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Mini Review: Volt Vs Focus EV

At a supplier demo event recently, I was given the chance to test drive, back to back, a Chevrolet Volt and a Ford Focus EV.

Image courtesy of Edmunds.com
Image courtesy of Edmunds.com

I was amazed at how obviously different the two vehicles were in driving character, and  particularly, in their sounds.

The Volt, from the driver's seat, was a little cramped, I found my head a bit close to the headliner at the sides, and had to lower my seat a bit more than I would like.  The center stack was a mess of graphical buttons, which were not fast to learn, though I am sure with time you would get used to it.  The interior finish was a mix of shiny hard plastic and crinkly hard plastic, for the most part.  I wasn't really a fan of the high-gloss finish on much of the plastic.
The driving experience of the Volt was pleasant, with lots of torque from standstill and good acceleration through about 50mph, which was as fast as I had a chance to take it.  The car felt fairly heavy, but body movement was smooth and controlled. 

The regenerative brakes didn't fell bad, they had a bit of a grabby feel until you got used to them.

The rear passenger space on the Volt isn't good for adults.  I was banging my head on the headliner near the windscreen, and the seating position was not pleasant.  I would not want to be a rear passenger for more than a short trip in the Volt.

I thought the IP graphics were nice, but I was annoyed at the animated green ball that GM is using to indicate regen.   It is constantly animated, rotating in place or shrinking/growing, and I found it distracting. 

Next I had a chance to sample the Focus EV.

The Focus EV had a much sportier character, handling wise, than the Volt.  It also had a much more conventional interior, basically the same as the gasoline Focus in high-end trim.  The switchgear was normal and easy to use, and the LCD IP had more traditional style bar graph/pie chart type graphics. 

The Focus also had lots of lower speed torque, and accelerated easily to 50mph without trouble.  The regen braking was smooth and wasn't obtrusive, to me.  I thought the pedal feel was more linear than the Volt.

I didn't have a chance to ride in the rear seat of the Focus, but I heard that the battery package does compromise the leg room and cargo floor.

The big difference between the two vehicles, other than the interior, was the overall sound in the cabin.  The Volt was much boomier than the Focus, letting in more low to mid frequency road noise, combined with noticeable whine during regen braking.  There was also a quiet, high frequency sound when accelerating, almost a whistle.  The Focus also had some electric whine during acceleration and braking, but it was noticeably quieter than the Volt.  Comparing either vehicle to a gasoline car of the same class is eye opening--these vehicles are shockingly quiet in electric propulsion mode.  I would even say the quietness is a major reason to buy an electric vehicle.

Neither vehicle would really work for me as they stand.  For about the same price, I would like a Focus EV with a gasoline range extender, though this beast would not have room for the extra equipment.   The Volt is a great car, if you are willing to overlook seating utility and funky controls in exchange for a range extending gasoline engine.  The Focus EV is a fantastic car, if you can live with the restrictions on range (76mi EPA estimate). 

If I had to pick one for my $40,000 before credits, I would take the Focus EV as a better place to sit as driver.  It is really neat to drive, as long as your range holds out.

Volt Pluses:

  • Unobtrusive gasoline range extender
  • Decent handling
  • Good acceleration
  • Snazzy graphics on IP

Volt Minuses:

  • Glossy or crinkly hard plastic interior
  • Animated graphics annoying
  • Road noise and braking whine
  • Cramped rear seats
  • MSRP

Focus EV Pluses:

  • Gasoline Focus interior
  • Gasoline Focus chassis
  • Very quiet

Focus EV Minuses:

  • 76mile range
  • Rear seat leg room
  • Compromised cargo space
  • MSRP


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