By Jamez, via Cheap Guys and Their EVs
I am often asked about how the Ford Focus Electric is doing in the cold. The truth is, I really don’t know yet as I’ve only had it for 4 months and only recently was it at -10°C.
What I can tell you is that I planned correctly when I purchased the car, for how we commute and use this vehicle, and that forward thinking is keeping the car in-use and keeping us from using an ICE for one of our the daily commutes. It’s been a fun week, and one cold day (with multiple trips after the commute) I arrived home with 3 kilometers to spare. I’m not going to lie – the kids and I were watching that one closely.
Here’s what I’ve found over the last few weeks of semi cold-weather use:
1. Speed kills range, but heating kills it more.
It’s no surprise that heating the car is a traction-battery-killer with the Ford Focus Electric — it’s how we draw down the battery to check the capacity. We know the heater is a 6kW draw, but how does that relate to real-world use?
When you want your cabin heated on the 2016 Ford Focus Electric, I’m finding that it’s anywhere from a 10–20 kilometer loss when the external temperature is 0°C to -16°C. I can easily determine it by cycling the climate control on/off and looking at the range changes to the “Guess O Meter.” That’s what the GOM says, but I also find that if I put the climate settings at the 19–20°C range, the heater will cycle on/off and keep it warm, not always drawing the full 5+ kW on the climate usage display. It’s hard to give a guaranteed answer on how much range loss occurs, but at this temperature range, I think you can bet on a 20 kilometer loss if you want heat at all times.
Keep in mind that speed kills the range too. So if you’re clocking 120+ km/h with 21°C cabin temperature in -10°C external temperature, you’re likely going to take a combined hit of around 40 km to your range (-20 km for speed, -20 km for heating).
The GOM uses the previous drive’s Wh/km to calculate what your range will be. What was 120 km in the summer is often 77 km showing after a charge. Check out the awesome 331 Wh/km I picked up (that’s not a good thing, the lower the better).
So what do you do to plan for the cold?
- Plug in the car like it had a block heater
If you’re familiar with REAL cold climates, then treating the car as if it had a block heater shouldn’t be much of a problem. Depending on where you live, you may actually be in a better situation than most, as you’ll have access to 120V even at parking meters. Break out the J1772 120V plug that came with the car — using it will keep things charged and ready for you.
The Ford Focus Electric has an active liquid heating and cooling system that keeps the traction battery happy — even when parked. This is a far superior method of battery conditioning and maintenance that not many manufacturers use, and is a reason that the Ford Focus Electric has a chance of having its traction battery last longer. I could be mistaken, but one drive I thought I had left with 50 km range remaining, and returning 8 hours later at -10°C it was 45 km when I arrived. I don’t have documented proof — it was my impression and my memory should not be taken as gospel. I will try to find a safe way to test this and report back.
- Pre-condition your car when it’s plugged in.
The Ford Focus Electric allows you to set “Go times” when it’s plugged in (and when the app lets it work). You will save a bundle of traction-battery energy when you precondition to 22°C.
- Use the bum warmers
The seat warmers are very effective, and much more efficient than the climate control heating. You may find that you can tolerate much lower ambient temperatures when your backside is as toasty as a Quiznos sub.
- Micromanage your climate
It’s unfortunate, but if you micromanage your climate whilst driving, you can be comfortable and reduce concerns you may have for range. Better to arrive cold then to not arrive at all. I hear toques are in fashion anyway.
I do have to admit that the climate control (and specifically the front windshield defrost) is my least favorite aspect of this car. As soon as you turn off the auto climate controls, the front windshield starts to fog up within 30 seconds. Turn on front defrost manually and regardless of the temperature you set it at, or the speed of the fan, it will peg the climate usage at 5+ kW draw for a few minutes.
- Change your route
From talking with other FFE owners, it appears the 60–80 km/h with stoplights is the “butter zone” for range. Perhaps if you find that the open highway isn’t giving you the range you need, try another route where you can pick up some regen. Just remember that slower means more time in the car – more HEATED time.
2. Winter Performance
I have no reason to believe that the car would perform any different than its ICE brethren. I’m still running on the low-rolling-resistance “all season” tires, and the car performs as I would expect any similar car with that quality rubber. The question I have now is what will happen when switching to softer winter rubber? Will there be another 5 km range hit for the softer compound?
The Ford Focus Electric weighs 800 lbs more than its cousin, so that may be helping it in the ice and ~8” of snow I’ve been in so far (with deeper snow, the weight increase may be a problem). Being a front-wheel-drive car, I haven’t seen any chance of the rear end being loose. Wheel spin on the Ford Focus Electric is normal on dry pavement – you just have to manage your throttle from standstill – it’s never been a concern once you know how to drive the car.
I am curious how a rear-wheel Tesla performs, though. My guess is that the electronics nanny would negate any problems.
So, what now?
Well, if you want to have an EV in a cold weather climate, it may be fine. I managed to plan it out without any of the real-world knowledge I’ve gathered so far. Before I leased my Ford Focus Electric, I was of the uneducated opinion that the batteries wouldn’t work well in the cold weather. As capacities increase with the new models over the next few years, all of this will be moot and even in the cold weather you’ll still be able to make your 120 km commute.
Just make sure that you do your research ahead of time and plan out the contingencies: Can you plug in where you often go? Can you change your route? Do you care how cold you are, if you’re warmed by your lack of petro usage?
I’d recommend against getting a used EV, unless you really know the current traction battery capacity and have a good understanding of the numbers involved. Ask around in the EV forums.
You’re not the first to move to an EV in cold climates, so don’t let it stop you from moving towards a better future.
Related: 2016 Ford Focus Electric Review (In Extreme Depth!)
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