The secret to being a great alternative to the gasoline-powered cars that we're all used to is transparency. Whether we're looking at diesels, hybrids, plug-in hybrids, electric vehicles, natural-gas vehicles, or fuel-cell fantasies, the secret is to give us what we've come to expect -- good acceleration, ride and stopping, plus a nice, long drive between quick, convenient fill-ups -- plus that bonus magic that makes the alternative worth considering. That bonus might be better fuel economy, cleaner (or non-existent) tailpipe emissions, cheaper fuel, or some combination.

The 2012 Ford Focus Electric is a step in the alternative direction, and while not even Ford would argue that it's ready for the primetime stardom that hybrids like the Toyota Prius have been enjoying, it plays a big role in Ford's plans.

What's transparent about the 2012 Ford Focus Electric

The electrified version of the Focus is a slightly varied version of the deliciously styled Focus 5-door hatchback. It comes slathered with everything under the Ford Focus sun including navigation, a rear-view camera, dual-zone climate control, and 17-inch wheels. A single option -- leather seats with 6-way power-adjust for the driver -- replaces the standard seats upholstered in polyester made from recycled materials. Like its non-electric brothers in the Focus fraternity, the front-wheel-drive Focus Electric offers a skyfull of headroom in every seat, and a compromise of legroom in the rear.

Despite its significant battery-powered weight penalty, the Focus Electric drives better in person than it seems like it should on paper. The lithium-ion battery system silently makes 141 horsepower and 188 lb-ft of torque the instant you step on the throttle, and the Focus Electric builds its acceleration neatly right up to its 84-mph top speed. If you need to grab some extra passing speed at 50-60 mph, the charged Focus readily accommodates. The ride quality is on the firm side of perfectly acceptable, and the interior is very quiet.

What's not so transparent about the 2012 Ford Focus Electric

The Nissan Leaf asks for some compromises. The Mitsubishi i asks for compromises. And the 2012 Ford Focus Electric asks for compromises too. For starters, you gotta charge it and that takes time. A full charge using a 240-volt charger ($1,400 at Best Buy) takes around 4 hours. You'll wait about twice that time before your Leaf is topped off, so that's nice. Then you gotta drive it, and all electric cars have shorter ranges than, well, everything else on the road. On a perfect day in the city, the Focus Electric will get you 110 miles (the EPA sets its range at 76 miles on a single charge because it would hate to see you stranded). If you need city car or a modest commute car, you're set.

On the utility side, a lot of the Focus hatchback's cargo room is eaten up by the Focus Electric's battery pack. On the mechanical side, the Focus Electric's regenerative brakes (which capture the energy generated while stopping the car and use it to recharge the battery) are extra touchy, especially at lower speeds. There is, however, a fun little game you can play via a graphic display in the instrument panel to see how close your braking can get to achieving 100% of the potential charging power.

Here's the bonus magic

The best of the 2012 Ford Focus Electric really is really good. Zero tailpipe emissions mean your Focus causes zero pollution every time you drive it. More good news comes from the price of a charge versus the cost of a fill-up at the fuel pump. Compared to the soaring price of gasoline, electricity is free.

Now comes a bonus bonus: the MyFord Mobile app. MyFord Mobile helps you keep track of your Focus Electric on your smartphone. Among a host of legitimately useful features, the app lets you see the state of charging and receive alerts when the charge is complete. You can also use it to find charging stations in whatever area you're driving.

No question, the 2012 Ford Focus Electric isn't cheap. But neither is a Chevy Volt, and your $40,000 gets you a very loaded Focus. And there's always the state and federal tax credits to look forward to. If you're thinking about going electric, and you want to do it in style, the Focus Electric hatchback should be arriving in your Ford dealer's showroom


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