We take the Ford Focus Electric for a test drive

Aside from the total silence (an engine-noise simulator is available as a dealer option at this point), the Ford Focus Electric drives pretty much like any small car.

 

At last week’s Go Further With Ford event, the automaker showed off its latest lineup for a diverse group of journalists, representing everything from auto mags to techie sites to fashion blogs. While others were lining up to drive the 2013 Mustang and the Police Interceptor, your correspondent spent the whole morning hanging around “Green Drive,” where the Focus Electric was available for test drives.

I took the new EV for several laps around the track, and have to say it’s the smoothest ride I’ve ever had. Of course, most modern automatics are pretty darn smooth, but this sporty four-seater accelerates, corners and brakes like buttered silk. There’s plenty of power for passing on the Interstate.

Aside from the total silence (an engine-noise simulator is available as a dealer option at this point), the Ford Focus Electric drives pretty much like any small car. The only noticeable difference is the brakes. If you brake gradually, the regenerative braking (basically a motor brake) is in play, and you can glide to a stop without spilling a drop (yes, there’s a cup holder). If you stamp on the brake pedal, the friction brakes kick in, and they kick in like a Michigan mule. It’s cool once you get used to it – smooth comfortable braking saves energy and earns you some butterflies from the in-dash “driver coaching” display, but it’s good to know that you have major stopping power if you need it.

There’s only one trim level, so everybody gets GPS (with the locations of nearby charging stations automatically shown), cruise control, and all the latest electronic goodies. Your iPod goes in a compartment between the seats, which has a USB port and a set of audio connectors. The steering wheel is studded with controllers for the sound system, climate control, and a couple of user-selectable buttons.

The one disappointment is in the rear. The battery compartment forms a foot-high bump running from side to side, so while the seats fold down to yield 16 cubic feet of storage space, the bump divides the luggage compartment awkwardly in two, and there simply isn’t as much usable room as you’d expect. It’s probably fine for sacks of groceries, but not practical for large heavy objects like guitar amplifiers. This is one of the trade-offs of building an EV on a standard platform – the battery had to go somewhere.