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How the Ford Focus Electric tested my EV faith

Consumer Reports News: November 23, 2012 09:08 AM

Consumer Reports' headquarters is 115 miles from our test track, or about 35 miles longer than the measured range on our Ford Focus Electric. When I was assigned to drive our test car from our New York headquarters back to the Connecticut Auto Test facility, I knew it would test my EV convictions.

Living roughly evenly spaced between the two facilities, I was a natural choice for the drive, as I could recharge the Focus overnight. Trickling in electricity at 120-volts would still leave me with some concerns, though. Ultimately, a long-distance drive with an EV takes planning and a determination for the sense of adventure to trump range anxiety. Just in case, I alerted the Auto Test staff of my travel plans, so they could have a truck and trailer at the ready should my range fall short.

The journey began at CR's headquarters in Yonkers, NY, where the Focus was topped off with our 240-volt charger. As I set off for my 40-mile trip home, the car's range meter was showing 77 miles. The weather had turned cold, darkness had fallen, and it had begun to rain. So I had to turn on all the accessories, lights, wipers, and heater. I also had the radio on. The second I turned on the heater, the range dropped to 67 miles. While I've made this trip plenty of times before in our Nissan Leaf, I wasn't worried, yet it was still hard not to check the range meter continuously.

I had one errand to run on the way home, and figured I had plenty of range to spare. I also decided to pull off the highway for a bite to eat. All this added maybe three blocks to my trip. Yet by the time I got home, the remaining range showed 13 miles—not a good sign for my upcoming drive to the other end of Connecticut.

The car was charged at home, indicating a 78-mile range when I was ready to complete the two-stage trip.

The first two thirds of the trip consist of expressway driving, with several long hills along the way. I set the cruise control to 60 mph, about as slow as I felt I could go without being a danger in traffic, and stayed in the right lane. On up-hills, I pulled into the slow truck lane and let the trucks pass me for a change.

The Focus has a uniquely useful feature in the range indicator. If you program a destination into the navigation system (as I had), it shows your range "buffer"- how many miles worth of extra energy you have, or how many miles you may fall short of your destination. Over the 50-some miles on the highway, this range buffer fluctuated between minus 5 and about plus 3 miles, depending on if I was going up or down hill. That didn't help my range anxiety any.

Some rush-hour traffic along the way helped a little, but the gains from puttering along was offset by the last big grade I had to go up. My blood pressure rose lock-step with the hills and every time the number went negative.

In the end, I needn't have worried. As soon as I got off the highway and onto back roads, the range "buffer" began building steadily. From -1 mile, with 25 to go, to +5 miles remaining as I pulled up to the charger at our track. Whew!

The Focus EV has apparently developed a reputation around our track for being one of the most livable electric cars out there with a relatively useful range. No one but me seemed surprised that I'd made it.

The lessons for this green-car writer? Range anxiety isn't something that just builds up as you near the end of a trip. In fact, by the time I turned off the last main road on my way to the track and saw I had already built up a five-mile buffer, my range anxiety had already turned to range relief. But the fact that such concerns pervade even the beginning of an otherwise simple commute, in one of the most capable EVs on the market shows we're still in pioneer days for electric cars.

Eric Evarts

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