be the quietest car on the road.

Ford didn’t supply any acceleration numbers, but the Focus Electric had no problem accelerating up a steep West Vancouver hill with four adults on board. Like all electric cars, maximum torque is available right away (184 lb-ft) and throttle response is immediate off the line. The Focus Electric is 148 kg (326 lb) heavier than the Leaf but it has a more powerful electric motor, so it’s difficult to say how their acceleration compares. The Focus’ maximum speed is 135 km/h, the Leaf’s is 140 km/h.

First Drive: 2012 Ford Focus Electric ford first drives electric green news
2012 Ford Focus Electric. Click image to enlarge

We were also impressed with the ride and handling of the Focus Electric. It’s lower and wider than the Leaf and iMiEV and includes wider, low-profile 225/50R17 all-season tires mounted on attractive 17-inch aluminum wheels. It also has the standard Focus’ fully independent suspension (front McPherson struts/rear multi-link); the Leaf has a semi-independent rear torsion beam setup and the iMiEV has a semi-independent de Dion type. The Focus Electric feels very well planted on the road with minimal body lean when cornering.

While the brakes in electric cars often feel grabby because of the regenerative braking system, the pedal feel and responsiveness of the four-wheel discs in the Focus Electric was quite good and didn’t distract from the driving experience.

The 2012 Focus Electric comes in one body style, a four-door hatchback, with a unique front grille, HID headlights, and Focus Electric badging. To us, the styling of the electric Focus, particularly the nose, looks cleaner and more attractive than the regular gas-burning Focus; and the electric Focus is available in some interesting colours such as Frosted Glass (icy blue) and Blue Candy tinted clearcoat.

First Drive: 2012 Ford Focus Electric ford first drives electric green news
First Drive: 2012 Ford Focus Electric ford first drives electric green news
First Drive: 2012 Ford Focus Electric ford first drives electric green news
2012 Ford Focus Electric. Click image to enlarge

Befitting its environmentally friendly nature, the cabin’s seat cloth and carpet are made from 100 percent recycled materials that include recycled plastic bottles. Unique instrumentation includes two 4.2-inch displays and a centre touchscreen that offer information like the estimated driving range, distance to the next charging station, remaining battery charge, and an estimate of the amount of gasoline saved at the end of each trip. There’s also a display showing blue butterflies that respond to your driving habits: drive conservatively, and more will appear. Drive aggressively and they will all fly away!

Like other electric cars, the Focus Electric is available with a smartphone app that lets the driver check the car’s charge status remotely. If the car is already plugged in, the owner can start charging it remotely or assign a time of day for it to start and stop charging in order to take advantage of lower electricity rates at off-peak hours. If properly hooked up to your home, the Focus Electric can even act as an emergency power supply during a blackout.

Standard equipment in the Focus Electric includes a premium Sony AM/FM/CD/Satellite radio system with nine speakers and auxiliary input jack. As well, Ford’s Sync voice-activated communications and entertainment system and MyFord Touch centrescreen with navigation are standard equipment. Other standard features are automatic temperature control, front seat heaters, keyless entry and pushbutton start, power windows, tilt/telescopic steering wheel with audio and phone controls, split 60/40 folding rear seatbacks, and rear parking sensors. The only option is leather seating with a six-way power driver’s seat ($1,000) and a cargo management system ($125).

As electric cars go, the new Ford Focus Electric is impressive. But even in the same Ford showroom, it will have to compete with its gas-burning Focus kin that cost less to buy, go further on a full tank, and can be filled up in five minutes at any one of thousands of filling stations. And then there are the many gas-electric hybrids and plug-in hybrids available, and extended-range electric cars like the Volt, which use very little gas and have a much longer driving range.

Still, if you’re willing to manage the compromises of an electric car, the experience of the Focus Electric’s instant throttle response and silent running combined with the satisfaction of not contributing to global warming (at least not directly), may be worth the price.

Quick comparison
Focus Electric
Nissan Leaf
Mitsubishi i-Miev
Price
$41,199
$39,995 (SL)
$35,998 (Premium)
Freight
$1,500
$1,890
$1,350
Electric motor
107 kW (143 hp)
80 kW (107 hp)
49 kW (66 hp)
Torque
184 lb-ft
207 lb-ft
145 lb-ft
Battery
23 kWh l-ion
24 kWh l-ion
16 kWh l-ion
Charge time (240 V)
3 or 4 hours
8 hours
7 hours
Charge time (110 V)
20 hours
21 hours
22 hours
Range: (max)
160 km
160 km
150 km
Curb weight
1674 kg
1526 kg
1171 kg
Length
4361 mm
4445 mm
3677 mm
Width
1838 mm
1770 mm
1584 mm
Height
1496 mm
1550 mm
1615 mm
Tires
P225/50R17
P205/55R16
145/65R15 (front)
175/60R15 (rear)
Pass. Volume
2,568L
n/a
2,398 litres
Cargo capacity (seats up/down)
n/a
411L/680L
373L/1,430L
Connect with Autos.ca