Any Manhattanite worth a grain of overpriced, designer salt understands the value of making an understated, classy entry into a crowded room. By that logic, when the opportunity arose to test the Ford Focus Electric — which wears the same sheetmetal as the gasoline-powered Focus hatchback but packs substantial, though invisible whizbangery under its skin — I vowed to remain impartial. Could it make a statement, albeit a quiet one?
Indeed, it could. The Focus Electric is an exemplar of inconspicuous consumption: unlike purpose-built electric vehicles that have outrageous styling to match, there are few cosmetic changes to differentiate the Blue Oval’s first homegrown, mainstream electric car for the 21st century from its gas-powered sibling. It looks almost exactly like the regular Focus hatchback, save for a stunning Aston Martin-esque grille that preceded the most recent Fusion’s. In white, it’s arguably gorgeous, with complementary wire wheels.
Similarly, the Electric’s cabin scores high marks for its clean layout and material quality, and deviates little from its non-electrified siblings’ level of content. Praise was unexpectedly ecumenical for MyFord Touch, the automaker’s proprietary, uplevel infotainment system; the touchscreen-based system neither had any difficulty processing navigation or audio requests nor did it freeze or require rebooting.
The Focus Electric’s unique selling point, however, is its gas-free driving experience. A 123-horsepower electric motor, coupled to a single-speed automatic transmission, delivers instant torque and a healthy whoosh of power from a standstill. The feeling is sublime and unexpected, especially compared to a Focus that runs on petrol. The steering has real weight, and braking performance is on the touchy side, but par for the course for regenerative brakes.
Over a week of commuting in and around New York City, the Focus Electric displayed few flaws. A fairly conservative driving style yielded approximately 75 to 80 miles — an impressive figure given the Focus Electric’s portly curb weight that approaches 3700 lbs. Using a 240-volt charging system, it took approximately four to five hours to completely recharge the battery.
Charging the Focus Electric is made easier through the eponymous MyFord app for smartphones, which lets drivers know the status of the battery’s charge. Manhattan has a fairly comprehensive network of charging stations, which are located almost entirely within the confines of expensive parking garages. The upside? Free charging. The downside? Racking up a fairly lengthy tab. Do it right, and make some friends in the outer boroughs, where there are charging options that won’t break the bank.
Like a kind of electric coyote, the Focus Electric has few natural enemies. With a starting price of about $40,000 (before tax credits and incentives), it’s closest to the Nissan Leaf in size and mission, but it still costs nearly a Fiesta more than a similarly-equipped, non-Electric Focus. Typical of the electric-car value proposition argument, if you’re gung-ho to pay a premium to put down the pump, the extra money might be well spent.
Ford provided the vehicle tested and one full charge. It lasted for about 80 miles. The rest of the electricity boosts were obtained at various charge points in Manhattan and Westchester County, New York.