When it comes to building cars, there will always be debate over the proper ranking of form and function relative to one another. In the case of electric cars, function is winning, or at least it was. Ford's newly electrified Focus is poised to bring some style to the Kilowatt Wars.
While the Toyota Prius, Chevrolet Volt, and the Focus Electric's most direct competitor, the Nissan Leaf, have proven themselves technical marvels, none has garnered glowing praise for their aesthetics. Looking good and slipping through the air seem to be mutually exclusive. Ford, however, is breaking the mold with a Focus Electric it claims will offer all the capability of its electric competition and look good doing it.
It wasn't an especially difficult feat to accomplish. With the stylish 2012 Focus hatchback already built, Ford could direct its energy towards the electric powertrain. The result is a 100-kilowatt AC motor under the hood capable of laying down 123 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque. The power flows forth from a 23 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery mounted behind the rear seats, and the electrical-turned-mechanical energy reaches the front wheels via a single-speed transmission. Once it's all on the ground, Ford says the car is good for a top speed of 84 mph.
The Focus is already a front wheel-drive car, so Ford really just needed to find a place to put the battery. The Focus Electric uses the same MacPherson strut front suspension and "Control Blade" multi-link rear suspension as its gas- and diesel-powered counterparts, though it's likely been retuned to accommodate the extra 750 or so pounds the electric drivetrain adds to the curb weight. The Focus Electric also uses the same electric power steering system as its fossil fuel brethren, and Ford says it's been tuned to deliver the same driving experience. Naturally, the battery and motor cooling systems and the HVAC system are all electrically powered, but it's not a difference you'd likely notice, just like you won't notice that the length and width of the vehicle have changed by tenths of an inch.
Park next to a gas-powered Focus hatch, though, and you may notice the hatchback-only Focus Electric is 1.1 inches taller. Even without another Focus around for comparison, you'll notice a few other external changes. The Focus Electric gets unique 17-inch wheels and a new front fascia similar to the high-performance Focus ST concept that recently debuted, complete with Aston Martin-like chrome grille with horizontal slats. There's a few "electric" badges scattered about and there's no tailpipe, of course.
Like the Volt, the Focus Electric has a charging port mounted on its fender between the front wheel and the driver's door. The port is surrounded by a light-up blue ring that relays information about the charging system. When you plug the car in, the blue light races around the ring twice to let you know everything's fine. If there's a problem, the whole ring will flash. During charging, the ring is divided into four quadrants representing states of charge -- 25 percent, 50 percent and so on. Solidly lit quadrants indicate the battery is charged to that level, while blinking quadrants show the approximate current charge level. At face value, it sounds like a more intuitive design than the multi-colored flashing light up on the dash of the Chevy Volt. Charging a dead battery is expected to take 18 to 20 hours on a household 120-volt outlet, but install a 240-volt charger in your home and it will get the job done in three to four hours, half the time it takes a Nissan Leaf on the same voltage.
While the 120-volt charger comes with the car, the 240-volt charger you'll buy from Best Buy. Huh? That's right, when you buy your Focus Electric, you can set up an appointment with consumer electronics retailer Best Buy through your dealer. Not only will Best Buy sell you the charger, but its Geek Squad unit will deliver and install it for you, including any contracting needed to install a 240-volt outlet for the charger to plug into, all of which Best Buy will warranty. The expected price, including installation, is $1499.
The biggest differences are inside the car. Dropping into the driver's seat, you'll find a new, but familiar, instrument cluster. Repurposed from the Fusion Hybrid, the MyFord Touch instrument cluster features a central analog speedometer flanked on either side by 4.2-inch full-color LCD screens. Rather than lifting the Fusion Hybrid's cluster wholesale, Ford has reprogrammed it with new graphics and features.
