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2013 Ford Focus Electric: What’s old is new again

Ford has released its first all-electric carm due in showrooms by 2013. It’s shaped like a Focus, but does it drive like one?

By Shawn Molnar

Disclaimer: Travel to Michigan, accommodations, food and drink were provided to the writer by the automaker.

Initial Thoughts
By the late-19th century, electric cars were commonly found on the cobblestone streets of Europe, favoured for their clean, odourless operation, shift-less power transmission and ease of startup (competitive steam-engined cars often required 45 minutes to get running on cold mornings). By the early 20th century, Americans had caught on to the EVs (Electric Vehicles), and they began populating the streets of major cities; more than one-third of all American cars were electric powered at the turn of the century. But as America moved into the 1920s, electric cars were abandoned for cars with greater range: those burning good ‘ol dinosaur juice.

Fast forward 100 years, and what was old is new again. Shown up by now-extinct American car companies Studebaker and Edison (among others), Ford has just revealed its first-ever all-electric car. While the technology in the 2013 Focus Electric has advanced far beyond early EV – the benefits remain the same: odourless, clean, quiet and effortless propulsion along city streets. Funny thing – Ford’s new electric car also shares the same major drawback: range anxiety.

Touting a range of 122 km (76 miles) on a full charge, Ford’s electric Focus hardly leads the pack when it comes to maximum range (the Nissan Leaf claims 160 km). It does, however, exceed the gold standard 100 km minimum range that the vast majority of urban commuters require. If you live within the city where you work, this Focus could be worth a second look.

To the guts: Motivation comes from a permanent magnet all-electric traction motor under-hood, with a single-speed transmission putting power to the ground. How feisty is this Focus when prodded? Output’s rated at a somewhat humble 143 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, but the delivery fools you into thinking that the Ford packs a bigger punch. That the electric motor produces full torque from zero rpm makes all the difference in off the line acceleration and should help make passing other cars not too scary (but surely eerily quiet…). Ford’s choice of a Lithium-Ion battery was wise, allowing for lower overall weight and additional interior space because of how much energy density it can squeeze into a smaller package.

Do you have a stretch of highway in your daily commute? Ford’s electric Focus can cruise up to a maximum speed of 135 km/h (84 mph). While I appreciate that this exceeds the posted limits of most freeways, I do feel a little unsure about driving a car with a maximum velocity of 135 km/h. There are certain instances where greater top speed may be required for your safety – think escaping baddies, a tornado, or getting your pregnant wife to the hospital before you need rubber gloves. In any case, the Focus Electric should complete the daily commute of most buyers in stride – tragedy and childbirth notwithstanding.

Charge time is a critical factor for electric car buyers since it is one of the drawbacks verses fossil fuel-powered cars. The Focus Electric manages a minimum charge time of four hours using the 240-Volt optional charge station. Ford was keen to point out that this is half the charge time of the Nissan Leaf, and the Focus manages better “fuel economy.” Speaking of the somewhat disingenuous mpg figure, the EPA has rated the Focus Electric at 110 mpg city, 99 mpg highway – clearly blowing the doors off of any car featuring reciprocating pistons – hybrid or not.

But how does it feel? Settling into the new Focus, I could have easily mistaken it for a gasoline powered model. Absent are the tacky blue-ringed eye-grabbing labels and lights of most electric cars – the electric Ford gets on with the business of driving without all the fuss. This was massively appealing to both my taste and social awareness; it’s cool to drive an electric car, but I don’t need to shout about it.

Interior space has not been compromised to a great degree, the battery pack has replaced the fuel tank but has not encroached on seating or storage space. The latest and greatest electric cars have been built from the ground up around the unique design requirements of electric power, but Ford has done a great job tailoring the Focus to suit EV duties.
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