Tuesday, July 3, 2012

First Impressions of the Ford Focus Electric

(Image: Courtesy of Ford's press site)
I had a chance to take my Ford Focus Electric on a short trip to work—a "trial run" of my daily commute. The test run was done for a number of reason, including the fact that there's a 240-volt charger which I've still got to "fix" at my house. (More on that later.) But the short, one-way drive (30 miles) on a Saturday—and some even shorter drives around the office—gave (and cemented) some initial impressions of my new Ford.

They are:

Electric cars are quiet

I knew this from my year-long experience with the Mini-E # 329, which is one of the reasons why I wanted an electric car in the first place! There's nothing like running in "stealth" mode in a parking lot and "sneaking up" on inattentive people. And there's nothing like sitting in bumper-to-bumper NYC traffic—which happens on the weekend because of construction and weekend drivers!—and know that you're not burning expensive gasoline!!

But the Focus Electric seems to be much quieter than the Mini Cooper I had back in '08. I understand that the Ford might have added more sound insulation than a traditionally-powered Focus, mainly to dampen the "whine" of the electric motor during high-speed running.

And let me tell you... There was a stretch of my route where I easily reached the Focus Electric's top speed of 80 MPH!! And nary the high-itch whine or strain of an electric motor was heard! (Although, to be honest... The phenomenal sound out of the six speakers from the Sony HD radio system might have drown helps to drown out any road noise too!)

Great handling

As previously mentioned, I had no problem getting up to zoom-zoom speed. And maintaining that speed was no effort—although it's obviously not "fuel efficient."

Taking corners and curves was very smooth as well. There's one highway off-ramp on my route that's practically a 270-degree turn. Throwing my Focus Electric into it (at about 15-MPH higher than the posted speed limit), I took the ramp without "squealing" the tires. At least, not to much. Chalk that up to the car's electronic stability and traction control I guess.

Still, despite the standard electronic traction control, I was able to produce a "chirp" from the tires when I stepped on the accelerator pedal a little to aggressively when a local traffic light turned green.

One other thing, the regenerative braking of the Focus is much milder than what was on the Mini-E. Regen braking, which turns the spinning kinetic energy of the wheels into electricity that goes back into the car's batteries, is very similar to engine braking or driving a car with a manual transmission. On a car with very "aggressive" regen braking, you can feel the car "pull back" and slow down the minute you lift your foot off the accelerator. (Can't really call it a "gas pedal" anymore, can we?)

It took me a while to learn to drive the Mini-E with just one pedal. (Seriously, I rarely touched #329's brake pedal.) But like other "pioneers,"—such as Tom, a true EV warrior who went from his Mini-E trial to BMW's ActivE—I found the whole one-pedal driving experience exhilarating!

And while the Focus Electric's regen braking is no where near as aggressive, there is a "braking coach"—an in-dash display that "teaches" drivers how to recapture the most energy from the Focus's braking maneuvers. (I suspect I'll need some more time to learn with the Ford system, so expect future posts about this.)

(Image: Ford Electric Vehicle's Facebook)

Solid—and fast—charging

I work for an independent, non-profit organization that tests and rates consumer products—incuding cars. And naturally, there's two 240-volt chargers on the company's secure parking lot. By connecting to one of those big electric pipes, I was able to juice the Focus' batteries from half-depleted to full-charge in about two hours. What's more, I was able to "confirm" the car's status and time online, thanks to the MyFordMobile website.

Still, Ford has (in my opinion) more than a few kinks to work out when it comes to the Internet connections it has "promised" to Ford Focus Electric owners. (Note to Ford: Not everyone has an Apple iPhone, so the announced My Ford Touch app for Android smartphones would be greatly appreciated!)

And while the fast recharge time—only four hours to go from completely empty to fully charged—on a 240-volt charging point is one of the reasons I believe the Focus Electric is technically better than the Nissan Leaf, I've still got to experience it at home.

More about my home charger—God and time willing—tomorrow.

Until next time, happy and safe July 4th everyone!

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