It's amazing how quickly the gee-whiz factor deserted battery-powered electric cars.
The 2012 Ford Focus Electric is a pretty good electric car that's generated remarkably little excitement even within Ford, let alone the public. Honestly, did you even know Ford sells a battery-powered Focus?
By contrast, the hullabaloo over the launch of the first modern mass-market electric cars -- the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf -- in 2010 was like a space mission. Every sale was announced like the latest photo from the Mars probe.
The distance between first to market and third is not enough to explain the difference in Ford's low-key launch of the electric Focus. While the Leaf and Volt felt revolutionary, the Focus Electric presents as evolutionary. It's a good car the automaker is deliberately downplaying.
Prices for the 2012 and '13 Focus Electric start at $39,200. The very well-equipped compact comes with just about every feature you can squeeze into a Focus. A $7,500 federal tax credit and various state credits can reduce the Focus Electric's price. Despite that, the bill remains high for what looks like just another Focus hatchback.
It has a 107 kW, or 143-horsepower, electric motor, 23kWh lithium-ion battery and single-speed automatic transmission. I tested a $39,200 2012 Focus Electric that's identical to the '13 except for minor changes to its trim levels.
The Focus has an EPA-rated range of 76 miles on a full charge. Recharging should take about four hours with a 240-volt outlet. It scored mpge -- the electric equivalent of miles per gallon -- ratings of 110 in the city, 99 on the highway and 105 combined.
Essentially, the Focus has a larger-capacity onboard charger, allowing it to recharge nearly twice as quickly as a Leaf from the same 240-volt outlet. Still, that's 3-4 hours to refuel compared with five minutes for a conventional car, or the Chevrolet Volt, which supplements its 38-mile battery range with its gasoline engine.
The Focus Electric's acceleration is outstanding, but the top speed is limited to 84 mph. The brakes are tuned to maximize regenerative power. They're a bit touchy, but I got used to them. The passenger compartment is roomy and includes all the standard Focus' useful features.
The battery intrudes badly on luggage space. It reduces storage space behind the rear seat from 23 to 13 cubic feet, removing one of the Focus hatchback's key selling points.
The electric Focus' sales numbers are underwhelming, and its price may be daunting, but the five-passenger compact's range and performance deserve attention.
2012 Ford Focus Electric
Base price: $39,200
EPA fuel economy: 110 mpge city, 99 highway
Wheelbase: 104.3 inches
Length: 171.6 inches
Height: 57.7 inches
Width: 71.8 inches
Range: 76 miles
Top speed: 84 mph
Curb weight: 3,624 pounds
Engine: 107 kW electric motor
Bottom line: Not as hyped, but outperforms rivals