Big thanks to CleanTechnica reader Jamez for this extremely in-depth and useful review of his 2016 Ford Focus Electric.
Don’t be shocked if you didn’t know about it, Ford does not advertise or push that it has an amazing product on its hands. Not all dealers want them, not all dealers can sell them, and they’re made in very limited quantities. For the few of us who have one, we appreciate that Ford has made it, are happy to be driving it, and are saving thousands of dollars in maintenance and fuel costs compared to an internal combustion car.
Full Disclosure: I am biased. I researched and I leased my 2016 Ford Focus Electric (named Joules) for 48 months. What you’re reading is a culmination of my research and experience being a new customer to the EV marketplace.
Designed for the 2012 market, the 2016 Ford Focus Electric is at the end of what is widely considered the “first generation of modern electric vehicles.” The 2017 replacement model will receive some incremental upgrades to the EV equipment and probably switch to the current Focus body-style. It will show up at the dealerships in the next 4 months. But with only slight improvements, it will represent a version 1.5 in a 2.0 world.
Does that matter? If you could go out right now and get a very capable EV for a wicked price … who needs the newest toy on the block? The 2016 Ford Focus Electric represents a solid purchase and great step into the EV market for someone who is willing to jump in right now (if you can find one).
The Focus Electric is only available in the hatchback body style. New for 2016 was the addition of Shadow Black and the Kona Blue metallic colours. The latter needs to be seen in the sunlight to appreciate how beautiful it actually is.
Even though it’s built on the same production line, the Ford Focus Electric does not look like its current internal combustion brethren. That’s not bad, as the design is still relevant, and has aged well. The FFE has a different grill and hood, but otherwise looks very similar to the ICE model. If not for the charging port and the “electric” badging on the front doors and hatch, you’d be hard pressed to realize that it wasn’t an ICE. Only by checking for a tailpipe could you tell that there was no oil-burner inside.
This is not a car that shouts that it is electric. It is quiet, understated, and often overlooked by many. I’ve even spoken to a few Ford production-line employees and they didn’t know Ford had a full battery-electric vehicle.
It has been about 10 years since I last cross-shopped against Ford, and I was really surprised when I got into the Focus Electric’s leather-clad Titanium trim-level interior. Ford has really stepped up its game, and the experience in operating the Ford Focus Electric is far nicer than the other market comparables. All of the touch points, and materials are far better than what one would expect for a car of this price. There is basically one option on the FFE: $1000 for what it calls “Light Stone” leather — shaming Nissan’s nickel-and-diming trim levels, and for less money.
Fit and finish is excellent with no squeaks or rattles. They must have been inspired by Colin Chapman because they’ve managed to “simplify and add” silence. When driving, this car is very similar to my Volvo S80 … you can easily hear a whisper from the back seat. The Focus fits two adults and three kids easily, or four adults. At 6’, I’m able to sit in the rear when the driver seat is in my driving position without any problems.
The front seats are heated and the driver seat/position is much more comfortable than any other EV I was able to test. The driver seat is electric (though lacking in memory positions) and has a very nice lumbar support. I really like the tilt-adjustable headrests — something I wish every car had. The steering column is tiltable and extendable. The arm rests on the door and center console are positioned nicely.
The electric side mirrors are huge, and bright. I really like the visibility, and with the inclusion of the convex segment, it really helps keep the blindspots to a minimum.
There are no pucks, buttons, or dials to put the car in gear … you use a conventional automatic gear lever to select the standard Reverse, Neutral, Drive, or Low (if you are travelling downhill or want more aggressive regeneration).
We’re pretty well spoiled when it comes to electronics on modern cars these days. The Ford Focus Electric is no different. It has a functional Bluetooth with streaming audio connection, two 2 amp USB ports, and a nice (but not outstanding) 9 speaker stereo controlled by Ford’s new-for-2016 Sync 3 on a large touchscreen that can also be controlled by your voice (and it works).
There are two digital displays that flank the speedometer, both are customisable to show you a ton of vehicle-based information. The left display shows EV-related history, available range, budget, and the brake coach. The right display shows navigation, audio, telephone and the budget butterflies.
The navigation is next to worthless and is integrated into the EV systems to allow for the range “Guess-O-Meter” (GOM) to be a bit more accurate. However, it does not calculate the budget based on your actual driving route — it is more of an “as the crow flies” radius for the calculation. If your route takes you in a direction away from your destination, the computerized “budget” on the GOM will have a hissy-fit and may lead you to some range anxiety if you didn’t actually use Google Maps ahead of time to plot your route for accurate distance. The nav computer supposedly shows traffic updates — but I have yet to get that feature working up here in Canada. This is an area where manufactures should just throw in the towel and license Google/Waze technology to make our lives better.
