Testing the Ford Focus Electric: 3 NYC Area Beaches in 3 Days

Eric Schaal
Eric Schaal/Autos Cheat Sheet

We have considered the subject of electric vehicle adoption from many angles. Between looks at incentives, the lowest price points, and the available range most EVs on the road deliver, the consensus is that going electric is possible and affordable but still something a hassle for some drivers — especially city dwellers without a garage and a plug.

So we decided to try out New York’s public charging infrastructure running from home in Manhattan’s East Village to Rockaway Beach on Friday; to Sea Bright, N.J., on Saturday; and to Barnegat Light, further down the Jersey coast, on Sunday. We asked Ford for the latest edition of the Focus Electric and tossed our range anxiety in the nearest dumpster (pictured). Then we hit the road with our 76 miles of range, down to 67 miles after delivery.

It wouldn’t be a freewheeling beach run if we didn’t hit the three sandy destinations on the New York and New Jersey coasts over the weekend, so we threw a surfboard in the back and got down to business after work Friday evening. Here’s what we learned about the Focus Electric Hatch and the East Coast’s public charging infrastructure in a fun but complicated three days visiting three area beaches.

1. Friday: Union Square to Rockaway Beach

Eric Schaal
Eric Schaal/Autos Cheat Sheet

It may seem like you are traveling from one universe to another when leaving the city for Rockaway Beach, but the trip only lasts 19 miles. We received the car Friday afternoon from Ford’s very accommodating driver who dropped off the vehicle with the battery close to full. Nonetheless, we estimated we would end up in Rockaway with 48 miles of range — hardly enough to make a run to a New Jersey beach the following day.

Fortunately, our Rockaway destination had an outdoor outlet and a driveway. We expected to recover 15 to 20 miles overnight, gaining between two and three miles per hour on the 120V plug that comes with the Focus Electric. With that much juice in the battery, it would be a close call to make our next charging stop on the Monmouth University campus, but it was possible.

You immediately get the feel of the Focus EV’s smooth acceleration and silent operation. Though a compact car, the cabin is comfortable enough for a driver and the SmartGauge display offers a snapshot of battery levels where the gas gauge normally would be. You are always aware —  painfully so, at times — what your battery status is, and how the equation changes as you switch from city to highway driving.

Because of the regenerative braking system that adds charge to your battery, the stop-start conditions of city driving represent an advantage for EV drivers. (EPA estimates are 110 miles per gallon equivalent in the city, 99 miles per gallon equivalent on the highway.)

On the topic of speed and smoothness, it’s a good idea to keep your eye on the speedometer. The Focus Electric is incredibly light on its feet and 70 miles per hour feels an awful lot like 40 miles per hour. Rather than intimidating you at the wheel, this feeling is exhilarating as you cruise through the streets or merge onto highways.  There is never a question whether you will have the torque (184 pounds-feet) to get the job done.

The drive out to Rockaway was as pleasant and uneventful as you would hope for a Friday evening around New York, and we plugged in at the destination to the wonder of passersby. If you are not familiar with the beach at Rockaway, it does the job for a destination accessible by subway from any borough.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

2. Saturday: Rockaway Beach to Sea Bright, N.J.

Eric Schaal/Autos Cheat Sheet
Surfboard fits in the back of the hatch.  (Eric Schaal/Autos Cheat Sheet)

You might say we had a rude awakening on Saturday morning when we discovered the charge plug had been disconnected overnight, leaving us with just 48 miles of charge. Suspicions centered around the landlord who lives in the neighborhood and was kind enough to block the driveway in addition to denying the battery juice for the next leg of the journey. Such perils, of course, would not exist for homeowners.

We persevered, locating the most convenient public charging station on the ChargePoint app. Prior to departing, ChargePoint’s Communications Director, Erin Mellon, was nice enough to help plot the journey away from and back to the city for us. We headed directly to her first suggested charge spot in a Key Foods parking lot at the border of Sheepshead Bay and Marine Park, Brooklyn.

Sure enough, the station existed and was operational. We activated the charge session using the app. Then we plugged in and started the clock. The charge session lasted 90 minutes and cost $10, which was the priciest charging station we encountered along they way. However, we had a full battery by the time it ended and got to explore Marine Park.

Eric Schaal/Autos Cheat Sheet

We decided to recharge the battery before getting to our friend’s place in Ocean Port, so we pulled into Monmouth University’s open gates and plugged in at the free station for two hours and 11 minutes, bringing the battery back to full. The trip from Brooklyn lasted 58 miles, leaving the Focus Electric with under 20 miles of charge.

