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Ford Focus Electric first drive review

Ben Griffin road tests and reviews the Ford Focus Electric to see how it compares with its petrol and diesel-powered cousins.

Since its release in 1998 the Ford Focus has proven incredibly popular all over the planet. It’s also earned more awards than we care to remember, and deservedly so – it’s flippin’ brilliant.

Suffice to say, the petrol and diesel models have more than proven themselves, but what about the all-electric Focus Electric? Can the silent five-door carry on the mantle where its predecessors left off? We hit the roads to find out.

What’s under the hood?

The electric battery pack and its associated systems add 350kg of weight compared to the petrol car. Ford’s electric cars are made on the same production line as its fossil fuel brethren, except they skip the bit where the engines are applied. Instead, the Focus Electric is powered by a 23kWh lithium-ion battery that sends electrons to a 145PS (143bhp) electric motor that spins the wheels via Ford’s bespoke Reduction gearbox.

The electric battery pack and its associated gubbins add substantial weight compared with the petrol Focus (a Ford technician mentioned an increase of 350kg) but this is about as efficient as Ford Focuses get. The Focus electric has zero tailpipe emissions and low running costs.

How does the Focus Electric drive?

Although it might seem like a bit of a fatty on paper, the Focus Electric feels spritely up to about 45mph.Though it might seem like a bit of a fatty on paper, the Focus Electric feels spritely up to about 45mph. This is down to the 184lb/ft (250Nm) of torque, all available the moment you touch the go pedal, which lets you accelerate with a surprising amount of oomph from standing.

As the speed increases, performance does drop off quite substantially. However, getting to the top speed of 85mph seemed doable within the decade. Not that you buy an electric car for outright performance, anyway.

For most driving situations the performance feels adequate, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that, at cruising speeds of more than 60mph, the Focus Electric feels a tad out of its depth. It can provide enough poke to overtake at most legal speeds, but sticking to 70mph or more really eats into the battery supply.

The car feels very light on its feet with responsive steering and you’ll hardly notice the extra weight in most situations. The suspension feels supportive enough to accommodate a spot of light hooning yet not so firm that lumps and bumps become a chore.

Simply lifting off the accelerator causes the regenerative braking system to engage, slowing the car in the process.When the time comes to brake, the Focus Electric provides excellent stopping power. Like the C-Max Energi, you need to be slightly careful with the initial press to avoid overly hard braking, as simply lifting off the accelerator causes the regenerative braking system to engage, slowing the car in the process.

By far the best aspect of the Focus Electric is the noise, or rather, the lack of it. You’ll hear the hum of the tyres on tarmac and the whine of the motor can be heard when you pull away, but it’s an addictive sound we liken to a mini supercharger.

What is the range of the Focus Electric?

Ford quotes a driving range of 162km/h (100 miles). That’s a far cry from that of the (admittedly far pricier) Tesla Model S (265 miles) but it’s in line with most electric hatchbacks such as the Nissan Leaf and the Renault Zoe.

We covered around 27 miles in the Focus Electric across dual carriageways and then into a congested city centre and saw the battery deplete by 15 per cent. 100 miles on a single charge is obviously going to be a stretch, particularly if you spend any time at motorway speeds, but the range on offer feels enough for short-ish trips around town – the Focus Electric’s intended habitat.

How long does it take to charge?

Plugged into a domestic socket of 240v (10amp), the Focus Electric will take roughly 10 to 11 hours to recharge from empty. So if you get home late and have to be up early, you will not get the full 100 mile range. A fast 32amp charger can bring the charging time down to less than four hours – if you can find one.

The Focus Electric can recuperate some energy when braking. The car has two driving modes – D, which stands for drive – and L, which increases the aggressiveness of the regenerative braking system. We wouldn’t bother using it around town, as it slows the car down, but it’s worth activating when going down hills as it tops up the battery that little bit more aggressively.

What’s it like inside?

Like the Fusion Hybrid and the C-Max Energi, the Focus Electric is almost identical to the diesel and petrol versions. That means headroom is plentiful and leg room for passengers in the back is generous enough, especially given that the longest theoretical journey you will be able to do is 100 miles.

The interior is sensibly laid out and stylish – as long as you don’t mind cloth and plastic everywhere. If you’ve ever driven a Focus (or even if you haven’t) you’ll be able to use most of the car’s major functions without having to bust out the manual.

The Focus Electric’s instrument display may take a few minutes to adjust to, as it presents quite a lot of information. It shows the car’s estimated driving range as well as how many miles of range you’ve sacrificed by driving too aggressively, which helps encourage sensible motoring.

There’s also a scoring system that awards butterflies for eco-efficient driving, although we didn’t manage to get any while driving at normal speeds. You’ll have to drive at glacial pace and risk annoying quite a few people if you’re intent on collecting those insects.

How practical is the Focus Electric?

There are plenty of cubby holes for odds and ends and two centrally-located cup holders for stashing your morning coffee or tea. The rear pockets are a bit on the small side, but those in the front are of a generous size.

However the boot is woefully small. The lithium-ion battery takes up quite a lot of space, making it hard to imagine anything but a family of Borrowers being able to fit all their luggage in. You could argue the small boot isn’t a deal-breaker as this is very much a city car, but it might only take an Ikea trip or a journey to the airport to make you wish you had a Focus that ran on ground up dinosaur bones instead of electrons.

Pricing and availability

The Ford Focus Electric is not exactly cheap. At £33,500, this is hardly a car for someone on the breadline, even with the £5,000 government grant. Ultimately, Ford and other manufacturers have a long way to go before electric cars can become a mainstream purchase. It will go on sale in 2014.

Outlook

The Ford Focus Electric is a brilliant car in its own right and is ideal for drivers that travel relatively short distances around city streets. It may not quite offer the versatility of a diesel or petrol Focus, but it does offer one of the best electric vehicle driving experiences around.

That said, the initial price is high compared with a 2013 Nissan Leaf, which promises more range, a higher top speed, similar acceleration and an actual boot you can use for £20,990.

Key Specs

Model tested: Ford Focus Electric
Engine: Electric motor
Power: 143bhp
Torque: 250Nm
Range: 100 miles
Emissions: 0g/km CO2 (exhaust)
Price: £35,000
Score:

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