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May 29, 2012

Ford Holds an "Open House": First Drive of Four Hot Cars

The invitation from Ford Motor Company promised automotive journalists a rare treat: an informal opportunity to just drop in and drive some of the company's hottest new vehicles. Of course, AskPatty was there!

One of the biggest draws was a chance to drive the Ford Focus Electric, which I've had my eye on since seeing it demonstrated at last year's Detroit Auto Show

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I was especially keen to get behind the wheel of the Focus Electric, as I had just finished writing a review of another all-electric vehicle (the Mitsubishi i-MiEV) -- so that experience was still fresh.

Ford's decision to create an all-electric version of one of its best-selling models must have posed quite a challenge, as their engineers did not have the option of making the vehicle smaller to enhance its range. The exterior and interior appear no different than the Focus models I'm used to driving: only the electric powertrain and engine are virtually silent.

One thing that is striking about the current wave of all-electric cars is how responsive they are, and the Focus Electric is no exception. It accelerates quickly, handles easily and brakes smoothly: Just like a gasoline-powered Focus.

Fully charged, the Focus Electric has a 50-60 mile range, but driving variables can stretch it out to as much as 80 miles. For instance, the vehicle's regenerative braking system recharge the battery as you drive. However, extreme hot or cold temperatures and using power to run options like air conditioning can deplete the charge quicker.

Fortunately, you can achieve a full 220-volt Level 2 in just three to four hours. This is half the time it takes to recharge comparable all-electric vehicles like the i-MiEV and the Nissan Leaf.

2013 Ford Escape with EcoBoost Engine

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The 2013 Escape has been redesigned, with a sleeker, less boxy silhouette that translates into more space for passengers and cargo. It also features a wonderful hands-free liftgate, which utilizes the same technology used in video gaming systems like the X-Box Kinect.

I drove a model with the 1.6 liter EcoBoost engine, with EPA-estimated mileage of 33 miles per gallon. This is five miles better than the previous model, as well as the Escape hybrid.

You do pay a bit of a price for that kind of fuel economy: I felt a tiny bit of a transmission delay when accelerating the Escape, but it was more of a momentary hiccup than a feeling of being underpowered. It smoothed out very quickly, and seems a small price to pay for the the savings in mileage.

In fact, out of the four cars I tested, the Escape was the one I could most see myself purchasing in the near future. It's comfortable, roomy and very easy to handle.

Ford Edge

EdgeI have always admired the look of Ford's Edge crossover vehicle, and the addition of an EcoBoost option means you don't have to give up fuel economy for space and comfort: The 2012 Edge with EcoBoost engine gets an EPA-estimated 30 miles per gallon on the highway.

Even the V6 model I drove gets pretty good mileage: 19 mpg city/27 mpg highway. It feels more like a luxury car than an SUV.

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My colleague, JoAnn Holt, already reviewed the 2013 Mustang for AskPatty here -- but I figured, why let her have all the fun?  After all, I have dreamed of owning a Mustang my entire life...

... and the models available to drive that day sported a state-of-the-art 6-speed manual transmission. (And if you've tried shopping for a stick shift lately, you know they are no longer easy to find.)

That said, it's been a while since I've driven a stick, and once behind the wheel, I was afraid of going into first gear with an embarrassingly jerky motion. Thankfully, that didn't happen - but after all those electric and economy cars, it was startling to feel the rev of the Mustang's powerful 305 hp V6 engine.

The Mustang was everything I expected it to be: Powerful, fast and sexy. However, it's not the most practical automobile for a busy mom with carpool duties. I may own one someday -- after the kids are all grown up. In the meantime, I've got my eye on that little Escape.

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Donna Schwartz Mills is a Los Angeles-based writer who also contributes to CBS Digital Local Los Angeles and her personal site,SoCal Mom. 


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