Ford’s announcement that the 2017 Focus Electric will sport an EPA-rated driving range of 100 miles couldn’t have come at a less opportune time: Here we are driving and testing a ’16 model with a range of 76 miles when, in only a few months, it will be obsolete. Old kit. An iPhone 4 in an iPhone 6S world. If we were seriously considering the purchase of any electric, it would seem worth waiting for the ’17 Focus to arrive because we’d either get a third more range with the new one or a screaming deal on a leftover ’16 model. (We’d also get a chance to comparison shop the Focus against the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt and its claimed 200-mile range.)
That said, a range of 76 miles is enough for most commutes. (That we all use cars for more than just commuting explains why low-range EVs, such as the Focus, sell in minuscule volumes, but we digress). This author’s commute is just over 22 miles each way, including 15 miles of 70-mph highway. No home-to-office round trip was attempted without charging in the middle, however. One night, the Focus estimated the remaining range to be 22 miles when we got home (we made one stop between the office and home), so that’s nowhere near 76 miles, but also well within the comfort zone. Overnight, the Focus soaked up about 12 kWh of electricity, enough juice to provide a worry-free trip back to work.
Such is the reality of driving an EV in a world with an infrastructural focus—no pun intended—on hydrocarbons. Aerodynamic drag grows exponentially, so as soon as any electric vehicle hits freeway speed the driver can watch the projected range drop faster than the miles pass by. Likewise, a few bursts of maximum acceleration will put an outsize dent in the remaining distance available to travel. All electrics—all cars, actually—are like this; Ford’s isn’t unique. The only difference with this Focus is that the conventional version’s 12-gallon gas tank stores more than 17 times the energy that can be packed into the Focus Electric’s 23.0-kWh lithium-ion battery. Feather-foot the accelerator and cap your speed at 55 mph, and the full EPA range might be within reach. Ford says a fully drained battery can be recharged in 3.6 hours at 240 volts, or 20 hours using common household 120-volt circuitry.
If you have charging available near your work or school, however, the financial windfall of no longer being shackled to a gas pump is enviable. This is especially so when there’s no fee for plugging in away from home. Our 300 miles in the Focus cost us less than $15 worth of electricity. You’d have to average 40 mpg—not just while cruising on the highway, but overall—using $2-per-gallon gas to come close to the same cost-per-mile. (We averaged 33 mpg in a 1.0-liter Focus sedan we tested last May.) While it may not seem like a lot, the savings eventually add up, and they’ll add up faster if the cost of a gallon of gasoline rises over the ownership period. Set aside any concerns about carbon footprint and think about convenience. Never having to visit a gas station? Always leaving the house with a full “tank,” assuming you install a 240-volt connection, saves hours of your life every year. What’s that worth?
As it is today, Ford says the Focus Electric is worth $30,045, in MSRP terms. There are very few options: Buyers can throw another $995 into it to get leather upholstery and $60 for a plug-shaped charge-port graphic decal. An Exterior Protection package (splash guards and a rear-bumper protector) will ding you another $245; fancy paint can add $395 or $595. The price squares up against that of the 24.0-kWh Nissan Leaf S, before any tax credits. (The pricier 30-kWh Leaf SV claims 107 miles of range, longer than Ford’s target for the upgraded 2017 Focus Electric.)