Cindy Solorzano/Autos Cheat Sheet

With the car plugged in, we made the trek to the nearest beach in Long Branch. It was an abbreviated stop before meeting up with friends. Eventually, the beach in Sea Bright was rewarding, and we had no need to charge at our friend’s house overnight. We would get a full battery before leaving town the next morning.

Eric Schaal/Autos Cheat Sheet

3. Sunday: Ocean Port to Barnegat Light

Barnegat Light
Destination: Barnegat Light (Eric Schaal/Autos Cheat Sheet)

Things get tricky when you head to New Jersey’s barrier islands south of New York and due east from Philadelphia. Charge stations are scarce, so Chargepoint recommended we stop at the Causeway Nissan Dealership in Manahawkin to recharge the battery on our way to Barnegat Light from Ocean Port. If we did not charge there, we would be at the mercy of the hotel where we were staying.

To start out with a full battery, we topped off in Neptune City, where a ChargePoint station was installed at a local elementary school. We spent 90 minutes plugged in there at a cost of $4.75. When we returned after breakfast, we discovered a BMW i3 had joined the fun on the second plug. Had another EV been in need of juice that morning in old Neptune City, the waiting game would have begun.

Cindy Solorzano/Autos Cheat Sheet

We departed southbound for our third beach destination. Unfortunately, our app had no status for the Causeway Nissan’s charger since it is not on the ChargePoint network. Worse, we learned the dealership was closed Sundays. We had our first moment of range anxiety, wondering what we would do if there was no way to get a plug on Long Beach Island. But it was Barnegat or bust, with our destination 57 miles away and likely to leave us only about 12 miles of battery after extensive highway driving.

We figured we would need just enough power to get back to Manahawkin (15 miles) for a full recharge on the way to New York in the worst-case scenario. Yet we would still need a plug on LBI. Luckily, the Causeway Nissan and its charger were available even though the dealership was closed for business. The chord reached beyond the new Maxima on display. We plugged in, blocking the side entrance, and headed to the IHOP next door. We had traveled 48 miles from Ocean Port and had about 2o miles remaining on the SmartGauge.

Cindy Solorzano/Autos Cheat Sheet

With enough battery to make the Barnegat Light round trip, we got on our way. The third of the three beaches was the most exquisite, as Barnegat’s abundant sand and mammoth dunes show no sign of wearing down anytime soon. There is a 15-minute walk from the beach entrance to the coastline over sand.

Cindy Solorzano/Autos Cheat Sheet

Alas, there were no waves to surf, but the lighthouse and bird sanctuaries at Barnegat Light make this spot one of the Jersey Shore’s gems. The charging and navigating were worth it.

4. Monday: Barnegat Light to Manhattan

Cindy Solorzano/Autos Cheat Sheet

Monday morning was all business, and we returned to the Causeway Nissan for more charging, this time exploring a nearby Wal-Mart as we got two hours’ worth of charge. The focus Electric’s 76 miles would not get us back to Manhattan, 94 miles away. So we headed to another ChargePoint recommendation, the Volkswagen dealership in Shrewsbury, 50 miles north, for a second round of charging before leaving New Jersey. The dealer stopped by to welcome us and made a very soft pitch for the VW e-Golf.

We stopped in Shrewsbury for two hours and 30 minutes to get enough battery (barely) to make it back to the city. In order to give the Ford driver enough battery to go on his way, we stopped in a parking garage on Astor Place to charge at another ChargePoint station for 90 minutes. Charging cost $3.23. The parking spot cost $32.99 for the hour and a half.

It was a valuable lesson in the limitations of Manhattan real estate and the goals of increasing electric vehicle adoption. Clearly, the government would need to install public charging stations outside of parking garages for there to be any sort of volume EV use in New York.

Charging limitations aside, the Focus Electric was a worthy companion throughout the trip, delivering an enjoyable driving experience, a great sound system, and a comfortable interior. With the ability to fold the seats down and the hatch design, we easily had enough room for everything, including a 6-foot-4 surfboard and luggage for two.

Eric Schaal/Autos Cheat Sheet

Is hitting New York and New Jersey beaches convenient in an electric car? No, it isn’t, but the limitations are clear. Fast-charging cars and a better charge infrastructure would have eliminated much of our down time. Homeowners in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island are probably best served by an EV in present-day New York. As for weekend beach trips, green freaks like us should turn to a plug-in hybrid. That will get you there on pure electric power without any of the range and charging hangups along the way.

Disclosure: Ford Motor Company provided Autos Cheat Sheet with a 2015 Ford Focus Electric, including pickup and delivery of the vehicle, for the three-day test.

Follow Eric on Twitter @EricSchaalNY