The Fisker Karma is unlike any other car on the road. Known as an EVer—Electric Vehicle extended range—Fisker correctly claims the Karma to be “the world’s first high performance electric luxury vehicle with the freedom to plug in or fill up.” This four-door sedan is well-built, practical, and beautifully designed inside and out—all by a California company that was founded less than five years ago. But, in the midst ofquestions regarding its fuel efficiency, and the ongoing political controversy surrounding a $529 million U.S. government loan guarantee, some people think Fisker is destined to go the way of Solyndra.
I’m not one of them.
The Fisker is a car for the one percent, but it still offers a compelling business case. Even at its price of around $100,000, there are simply no other cars on the market like it. For the same money you’d pay for its closest competitor, the Porsche Panamera S Hybrid, you could be driving something much more interesting and exclusive. It might even sway some buyers looking at full- and mid-size German luxury sedans. But, if anything is certain, it’s that the Karma is becoming a big hit in Hollywood.
The first thing I noticed after arriving at Fisker of Northern Virginia was how striking the car is in person. Besides the elegant contours of the bodywork, my eyes were drawn to the standard 22-inch wheels, wrapped in high profile tires to preserve ride quality. The extremely long wheelbase (124-inches) also caught my eye. Compared to a Mercedes S-class, the Karma’s wheelbase is 11-inches longer, even though their overall lengths are within 2-inches. At 52-inches tall, the Karma sits just half an inch higher than a Jaguar XK coupe sports car, but still provides enough headroom for tall adults. The standard, 120-volt solar panel roof had a cool design, too.
The interior of the Karma is also one of a kind. The car I drove had the optional Eco Chic package, which covers nearly everything in Alcantra, woven fabric, and other non-animal or repurposed materials. Though well-designed, the cabin is also very small. It was nice sinking into the front seats, but they were so low to the floor that rear passengers were robbed of under-seat toe room. Another good chunk of interior space is taken up by the Karma’s 180kW lithium-ion battery pack, which is housed in the center console stretching the length of the cabin.
For all its expensive technological innovations, the EPA ratings for the Karma aren’t that good. In pure electric mode, it is rated as getting the equivalent of 52 miles per gallon (MPG) combined. But, the EPA rates the Karma’s electric range as being 32 miles, far less than the 50 mile range touted by Fisker. Once the engine fires up (that is, the 2-liter, direct-injection, turbocharged engine from GM) fuel economy drops to an average of 20 MPG. However, the biggest factor affecting fuel economy will be how far it’s driven between charges. When charging the Karma, the salesman told me that Fisker recommends waiting a few minutes before the electronics in the car completely shut off. Another important note is that the Karma’s gasoline engine is not connected to the wheels, but instead acts as a charging unit for the batteries.
Despite driving in moderate traffic, I began to explore some of the Karma’s capabilities. On a full charge, the Karma’s two electric motors produce 403 horsepower and a whopping 959 lb-ft of torque. When I started the car, it showed a total range of 200 miles (50 miles in electric mode, 150 miles extended range). By pulling the left-hand paddle on the steering wheel, the Karma switches from Stealth mode (electric only) to Sport. In Sport mode, the Karma’s noisy, 4-cylinder engine kicks in to keep the batteries topped off for maximum power. When floored, it responds with a surge of torque that will propel it to 60 MPH in 6 seconds flat, and a top speed of 125 MPH. By pulling the right-hand paddle, the driver can enter Hill mode, which controls the car’s coasting and regenerative braking behavior.
For a 5,400lb car, the Karma’s handling was fairly impressive. Steering was nicely weighted, and the car responded more sharply to inputs than I had imagined. The chassis was on the firm side for a luxury sedan, but still on par with other sedans with sporting pretensions. The brakes (Brembo 6-piston front, 4-piston rear) also performed very well. MotorTrend says they can stop the car in an excellent 110 feet. Thanks to a low center of gravity and wide tires (255/35 front, 285/35 rear), they also found that the Karma could generate .92g of lateral acceleration, better than most sports cars. See more statistics in this video by MotorTrend.
As an everyday driving experience, I think the Karma would be hard to fault. Yes, the fuel economy could be better, the rear seats could be more spacious, and it’s weird that Fisker builds them in Finland rather than the U.S. (despite receiving the U.S. loan guarantee), but those issues aside, it is very appealing as a complete package. It competes well not only against its main rival, the Panamera S Hybrid, but I think the car’s many strengths—luxury, design, performance, efficiency—will make it attractive to all sorts of (wealthy) buyers for years to come.