This is not to say you shouldn’t use the navigation. Since it’s so integrated into the GOM and budgeting, I recommend you use it every time so you can have a “visual budget” (a moving line to keep within a specific shape zone) so you know how your driving style and climate settings are affecting your range. We’ve only driven it 2,000 kilometers, but the budget accuracy has yet to let us down.
In the integrated and connected world we all live in, it’s no surprise that there’s an app for that. Ford has the “My Ford Mobile” app that allows you to pretty much do anything with your car. It logs all of your trips and charging, allows you to see where your car is located (assuming it isn’t underground), and you can even unlock the doors, start the car, or program your keys (to limit the maximum speed perhaps for other drivers). There’s a community connection and — in keeping with the gamification — even shows you how you compare to other local drivers.
Of course, it’s not all perfect … I’m unable to change my account and the name of my car. I fear as soon as I release and recreate the account it may lose my history to this point.
There are few all-out performance EV cars, and none of them are cheap. The Ford Focus Electric falls into the “capable” category that most of today’s EVs fall into. They are not made for performance, but excel at city life and commuting tasks.
How quick is it?
Let me say this, it’s not quick; it’s adequate.
If you mash the pedal on the right, there’s a pause whilst the computer does its thing and obviously limits the torque to the wheels for the launch. Even with that nanny on board, 184 foot-pounds of torque and the low resistance rubber will easily break loose and you’ll chirp every time.
At about 3,600 lbs, it’s approximately 400 lbs heavier than the ICE, but what is really impressive is what happens when you mash the throttle in the 40–100 km/h range. There is no hesitation, or the normal dropping down a gear in a slushbox. The instant torque and the single-speed transmission deliver a pleasant 143 horse thrust as you are pressed back into your seat and reminded why EVs are the future of the automobile.
For whatever reason, I seem to remember the Ford Focus Electric’s 0-to-60 time is 8.0 seconds, but I can’t seem to find any proof of that at the time of this writing (perhaps I was dreaming). There are lots of articles mentioning it in the 9–9.9 second range, so we’ll go with that. The car is electronically limited to 138 km/h (83 mph), more than enough for your daily driving. You are missing the point if speed is what you are after, as this car isn’t made for jumping off the line — it is a “gamified” commuting cruiser that makes you want to become a more efficient driver. In the current EV market, these are respectable numbers.
Regenerative braking in the Ford Focus Electric does not require any special knowledge, paddles, or anything different than a normal gas car. The pedal is very quick to respond, which leads to some jerking at crawling speeds. It takes some getting used to, but once you do, you will be fine. After every full stop (not rolling stops), Ford’s “braking coach” displays a “score” of how well you stopped and regenerated electricity back into the traction battery. I find myself doing a little dance every time I get a 100% score. It’s fun to be driving a car that rewards you for driving in stop-and-go traffic. I find that I regenerate about 30% of my daily driving back into the traction battery. Eventually, I may even be able to count on that extra percentage, but for now it’s just a happy side effect.
My one gripe about the driving experience is that the power steering is way too light. There is no feedback through the wheel nor any settings to make it heavier/tighter. It does not lead me to be very confident in the twisties when they come around.
We often find ourselves wanting to take the Ford Focus Electric out instead of the other cars, not only because it’s quiet and fun to drive, but because it saves us from burning any money (gas) in the other cars.
The Traction Battery
The Ford Focus Electric has two batteries. The conventional 12 volt automotive battery for running the computer systems and accessories, and the large lithium-ion “traction” battery that powers the electric motor. Earlier model years had problems with the 12V battery becoming flat whilst plugged in and sitting over a multi-day period. Software updates and recalls over the years seem to have fixed the problem, but it is somewhat funny that an electric vehicle needs to be boosted just as any other ICE when the 12V battery is flat. With luck, the plug-in traction battery charging system now also trickle charges the 12V battery (if it doesn’t — it should!)
The 2016 Ford Focus Electric’s traction battery is listed as 24 kWh that has approximately 20.4 kWh available. This is one of the places that the EV makers really need to improve. Similar to the “wheel horsepower” vs “power at the crank,” there is a percentage of overhead that is never realized by the consumer and could be argued is all marketing BS. If the end-user can only see 20 kWh on a brand new vehicle … then please market it as such … responsibly.
