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Getting a charge out of electric cars

Ford Focus EV and Mitsubishi i-MiEV go head-to-head in electric City Car category.

Best City Car is a new category at TestFest 2013, one that recognizes electric vehicles. With the Ford Focus EV competing against the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, there was a big gap between them, both in price and in concept. I went with the Ford.

Best City Car:

Ford Focus EV

Price: (base/as tested) $41,199/ $42,629

Even though it has a Super Big Gulp price tag, I picked the Ford Focus EV as the City Car winner. The Focus EV is a car; the i-MiEV seems like an experiment. AJAC members reached the same conclusion, voting the Focus EV best City Car.

It’s odd — and oddly compelling — to start a car and roll away as quiet as a church mouse. That’s one of the few odd things about the Focus EV. Otherwise it mostly drives, and certainly looks like a regular gas-powered Focus.

The Focus EV has 143 horsepower. Could have fooled me. It hotfoots it away from a standstill like a powerful bear, and carries on quietly, managed by a single-speed transmission. The steering is like any other Focus, precise and crisp, and the car is exceptionally quiet. Only the touchy brakes departed from the fine manners of the Focus, but they may just take getting used to.

The interior is the same as a gas-powered Focus: elegant and logically laid out. The trunk loses some space because of a large battery pack, but I had a camera crew with me on one trip and they found room for tripods, cameras and assorted gear.

Ford sells a 240-volt charging station for the Focus electric (Best Buy even carries it for around $1,599) that it says will charge the EV in about half the time of a Nissan Leaf. The Focus uses lithium-ion batteries, and Ford estimates the range is 160 kilometres on a full charge.

The Ford Focus EV is an impressive car, and will appeal to those who can ignore the fact the entry-level Focus gas-powered hatch starts at $15,649.

Mitsubishi i-MiEV

Price: (base/as tested) $32,998/ $35,998

The Mitsubishi i-MiEV was the target of a lot of jokes at TestFest. Bulbous, cartoonish, it looked like it should be stuffed with clowns. And $35, 998 is a lot to pay for people to laugh at you.

Funny that the exterior was so extreme, because the designers who put together the interior really ran out of gas — it cuts a new definition for basic: sombre cloth, hard plastic and a back seat like a church pew. The i-MiEV seats two comfortably — and four adults probably unhappily. It’s better suited to transporting stuff, with the back seats folded down.

But the windows! The i-MiEV has enough glass to start a grow-op. Ultimately I liked driving it, with those 360-degree sweeping views, and the torquey electric motor that seemed livelier than it should be with 66 hp. It was fine to drive in the short distance we were allowed to travel, but I wonder what it would feel like in high winds, with that tall body style.

Mitsubishi claims the range is 155 km in ideal conditions. The city is where the i-MiEV belongs, where stop-and-go driving can let regenerative braking bank some power.

It takes seven hours to charge a depleted battery using a 240-volt system — longer than the Focus.

So the i-MiEV is up against stiff competition. With its lack of luxuries and theme park styling, it suffers in comparison to the Focus. It’s just a bit pricey to be a punching bag.

  • Getting a charge out of electric cars
  • Getting a charge out of electric cars
  • Getting a charge out of electric cars

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