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2012 Focus Electric is Fuel Economy King

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author photo by Nick Chambers
  • Focus Electric gets 110 MPGe city/99 MPGe highway/105 MPGe combined
  • Average 76 mile range on a full charge
  • Most fuel efficient, five-passenger car in U.S.

When it comes to electric cars, there's not much competition. The Nissan Leaf has long been the only game in town. Even now, the only real challenger is the Chevrolet Volt even though it's a fundamentally different car.

Now, there are several plug-in electric cars to choose from-with many more on the way-and manufacturers are increasingly looking for ways to set their cars apart in a relatively small and ever crowded marketplace. In this vein, the newly introduced Ford Focus Electric is really the first one-to-one competition for the Nissan Leaf. They are about the same size, they are both hatchbacks, they both seat five passengers, and they are both fully electric (no gasoline range extender like the Volt).

Since its introduction late last year Ford has been touting the benefits of the Focus Electric over the Leaf and, now that the EPA has certified its fuel economy, there's one more feather for its cap. With 110 miles per gallon equivalent on the highway and 99 MPGe in the city, the Focus Electric is officially the most fuel efficient five passenger car in the U.S. The Leaf isn't far behind, however, at 106 MPGe city and 92 MPGe highway. MPGe is a conversion based on the assumption that 33.7 kWh of electricity has the same energy content as one gallon of gas.

The Focus Electric has also been certified as having a 76 mile range on a full battery, a bit more than the Leaf's official 73 mile range. In the electric car game, however, ranges can fluctuate greatly depending on terrain, speed, outside temperature, and individual driving habits; both cars can easily return more than 100 miles of range or less than 60 miles of range based on those factors.

It's not all-good news for the Focus, however. The Leaf has been out for longer and is now available nationwide. More than 12,000 of them have been sold in the U.S. to this point and, overwhelmingly, customers have been happy with their purchases. The Focus Electric is only available in New York and California, and Ford plans to expand the market nationwide by the end of the year.

While passengers will find they have a bit more room in the Focus Electric, its battery takes up a significant portion of the hatch space-meaning severely restricted cargo space. The Leaf, on the other hand, has a relatively cavernous hatch given that its batteries are under the floor and the rear seats.

But perhaps the biggest factor in choosing between the two is price: at an opening bid of $40,000, the Focus Electric comes fully loaded but still carries about a $2,000 premium over a similarly equipped Leaf. At $38,000 the Leaf even comes with fast charging capability (at special stations 70 miles of range can be added in about a half hour); the Focus Electric doesn't even support that technology. If you don't feel like you need those extra premium doodads, the Leaf can even be bought for around $36,000.

What it means to you: In general electric cars are much more efficient than gas cars, but among five passenger electric cars the Focus Electric is the king-although it comes at a price and doesn't support fast charging.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.