Review: 2016 Ford Focus Electric
The 2016 Ford Focus Electric hatchback has been struck with the ancient curse of living in interesting and rapidly changing times. It's hard to deny that electric cars on the cusp of a potential mainstream breakthrough: the 320 kilometre range promised by the upcoming Chevrolet Bolt puts budget-friendly EV autonomy in the hands of everyday drivers, and should Tesla ever get the Model 3 off of the ground then Canadians could soon be looking at the very first one-two affordable electric car punch to be offered in our market.
Where does that leave the Ford Focus Electric? In fact, we should expand that query to include all of its existing EV brethren - the BMW i3, the Nissan Leaf, the Chevrolet Spark EV, and others - each of which hover around the 120 kilometre mark when it comes to total available range between charges. It's clear that compared to a similarly-priced vehicle offering nearly three times the driving distance before having to plug-in, these contemporary electric cars simply won't be competitive once the calendar year comes to a close.
That quicker charging time is more important than you would think
Revolution always has its casualties, and while the 2016 Ford Focus Electric might be one of many EVs about to feel the pinch of range anxiety reshaping the market, there is at least a plan underway at the Blue Oval to minimize the damage that will be done by the Bolt's freedom of movement manifesto. Starting next year, the Focus Electric gains not just DC fast charge capability, allowing it to fill 80-percent of its battery in just half an hour, but it also adds another 40 kilometres of range to the equation for a total of 160 km. That quicker charging time is more important than you would think, as the current design requires four hours at 240-volts to go from empty to full (and a startling 20 hours if you don't have access to anything more than an extension cord and a standard wall outlet).
With both the spectre of the Bolt on the horizon and the certainty of a better Focus Electric arriving next year, why would someone consider picking up the 2016 edition of the car? After a week spent with Ford's EV in the driveway, we came away with a reason or two for getting on-board the battery-powered train sooner, rather than wait things out, as well as put the Focus Electric through its paces to help you decide if the car will have what it takes even after next year's upgrades come into the picture.
The Focus has been a compact leader for many years, and the Electric really has only one direct rival in Canada - the previously-mentioned Leaf
It certainly helps that everything that makes the gas-powered version of the Ford Focus fun to drive has been carried over to the Electric model (with the exception of the cargo space swallowed up by the battery pack, of course). That means you get the same responsive chassis and steering to go with its handsome exterior and roomy cabin. The Focus has been a compact leader for many years, and the Electric really has only one direct rival in Canada - the previously-mentioned Leaf, which is roughly the same size inside, but not nearly as interesting dynamically. The Spark EV and Mitsubishi i-MiEV are considerably smaller and the BMW i3 is a lot more expensive, while the Kia Soul EV finds itself firmly in the crossover camp.
There are some aspects of the Ford Focus' character that have been improved by the addition of an electric drivetrain. Specifically, all of that delicious, instant-on torque that you hear so much about with battery-powered vehicles really livens up the hatchback's performance in a straight line, to the point where we noticed that the efficiency-oriented rubber wrapped around the Focus Electric's wheels occasionally had trouble keeping up with traction demands from the right foot. As with most affordable EVs, there does come a point at highway speeds where acceleration normalizes to keep in line with the vehicle's power rating (143 horses and just over 180 lb-ft of torque), and when measured objectively with a stopwatch, it still takes a touch under 10 seconds to peg the speedometer at 100 km/h. Around town, however, the 107-kW electric motor's whip-smart pedal response adds a sensation of quickness absent from the gasoline burner.
Treat it like an inexpensive city runabout.
We never got caught out by the 120 km range of the 2016 Ford Focus Electric - but that’s because we didn’t treat it as anything other than the city car it truly is. The Focus Electric was designed to get you to work and back and maybe run a few errands along the way, but it certainly can't replace a gas-engine automobile when it comes to versatility or long-distance travel. Even bumping the range up to 160 km for 2017 won't really address this issue, as you'll still be hard-pressed to shuttle the Ford from one major city to the next without the worry of running out of juice. This is especially true in the winter, where using the heater can cut as much as 20 km of range from the picture (an issue we also experienced while running the AC during hot summer days).
It seems, then, that the best recommendation that can be made for the 2016 Ford Focus Electric, caught between 2017's upgrade and the long-range promise of the next generation of EVs on the verge of being unleashed, is that it be treated like an inexpensive city runabout. Despite its $30k asking price, with new models on the way you can bet your local Ford dealer is willing to deal on existing inventory to get it out the door - and then there's the question of provincial rebates available in Ontario, Quebec, and B.C. which can knock as much as $10k off of the sticker.
If you're one of the millions of Canadians who doesn't need to drive more than 100 kilometres a day during the work week, and you've got room in your driveway for a second car to handle longer weekend outings, then maybe it's time to polish your bargaining skills and pick up a 2016 Ford Focus Electric before the '17s hit the lot.
Photos: Benjamin Hunting