One of the major advantages the Ford Focus Electric has over its competitors is that the traction battery is actively heated and cooled, regulating the temperature of the cells for optimal performance and lifespan. In theory, this will allow the traction battery to perform at a temperature range that it is happiest in. That’s a benefit for those living in the south and the north, as it should extend the lifespan of the battery.
Ford has an 8 year warranty on the traction battery, but that leads to a major failing on behalf of Ford: It does NOT have a battery degradation warranty. This is not something that should be overlooked. Nissan has one, so why can’t Ford? It’s likely because Ford’s not concerned with the EV market and is only dragging its feet to make one at all — a “compliance” car, as it’s called. Until Ford steps up, stands behind its product, and creates a degradation warranty, Ford cannot be considered to be taking the EV market seriously.
When questioned about it, my dealership responded with: “we’ve never had a battery fail in a hybrid.” Well, this is NOT a hybrid, but either way, Ford’s position is the battery either works or it does not. This is a major concern, as there are no gas cars on the market with a shrinking gas tank. It is conceivable that in 5–7 years’ time (within which a reasonable gas car could easily still be useful) the Ford Focus Electric could have a significantly reduced range. We’re seeing 16 kWh capacity on some forum members’ 2012–14 models already. This is unacceptable and could be a deal breaker for many prospective buyers who are looking for long-term car ownership. It may seem unfortunate, but with this generation of EVs, you should treat it like a technology purchase and only plan on keeping the car for 3–4 years. If you plan ahead and purchase accordingly, the Ford Focus Electric is still an outstanding deal.
Ford did not develop this vehicle from the ground up. It has taken an existing ICE platform and essentially “shoved” the EV components into it. While this is probably astronomically less expensive to produce, one of the major drawbacks in doing so is the challenge of fitting the traction battery somewhere.
In the case of the Ford Focus Electric, that “somewhere” is the trunk and you lose a significant amount of space to it. This is one of the major fails for the Ford Focus Electric. It’s laughable when compared to the Nissan Leaf … but do you really commute with a lot of stuff?
Ford includes a carpeted, ridged styrofoam divider and storage shelf that allows for an almost flat trunk space. The problem is, the shelf takes up a lot of the volume itself, and the remaining “flat” surface is really small. I recommend ditching it and using the remaining space as it is. This car is not for those who need to haul cargo of any kind.
The 2016 Ford Focus Electric is listed as having 120 kilometers of range. That turns away many people as soon as they hear it (usually while giving me a weird face), but their reasons are not always justified. All it takes is for people to actually look at the range they drive each day and forget about the “once a week” fill-up at the gas station. Changing to an EV lifestyle usually means that you’ll be running on a “full tank” every time you leave. I acknowledge that it’s not enough for everyone, but if your workplace has an electric vehicle plug, and you install one at home, then you probably live within the vehicle’s range. A quick look at Ford’s “MyFord Touch” app shows that the top 10 drivers of the Eastern timezone in Canada shows 150–282(!!) kilometers traveled on one charge. (I’d love to speak with anyone getting 200+ kilometers of range — that’s amazing.)
A full charge takes 3.6 hours from empty on a J1772 plug, 240V level 2 station using the internal 6.6 kW charger. The 2012–2016 models do not have “quick” DC charging, but in reality, DC chargers are somewhat few and far between at this point — in my area at least. There are only 5 that I could find in the Toronto area.
DC charging is still under a “format” war between CHAdeMO and Combo. The 2017 will come with a Combo plug and will hopefully help some more people get interested in the jump to the EV (reducing any kind of range anxiety anxiety). I’d like to speak with some local Leaf owners to see how many times they’ve actually used the CHAdeMO charging.
So, What’s So Great About It?
Besides being quiet and easy to drive, in Ontario, EVs receive green licence plates. That allows us to use the HOV lane with a single occupant on the daily commute and saves around 15–20 mins per trip. That’s a lot of time saved every week.
By the numbers:
The Ford Focus Electric is an outstanding value when combined with current provincial/federal incentives, factory incentives, lease/financing options, and when you track how much you actually spend on gasoline.
Let’s look at some numbers (all in Canadian dollars):
- Price: $34,699 (inc. freight, air tax, and leather option)
- Ford Employee Pricing: -$2,995
- Ontario Rebate: -$9,600
- Total: $22,104
That’s pretty good considering that the only option on the car is leather and it comes standard with the Titanium trim level package (the normal gasoline Focus Titanium starts at $24,389).
