There are two schools of thought on EV design, one camp believes in a ground up, purpose-built approach like the Nissan Leaf, while the other takes an existing car and electrifies it, like the 2014 Ford Focus Electric. Both have merit. In the former, you can design the car around the electric motor and battery pack and give it a design totally different from anything else in your line. In fact, some EV owners take pride in driving something that looks different. With the latter, while there may be compromises in packaging, the end result may be a better car that benefits from all the development dollars and engineering expertise that went into the conventional chassis.
Such is the case with the Focus, which, except for badging, looks just like any other Focus out there. Admittedly, from a utility standpoint, the battery pack takes up much of the cargo space in the area beneath the rear hatch. But what the Focus Electric lacks in cargo space or an exterior design specific to the EV technology, it more than makes up in comfort, build quality and driving dynamics. What Ford has done is essentially electrify a well-sorted automobile and it works quite well.
Quiet and seamless in operation, the 2014 Focus Electric delivers plenty of power to the front wheels thanks to its 107 kW motor, which is mated to a one-speed transmission. There's plenty of juice to accelerate easily from 70 to 80 mph freeway speeds, so the Focus feels plenty lively. The electrically assisted power steering has good feel and responsiveness. Braking is also linear with a pedal that's easily modulated, even as the battery pack collects additional electrons through regeneration. Other than the lack of powertrain noises, the road manners of this EV is remarkably similar to a gas engine Focus.
The same goes for the interior. The seats are comfortable and as part of a $995 option package, are trimmed in leather. The quality of the materials are high and the interior layout similar to the standard Focus right down to the MyFord touchscreen, which has its share of proponents and detractors. The biggest difference is the battery display that shows the charge status and range of the battery pack along with a "coach" that gives instant feedback on your driving style to let you know if you are depleting the charge and therefore the range at a faster or slower rate than "normal" driving would. There are also small bars that monitor how hard you are accelerating as well as your efficiency in cruising and braking. On my 15 mile commute home, the system reported that I returned about 4 miles in range thanks to regen braking.
With such a short commute and a maximum range of about 80 miles, I never had to worry about running the battery down and in fact, one night I drove home, didn't plug it in and made it back to the office, including a 70-mph freeway blast, with well more than 30 miles range in hand. Another night, I topped off using the 110 volt plug that comes with the car. Typically, it would take less than 5 hours to completely recharge the car on our 240 volt charger at the office.
Still, on another occasion I swapped the Volt keys with a staffer who was nervously turning over the Focus key fob in his hand, contemplating his 35 mile commute home and the prospect of not having easy access to an outlet. So range anxiety is an issue and certainly, the Focus Electric is not a road trip warrior. But, for shorter commutes, it offers real car comfort, utility and driving characteristics. And at $36,990, the pricing is not out of line in a market where the average family car costs $30,000. If you're less concerned about being seen in an EV than actually driving one, then the 2014 Ford Focus Electric should be at the top of your list.
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