2012 Fisker Karma – Test Drive Review

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Fisker Karma

2012 Fisker Karma – Test Drive Review

by Ryan ZumMallen on 11.08.2012 11:04

In more ways than one, driving the 2012 Fisker Karma is like being transported into the future; it’s exciting, it’s a little nerve-wracking and you’re not quite sure how things are going to work out. And in fact, the small company has battled fires, floods and financial troubles from the beginning. Despite all that, the electric-hybrid dream car of Henrik Fisker is alive, well and kicking environmental ….

If the Fisker Karma were a simple, luxury sports car, we would judge it on a different scale to be perfectly adequate and even a little above average. But it’s not so simple; it’s a perplexing and multi-faceted experiment that challenges the status quo and seeks to set new benchmarks. A car like that needs a suitable look.

Fisker has worked in the design houses for both BMW and Aston Martin, and his expertise shines through in the Karma. A long, low-slung body somehow contorts to provide plenty of interior space for four passengers, without sacrificing a coupe-like profile and hips to make a Kardashian jealous. Even with the pageantry of SEMA in town, piloting the Karma around Las Vegas felt like the world was a red carpet.

I am personally not a fan of the Richter Scale front grille or the diamond-shaped front lip, but every other line is perfectly sculpted on the cutting-edge Karma. Our tester was draped in lovely Cherry Red, but most opt for the Silver that better accentuates every curve, Automakers no longer have the excuse that no one buys electric vehicles because of their looks; if you’re not a fan of the Karma design, the problem isn’t with the car.

There is plenty to like about the Fisker Karma, but none of it would mean anything if the powerplant were crap. It isn’t. The 20kWh lithium-ion batteries pack 959 lb.-ft of torque, and the turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder adds 260 horsepower.

On EV power alone the Karma has a 50-mile range, and with the gas engine you’ve got 300 miles at your disposal. Fisker has worked feverishly to update its electric software to improve the ride those updates are free to owners and it shows with seamless transitions from electricity to gas. The chrome-lined Start button brings the car to life and off you go, in full EV mode up to about 50 mph before the gasoline engine kicks in.

Inside the Karma, it’s apparent that you’re driving a large car; the hood extends more than a foot beyond your vision so you have to be wary of stop-and-go traffic. Yet, for such a big and complicated machine, the Fisker Karma is a drama-free breeze to drive. Point those giant fenders at whatever you want to reach very quickly and the Karma will silently deliver. From a rolling start the batteries take a half-second to power up, but when they do kick in the Karma leaps forward.

The whoosh of the electric juice makes you feel like Captain Kirk at warp speed, and without gears to interrupt acceleration, the Karma keeps pulling until red lights or your conscience come into the picture.

Wheel-mounted paddles are tempting to grab as you speed up, but these aren’t for shifting. The left activates Sport mode, which relies on the gasoline engine and improves the 0-60mph time to about 6.2 seconds (strictly EV will reach 60mph in 8 seconds). The right paddle is an eco-minded Hill mode for driving on a decline, using energy captured from the brakes to recharge the battery moreso than the standard regenerative braking.

The Vegas Strip didn’t provide much opportunity to test handling, but that just means we’ll have to schedule another drive in the future.

The car we tested featured the Eco Chic interior, a combination of environmentally-friendly materials such as animal-free EcoSuede that stay green without losing luxury. The two-tone beige cloth may not be what you’d expect from a $105,000 car from the future, but inside it’s comfortable and pleasing with the aura of driving a bamboo forest. The unique, angular steering wheel mimics alcantara and its aluminum cutouts add a touch of cold power to the atmosphere.

Fisker Karma

You may have been expecting leather, but everyone knows what leather feels like; why not try something different in your future-mobile?

Despite the big rims, low-profile tires and center of gravity just above the pavement, the Karma rides very smoothly. Bumps and potholes are noticeable but otherwise, your sporty electric-hybrid may as well be a Towncar. The quiet cabin doesn’t allow a lot of ambient road or wind noise, even in silent EV mode.

It also feels much lighter than its 5,000 lbs, due to a near-perfect 50/50 weight balance with the hefty lithium battery pack located under the exact center of the car. That, paired with engine braces and variable rack and pinion steering make the Karma corner like it’s a half-ton lighter.

On a short drive, the 2012 Fisker Karma delivers everything you’d want from it. How the car, and its company, will fare long term is still up in the air. Fisker took a massive government loan and is still facing money trouble, its battery provider A123 has gone bankrupt and Hurricane Sandy wiped out $30 million worth of Karmas in a fire. Fisker says they are prepared for the viable long haul, and have plans to counter each obstacle in their path.

Key to their success could be the re-election of President Obama, who has shown willingness to invest loans and grants in green technology.

Fisker has its kinks, but what new technology doesn’t? We’ll be closely following their financial situation because one thing is clear: they’ve really accomplished something with the Karma, and deserve the chance to continue pushing the envelope.


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