Right now, in addition to Ford Employee Pricing, Ford has 0% leases up to 48 months. There were even better terms available when I bought the car a few weeks ago.
I will be saving $3,000 a year on gas (using my Volvo S80 as a guideline/comparison averaged over the last 3 years), and I will not have to do the average three oil changes a year (an additional $77/each).
Charging is free (included) in the parking at work.
The commute home uses approximately 10 kWh, and the cost for electricity is 8.7¢ per kWh at home on off-peak times, so figure $1/day for “fuel.” To make things even more interesting, Ontario will be making it free to charge EVs at home in the evening sometime in 2017. You really should install a 240V Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE) at home, and that will cost approximately $1,200.
I suspect with regeneration, I’ll not have to change the brakes over the 48 months of my lease. My Volvo needed the job once in the last 5 years at a cost of $1,200 (yeah, that’s right – believe it).
So, by driving the Ford Focus Electric over the next 48 months, I suspect I’ll not have to spend about $13,000 in fuel and maintenance. Now we’re talking some serious money.
I added all of that up before deciding to purchase, and wow was I shocked. I was excited to get a brand new car with no money out of my pocket and “save” a bundle each year of driving it. Time will tell, but I’ll be reporting on it during the life of the lease.
It’s not a perfect car. As previously mentioned, the cargo capacity, range, and battery degradation warranty are all concerns. There is one other area that is a flat-out fail:
Plug Access Door
The design of the J1772 plug access door is really a case of designers getting caught up on making something different because they could, and they didn’t stop to think if they should.
To access the port, you press an indent on the right of the access door, the door pops out and rotates clockwise out of the way. It looks cool, but the problem comes when you want to close the door. The manual states that you are to press the indent when it is open and the door will rotate again counterclockwise and seat in place. In practice, though, the mechanism to hold the door shut is not as good as it should be. I knew this ahead of time, yet I still find myself exiting the car to discover I just drove with the door open the entire time — and it’s not just me doing this. I shudder to think what will happen when we’re driving in the rain or snow with the door open.
There is nothing wrong with conventionally opening fuel doors found on gasmobiles. The designers could even have taken the design exercise a step further and thought of a method that would help shield the plug from weather. Perhaps a door opening from the bottom and creating an awning or shield to protect the plug from rain and snow, or perhaps a conventionally opening door that opens from the back to the front of the car so if it was to drive the wind could close it for you if it were to be left open. Either way, let’s all raise our palms to our faces for the design of this access door.
To Sum Up
What I Like:
- It’s quiet outside and inside
- No pucks, buttons or dials to select the gear
- The interior:
Quality is really good
No nickel-and-diming on features. Titanium trim level, the only real option is leather and colour
Comfortable driving position with power driver seat
- Side Mirrors
What I Don’t Like:
- Driver seat needs memory
- Charge plug access door
- Steering assist is way too light
- Removable storage unit
- Nonexistent battery degradation warranty
Differences vs The Market:
+ Much more comfortable driving position
+ Interior higher quality than most
+ Liquid heated and cooled traction battery
+ Understated (below the radar) design
+ Ease of use — anyone can get in and go without instructions
+ Price is thousands less for more of a product
– Battery degradation warranty
– Trunk storage
So, is it worth it?
Oh, hell yes.
The 2017 will have a 30 kWh battery representing an additional 30 kilometers or so of range. While that is an improvement, it’s not massive and would not affect my usage of the vehicle. The DC charging capability would be a nice to have — but you should really research if there are any available in your usable area first.
People may want the newest toy on the block, but for the next three months, the 2016 could still be around. Dealers will want to cull any existing inventory and that may lead to even better purchasing incentives. Used models will come on the market and may be discounted heavily. If you’re able to test the battery before purchasing it (or see a recent test from the owner), it may be a great opportunity to get into one.
As long as you treat this as a technology purchase and realize that it is going to be worthless in the used car market in 3+ years (who would buy a car with limited range when new cars have greater range and possible government incentives?), you could save thousands of dollars every year you drive it.
It is a fun, quiet, capable money saver that has been hidden by Ford for some unknown reason. While the government incentives are still in place, the 2016 Ford Focus Electric represents an outstanding value.
About the Author: Jamez was a petrol head and first generation MINI enthusiast. Only recently did he discover that EVs were capable and available for the Canadian climate, and after running the numbers, he decided to jump into the EV lifestyle. You can follow his adventure on his facebook page: www.facebook.com/myevlife