Pull the left paddle attached to the steering column, and Sport mode will engage. The 2.0-liter turbocharged gasoline range extender comes on to assist the battery, giving bursts of extra power when needed to achieve a 6.1-second 0-to-60-mph time.
Accelerating down the highway with the pedal floored, switching from Stealth mode into Sport mode instantly increases both speed and power.
When the range extender engine (sourced from General Motors) kicks on, it sounds similar to the Chevrolet Volt's range extender, but with slightly less noise. While you can hear it rev during hard acceleration, under moderate power or at rest, you can barely detect the engine running.
We were able to confuse the system by switching modes quickly, however. It did eventually catch up, but it took a few seconds.
Our test drive wasn't long enough to deplete the battery fully or determine real-world battery range. But the EPA rated the Karma at 52 MPGe with 32 miles of electric range.
Fisker says you will see approximately 50 miles of electric-only driving, and was none too happy when the EPA slapped "20 mpg" on the window sticker for the range-extended mode.
The gasoline engine isn't the only thing borrowed from the General Motors parts bin, incidentally.
2012 Fisker Karma EcoSportEnlarge Photo
While the turn signal stalks have been sourced from the last-generation General Motors parts bin, the steering wheel controls are current GM offerings. With the rest of the interior being first-class and made of nice materials, the parts bin parts are largely outweighed by luxury.
One of the harder things to get right in any vehicle is electric power steering, and Fisker has done a fine job tuning it to provide feedback without being too light or overly heavy. There are no surprises when making fast lane changes on the highway, and around town the assisted steering helps hide the heft of those 22-inch wheels.
You won't find many buttons in the Fisker Karma, as almost every control is electric or touchscreen based. The gauge cluster consists of four LCD screens that change colors and vary the displays depending which drive mode is selected.
Two of the screens act as gauges, while a third is an information display showing the odometer and driving mode, and the fourth gives both battery and gasoline range. Of the gauges, the left-hand one is a speedometer.
The right gauge acts as a power indicator, replacing the typical tachometer. It shows how much power you are using to accelerate, and how much energy is recaptured when the brakes regenerate power. Also housed in the right gauge are battery level and gas level indicators. In sport mode, the right gauge glows red instead of the default white.
2012 Fisker Karma EcoSportEnlarge Photo
The touchscreen infotainment system in the center stack is the focus of the car's interior. It controls everything from navigation and entertainment to climate control and other settings. Its haptic feedback makes the screen vibrate slightly when you touch it, confirming that you have indeed just activated a virtual button.
The center screen controls climate control, navigation, entertainment, and car settings. In the "car settings" display you can view the power flow on a graphic, showing whether the power is coming only from the battery or if the range extender has kicked on to provide extra power to the drive motor.
In our experience, the screen response time lagged behind our inputs. While the haptic feedback worked, transitions among different functions such as climate control and navigation took longer than we expected. Our dealer said that the test car was using final production software.
For a $100,000-plus luxury sedan, the 2012 Fisker Karma delivers on the promises Fisker has made over the years. It's a good-looking, fast, luxury sport sedan for four passengers that's only the second extended-range electric vehicle to be produced in volume anywhere in the world (the Chevy Volt is the first).
The Karma offers curb appeal in spades to match the competition, and has a (somewhat) green factor that few other luxury sport sedans can match--at least until the 2012 Tesla Model S arrives, which it is currently scheduled to do next summer.