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2012 Ford Focus Electric
Big draw from a vehicle that draws little

Ford promises up to 160 km of driving on a 3-hour to 4-hour high-voltage charge.

By Malcolm Gunn

Trading fossil-fuel fill-ups for electrical current flowing from a charging station is still a new idea, but Ford is providing a way for you to get in on the ground floor.

Unlike the Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi iMiEV that are all proprietary designs, Ford developed the new Focus Electric using the existing Focus platform and body, although a distinctive nose and a charging port door on the driver's-side front fender are dead giveaways as to the car's unique propulsion. And it's that system -- moreover, the way it charges -- that makes the Focus Electric unique.

Ford Fusion Electric (front view).Ford claims that a full charge will require three to four hours, or about half the time required by the benchmark Nissan Leaf. This is due to circuitry designed for higher throughput as opposed to significant differences in battery design.

Three hours is a relatively short amount of time that also requires a 240-volt charging station. Otherwise, you can count on a lengthy 18-20 hours from a standard 120-volt outlet using a cord that's included, which is clearly not the way to go for busy or impatient people.

A quick calculation puts the cost of driving 100 kilometres at about $2. That's about half what even the best hybrid can do and there's no tailpipe emissions at all with the Focus Electric.

The 107-kilowatt (143-horsepower) motor directs its 184 pound-feet of torque to the front wheels for a maximum 134 km/h through a single-speed transmission. The lithium-ion battery pack is located beneath and behind the rear seat that, due to its bulk, cuts down on the hatchback's available stowage space while adding significant heft.

To maintain the battery pack at its optimum operating temperature, Ford uses a liquid heating and cooling system to help the car deliver on its 160-kilometre-range claim -- maximum range, not average -- but that will still require a light touch of the pedal and avoiding excessive use of electrical accessories such as the climate control. And who knows what kind of range you'll get in a good old-fashioned Canadian winter.

The cabin also features considerable advanced technology. There's a special version of the MyFord Touch information system that includes battery-charging state, expected remaining range and how much energy is being consumed by the vehicle's accessories.

There's more. At the end of every trip, the display screen shows total distance driven and the additional distance gained through regenerative braking (put simply, when you brake, the battery pack is being charged).

To encourage efficient driving, the gauge cluster displays blue butterflies that light up whenever the driver's actual range surpasses the charge point destination. The standard voice-activated navigation system will also show the most eco-friendly route to your destination.

2012 Ford Fusion Electric (interior view).But perhaps the handiest feature is the MyFord Mobile phone app that shows the charge level and issues an alert when charging is needed or completed. Through your phone you can also turn on the climate control. Otherwise, charging progress is shown by a light ring surrounding the fender port. It's divided into four quarters that successively light up clockwise as the battery level rises.

All this tech isn't cheap, as indicated by the Focus Electric's $42,700 list price (including destination charges, but not including government incentives). That price matches the Chevrolet Volt, but includes nearly every imaginable option, such as a backup camera/sensor, 17-inch alloy wheels and a premium audio system. An upgrade to leather-covered seats and a power front seat are about the only options.

Now that the Focus Electric is headed our way (later this year), will you actually be persuaded to drive an electric car?

The simple fact is that electrics aren't for everyone, nor are they intended to be. They aren't for cross-country trips, they can't tow a boat and they won't beat a Corvette. They're best suited for urbanites who stay close to the power grid. For others, the nail biting that comes from watching the range dwindle could be too stressful and they'll cling to the safety net provided by internal combustion.

Regardless, the ground floor will be an exciting place to be for buyers who fit the profile.

What you should know: 2012 Ford Focus Electric

Type: Four-door, front-wheel-drive compact hatchback
Motor (hp): 107-kilowatt electric (143)
Transmission: Single speed
Market position: Joins a handful of similarly powered models. Like any niche vehicle, electrics are not for everyone, nor are they intended to be. City dwellers with short runs and easy access to power supplies are best suited.
Points: Easily the most attractive electric on the market; Pricey, yes, but arrives fully loaded; MyFord Touch info system, smart phone app useful, but butterflies? Seriously?; Three- to four-hour recharge time acceptable; Great for short commutes, but careful planning or a second car/rental required for longer trips.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
L/100 km equivalent (city/hwy): n/a
Base price (incl. destination): $42,700

BY COMPARISON     

Nissan Leaf
Base price: $40,400
Roomy hatchback gets high marks for functionality, if not for elegance.

Chevrolet Volt
Base price: $43,000
Backup gasoline generator makes this electric the most practical.

Mitsubishi iMiEV
Base price: $34,700
Small, good range, OK top speed and the cheapest big-name electric.

Malcolm Gunn is an automotive writer based in Moncton, NB, and a regular contributor to CarTest!

Posted August 13, 2012. © CarTest.ca TM




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