This would be a good time to introduce you to what Ford is calling your "range budget." On the left-hand screen, your budget is displayed as your current battery level, your estimated range, the distance to your next selected charge point, and the amount of "surplus" energy available, meaning your estimated range beyond the charge point. The steering wheel-controlled MyView feature allows you to customize the display for the information you're most interested in, just like the Fusion Hybrid. The left-hand screen also features Brake Coach, a program that shows you how much energy you captured with the regenerative braking system after each full stop and what effect it's had on your range.
The right-hand display is a bit more abstract. Instead of the Fusion Hybrid's leaves, the screen displays butterflies, and instead of just rewarding economical driving, they also serve as an indicator of your additional range beyond your selected charge point destination. The more efficiently you drive, the more butterflies you get and the greater your battery range. Why butterflies? Ford says its designers got the idea from the principle of the "butterfly effect," wherein a small change can have major consequences. Like the Fusion Hybrid, at the end of your trip, the screen displays the miles driven, the miles gained through regenerative braking, the total energy consumed, and the amount of gasoline saved by driving on electric power instead. The screen can also show other vehicle data such as navigation, phone, or radio information.
All Focus Electrics also come standard with an 8-inch touch screen in the center stack that's linked to the instrument cluster displays. In addition to your usual Microsoft- and Sony-powered entertainment and vehicle information features, it also features a specially programmed navigation system designed for electric driving. Destinations, as well as charge points along the way, can be entered into the system, which will return not only the best route, but the best way to get the desired range, and an optional EcoRoute for maximum efficiency. It will advise you of any changes needed if the destination is beyond the car's range. The latest information on available charging stations can be downloaded through Sync Traffic, Directions and Information so your nav system always has the latest information.
Of course, the system is designed to encourage you to use navigation as often as possible, which will enable it to tell you what kind of range to expect depending on your driving style. As an enticement, if you have far more battery power than needed to reach your destination, the system won't bother you with warnings unless you're driving so hard you're actually in danger of not making your destination. Otherwise, put those ponies to work.
Inside, the Focus Electric is a bit more crowded. While everything's the same up front, the rear seats lose 10 inches of legroom to accommodate the battery. That leaves you with 33.7 inches of legroom, or 2.5 more inches than the back seats of a Ford Fiesta. If the Fusion Hybrid is any indicator, the battery pack probably eats into your cargo space behind the rear seats, but Ford hasn't released the official cargo volume yet. You'll likely also give up any hope of a flat-load floor, but the rear seats will probably still fold for extra cargo capacity, but not as much as the gas-powered hatch.
When it comes time to exit your Focus Electric, Ford says charging will be as easy as "set it and forget it." Program the car ahead of time and the "value charging" feature will only charge the car during off-peak hours, ensuring you the least-costly charge. Based on a nationwide average of 10 cents per kilowatt-hour, Ford says it'll only cost $2 to $3 to charge an empty Focus. The liquid temperature control system will keep the batteries at the optional temperature whether the car's plugged in or not.
When you're away from the car you can still keep an eye on things either through your computer or the MyFord Mobile app on your smartphone. The system will allow you to check the car's charge and range as well as any other information about the vehicle's status. It also will alert you when the car needs to be charged, is finished charging, or when charging has been interrupted. It will also allow you to remotely program charging times and settings, download vehicle data, and perform key functions like locking or unlocking the doors and starting the car remotely. The system can be set to pre-condition the car to your desired temperature settings before you get in, and a GPS locator can help you find it in the mall parking lot. The MyFord Mobile app, with help from MapQuest, will help you find charging stations, check your rangem and even plan trips and send them to the vehicle's navigation system. It'll even give you "achievements" you can post on Facebook and Twitter when you reach certain efficiency goals.
On paper, the Ford Focus Electric looks like a very serious competitor for the just-released Nissan Leaf. But there are a few key facts missing: the range and the price. Given the similarities between the two cars, we can make an educated guess that the range will be about 100 miles and the price will fall in the neighborhood of $30,000 to $40,000 before tax incentives. We'll likely find out for sure when the Focus Electric makes its big debut at the 2011 Detroit auto show next week ahead of its late 2011 on-sale date, so stay tuned.