By Matt Degen
The Fisker Karma is a brand-new plug-in electric car from a brand-new, California-based automaker. The Karma is powered by advanced electric motors and has an onboard gasoline engine that acts as a generator. Unlike pure electric vehicles, this setup enables the Karma to travel dozens of miles on battery power, then a couple hundred more by way of the generator. Designed by company namesake Henrik Fisker, the Karma has exotic looks that attract crowds. And with its luxurious appointments and $100,000-plus price, the Karma also attracts celebrity owners. But with Karma's glam come compromises. Its 4-passenger cabin is tight, performance is just so-so for this class, and the very future of fledgling Fisker Automotive is uncertain.
If you desire a rare car with stunning looks, a luxurious interior, and eco-conscious powertrain and sensibilities, the Fisker Karma fits the bill. Think of it as the "green" car for the jet set.
Function follows form in the Karma. This big car has a small interior. Performance and fuel economy are not great for a car of its caliber. Buyers with discretionary income who want a potent, luxurious people mover that won't anger Mother Earth should consider the Porsche Panamera Hybrid or Tesla Model S electric car.
The 2012 Karma is the first production car from Fisker Automotive. It is a luxury plug-in electric vehicle that can travel up to 50 miles on battery power alone, then a couple hundred more miles after that when a gasoline engine kicks on and acts as a generator.
Driving Impressions The Karma has two unique drive modes, Stealth and Sport. In default Stealth mode, the Karma is meant to maximize efficiency by running on battery power. In this mode the...5,300-pound car has an adequate 0-60 mph time of about eight seconds and a top speed of 95 mph. Tug a steering-wheel-mounted paddle for Sport mode, and the gasoline engine/generator kicks on to provide additional power. In this setting the Karma can hit 60 mph in about six seconds and has a top speed of 125 mph. Overall ride quality is comfortable. But the on-and-off whine of its electric powertrain is annoying. Then there remains that issue of weight. The Karma is just a really heavy car, and that mass makes itself known every time you enter a corner at moderate speed. Flingable, the Karma is not. Rear visibility suffers due to the sloping roof. Unlike other electric vehicles, recharging requires waiting a couple of inconvenient minutes after driving before plugging in so the Karma can properly shut down.
There's one thing that almost everyone agrees on about the Fisker Karma: It looks incredible. Those windswept lines. The bulging fenders. Standard 22-inch wheels. The Karma is one of the few cars whose production model nearly mirrors its show-car concept.
HAPTIC-FEEDBACK TOUCH SCREEN
With its big, 10.2-inch screen, the Karma's main control panel is cool. But there's something that makes it even more special: haptic feedback. When you touch the screen, it feels like it's touching you back. This gives a kind of tactile sensation that lets you know the system is getting your message.
For a vehicle with such a large exterior, the Karma's interior feels tight, especially in back. To put it in perspective, the Fisker Karma has an exterior length of over 196 inches – that's big like a Toyota Avalon – yet its cabin is classified as subcompact. The front seats are quite comfortable, and driver and passenger can appreciate the Karma's classy-meets-sophisticated cockpit where reclaimed wood meets a futuristic touch-screen command center. It's a different story in the back seat. Due to a wide tunnel/armrest that houses the Karma's battery pack, rear seating is limited to two. And if those two are adults, they might feel claustrophobic from the Karma's steeply sloped roof and lack of foot space under the front seats. The Karma's trunk can carry a couple of small golf bags, but not much more.
There's no denying that the Fisker Karma is incredible-looking (see our Favorite Features, above). With bold, curvaceous looks and a hood that looks like it goes on for miles, the Karma seems as if it leapt from cartoon fantasy to road-going reality. All those curves that appear shaped by the wind also help this sedan look like a coupe, as do its flush-mounted door handles that enable entry with a discrete touch of the hand. At 22 inches, the Karma's wheels are huge. On every Karma's roof rests the world's largest solar panel on a car. Energy drawn from it goes to the car's 12-volt auxiliary system.
The Fisker Karma is available in three trims: EcoStandard, EcoSport and EcoChic, each differentiated by interior styling and exterior color. Base EcoStandard models are only available painted white or black, and the sole interior color is black. Moving up to the EcoSport gains multiple exterior color options and low-pigmentation interior leather in a variety of hues, while the EcoChic has environmentally friendly suede-like material. All Karmas include dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front and rear seats, 6-way power front seats, navigation and a rearview camera. The audio system in base models is a 100-watt, 6-speaker AM/FM system with USB and auxiliary inputs (no CD player). In EcoSport and EcoChic models, the audio system is 295 watts and has eight speakers. On the safety front, all Karmas have eight airbags and traction-and-stability control. One particularly interesting feature is for those outside the car: an external sound generator that creates a warbling noise to warn pedestrians that the otherwise-silent car is nearby.
With the bevy of features that come standard on the 6-figure Fisker Karma, options are sparse. They are limited to tri-tone interior leather and exterior paint treatments such as the "diamond dust" that makes the outside sparkle.
The rear-wheel-drive Fisker Karma uses a sophisticated powertrain comprised of two battery-powered electric motors and a General Motors-sourced 2.0-liter turbocharged gasoline engine. Unlike the Chevrolet Volt where the gasoline engine/generator has the ability to send power directly to the wheels, the Karma's engine works as a generator only to create electricity. The transmission is a single-speed automatic. Completely recharging the battery takes roughly 15 hours on a 110-volt outlet and about six hours using a 220-volt (Level 2) outlet. The Karma is not designed to use rapid-charge Level 3 systems. When refueling the gasoline engine, premium unleaded is required.
2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4 plus dual electric traction motors
403 horsepower (combined)
959 lb-ft of torque (combined)
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 54 city/highway combined (electricity, mpg equivalent), 20 city/highway combined (gasoline)
The base price of a 2012 Fisker Karma EcoStandard is $103,000. EcoSport models are $111,000, and EcoChic versions are $116,000. Government tax incentives for alt-fuel vehicles such as the Karma can lower the price. While plenty of other luxury and exotic cars have 6-figure prices like the Karma, very few of them are as eco-sensitive. Still, there are green alternatives that also offer luxurious amenities and plenty of cachet. The Porsche Panamera Hybrid, for instance, attains up to 30 mpg and has a starting price of around $97,000. The all-electric Tesla Model S, meanwhile, starts under $60,000 and rises to roughly $106,000 in top form when fitted with a big battery pack that provides a range of up to 300 miles. Before buying, make sure to check the Kelley Blue Book Fair Purchase Price below to see what others in your area are paying for the Fisker Karma. Because the Karma is a brand-new, low-volume, niche vehicle, resale value is unknown at this point in its life.