If only building a competitive electric car were as simple as picking your best compact platform and swapping out its gasoline guts for a battery-powered drivetrain. Or maybe it is?
That's certainly the strategy employed by the 2016 Ford Focus Electric, a zero-emission hatchback that's been on the market for several years now and is on the cusp of receiving a slew of upgrades to help it keep up with the rest of the electron-sipping pack.
Specifically, the Focus Electric is about to get a big boost in the range department, moving from its current 120 km per charge to a more impressive 160 km. But wait, there's more: Ford will also add DC fast-charging compatibility to the Focus' toolbox, restoring 80% of the battery in roughly 30 minutes.
With these two important features coming for the 2017 model year, you might be curious as to why the current edition of the Ford Focus Electric deserves your attention, especially if you can afford to wait just a little while longer before buying your next vehicle. Truth be told, for most people it makes sense to hold off for the 2017 Focus Electric; however, if you need a car right now, or if you’re looking to score a significant discount on existing EV inventory, the 2016 version does hold a certain appeal.
A city car, first and foremost
Let's face it, even with another 40 km of range thrown into the equation, the Ford Focus Electric isn't going to suddenly step outside the role of economical urban runabout that has always defined this class of electric car. Vehicles like the Focus Electric, Nissan LEAF, and Chevrolet Spark EV all present roughly the same range anxiety to potential buyers ― just enough battery to get to work and back with a charge on either side, but not quite enough juice for a worry-free jaunt through the countryside on the weekend.
These entry-level luminaries have served well as the front-line of electric mobility for their respective manufacturers, but a sea change is about to take place amongst affordable EVs in the form of the Chevrolet Bolt that will see 300 km of range or more become the new normal. Within that frame of reference, it's worth considering the Focus Electric right now, especially once money starts getting slapped on the hood.
All the best Focus bits
An even greater argument for picking up the 2016 Ford Focus Electric is simply to drive it. With ample torque (180 lb-ft) available under your right foot almost immediately, the electric hatchback surges forward with enough authority to chirp its eco-oriented tires. In fact, I had to restrain myself during wet weather to prevent traction control from flashing a stern warning at me from each and every stop light. You really never get the impression that you've made a sacrifice in driveability with the Focus Electric, because it performs at least as well as the base version of its gasoline equivalent ― and in some cases better, as evidenced by its very quiet operation.
Still, it's hard to get around the range question when starting your day behind the wheel of an electric vehicle, and the Ford Focus Electric is no exception. I saw between 120 and 128 kilometres of available driving displayed when I had a full battery. Turn on the air conditioning, however, and you'll lose as much as 20 km from that figure right off the bat, a state of affairs that had me cruising with the windows down during the thankfully not-too-humid week in which I drove the car.
In the winter, it's a similar story as most electric cars make you pay an energy penalty for running the heat. They'll also subtract efficiency from the battery due to the more extreme cold temperatures, which almost eliminates the feasibility of driving the Focus Electric too far from a major urban centre.
Charging the car is quite easy, but you'll want to invest in a 240V home charger soon after taking ownership or you might begin to resent the amount of time the Ford Focus Electric spends plugged into a standard outlet. That’s because 240V power tops the battery up in four hours from empty, while regular household current can take double that time to achieve the same. You'll note that both of these solutions are much, much longer than the 30-minute charge time that will come with the DC fast-charging system in 2017. I was able to use the Electric Circuit charging station outside the Hydro-Quebec building on the corner of Rene-Levesque Boulevard in Montreal to get a little juice flowing while out on the road ― I paid $1.30 for a few hours parking on top of the electrons, which is really not a bad deal.
Time to bargain
“Really not a bad deal” is also a fairly accurate descriptor of the 2016 Ford Focus Electric's overall package. With a good driving experience, only somewhat compromised cargo capacity (with the battery intruding into the hatch area), and a comfortable ride, this Focus retains most of the standard model's charm while adding an eco-friendly layer.
The price is a bit of a sticking point, depending on where you live. The MSRP hovers around $30,000, but you can see government incentives of up to $8,000 (Quebec), $10,000 (Ontario) or $5,000 (British Columbia). Everywhere else, you're stuck paying the full sticker, which saps a lot of the value out of the Focus Electric equation, especially considering the current low fuel prices across the country. That being said, with the spectre of the Chevy Bolt hovering in the background and the 2017 model poised to deliver better charging and range, it's entirely possible your local dealer is more than willing to work with you to make the compact EV fit your budget.