2012 Fisker Karma: Brief Drive Report

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2012 Fisker Karma EcoChic, New York City, Jan 2012

2012 Fisker Karma EcoChic, New York City, Jan 2012

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Well, after three years of asking, we've finally had a chance to drive the 2012 Fisker Karma.

And we can confirm that the extended-range electric luxury sport sedan is, in fact, a real car.

It's got drop-dead styling, unique interior furnishings, and a good ride that's aided by the fact that it's both low and very heavy.

In "Stealth" (all-electric) mode, performance is good but not breathtaking, with a stated 0-to-60-mph time of about 8 seconds and top speed limited to 90 mph. Acceleration is adequate, even uphill, and it's the most pleasant way to drive the Karma.

In "Sport" mode, which switches on the 2-liter range-extending gasoline engine to power a generator, the Karma is quicker and feels slightly more lithe.

And like the Chevrolet Volt, with its similar powertrain, the engine note lags (or "follows") the power demand from the Karma's pair of 150-kilowatt (200-hp) electric motors by a second or two.

Engine noise is fairly well isolated, and because the engine is not mechanically connected to the rest of the drivetrain, there's no vibration at all. Still, we preferred the all-electric mode, purely for its relative silence.

2012 Fisker Karma EcoSport

2012 Fisker Karma EcoSport

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Electric range debatable?

We didn't get much chance to wring out the Fisker's handling amidst Manhattan streets and a pair of 4-mile blasts up and down New York's West Side Highway, but it seemed to corner flat and predictably, with the bonus of a surprisingly tight turning circle.

The electric power steering has good road feel, and we felt no transition at all in the brake pedal between regeneration and friction braking--which is a hard trick to pull off in any company's first electrified vehicle.

Fisker says the 2012 Karma provides "up to 50 miles" of electric range, but the EPA rated its electric range at 32 miles. That seems more realistic to us, perhaps even optimistic.

Over a drive of 12 or 13 miles that blended stop-and-go New York traffic with highway speeds of 50 mph (the legal limit) and somewhat higher, we used an indicated 16 miles of range (from 20 miles to 4)--and perhaps one-third of those miles were covered in Sport mode, which shouldn't affect battery range.

In other words, 9 miles of Stealth driving used 80 percent of the car's indicated 20 miles of range--which showed as precisely half-full on the car's electric range meter, on a brisk 40-degree day.

Construction workers: thumbs up

But never mind all that: The 2012 Fisker Karma is simply a stunning design.

Whether parked, in traffic, or hurtling up the highway, it may be the lowest, sleekest, coolest-looking four-door sedan in the world. The photovoltaic solar cells embedded in the roof only add to the impression.

2012 Fisker Karma EcoSport

2012 Fisker Karma EcoSport

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People turn and watch it. Doormen and bellhops run over to help its occupants dismount. Cops ask questions about it.

Even New York's notoriously discerning construction workers give it a thumbs-up.

And although it's low, the twin-mouth grilles in front seem to convey aggression. Twice we observed cars ahead move into the next lane as we approached from behind--which virtually never happens on New York City roads. 

It's an effect we'd experienced only once before, in fact, while driving the world's only all-electric Rolls-Royce Phantom--a bluff, imposing car of immense presence that may have 10 times the frontal area of the Fisker Karma.

That's how remarkable the Fisker's lines are.

Tight but comfortable

Getting into a 2012 Fisker Karma requires ducking under the low roofline and through a smallish door opening.

Once inside, though, the car is surprisingly spacious--for a car the EPA has declared to be a subcompact, anyhow.

2012 Fisker Karma EcoSport

2012 Fisker Karma EcoSport

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The Karma is a car that you wear, not ride in. It fits like a well-tailored suit. That's a dreadful cliche, of course, but unfortunately it's the right way to describe the experience of sitting in the driver's seat.

The Karma is what the Brits might call "close-coupled," as we discovered when it proved necessary for the front passenger to shift rightward in order to open the center console.

As for the rear seats, this is a car for four adults--not five. Rear passengers are cocooned in comfortable, form-fitting seats, but they won't have a lot of room in which to squirm around, spread out, and put up their feet.

The 2012 Fisker Karma, in other words, is clearly a sport sedan, not a limousine.

Visibility...and fossilized leaves

Visibility to the front and sides is unexpectedly good, with ideally shaped door mirrors. Rearward and rear three-quarter vision is not.

The descending roofline, rising shoulder line, and slit-like rear window combine to make the Fisker a car where drivers should adopt the view that, "What's behind me is not important."

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Comments (12)
  1. Sounds like a great car. But its efficiency is completely non-green. Even considering its weight, the vehicle should have much better efficiency.


  2. Did the cars wide width make it difficult on the streets of NY?

  3. @John: Not as much as I had expected. But I parked at curbside very, very, very carefully so as not to scrape those very large, very pricey alloy wheels!

  4. Thanks for the additional info. I have an acquaintance that wants to buy one and I don't want him to be too stressed out driving it.

  5. Not a particlarly efficient/green car though hopefully the roughly 1 KWH per mile registered during this testdrive is a case of a poorly performing range indicator. Still a fantastic looking car that might help make electric motoring look cool in the eye of the masses. Even Jeremy Clarkson might decide to like this car once he finds out it isn't green at all!

  6. Did you, by any chance open the window whilst driving? I'm interested to find out if the side exiting exhausts are audible or result in exhaust gas getting sent into the cabin.

  7. @Michael: No, didn't open the window--but a good point for me to remember if/when I get to spend more time with a Karma. The test period was only 30 minutes, and I overran that a bit. I also didn't hear the alert noise that Fisker has fitted, incidentally.

  8. I don't know about you, but I feel like the Karma looks great from every possible angle. But I am particularly fond of the side profile. Love the way that the hood appears to dip ever so slightly just prior to the windshield.

  9. Why would anyone buy this when they could buy a Tesla Model S that goes farther on just electric power. What a waste of development.

  10. @Clifford: I suspect that at least some buyers would prefer the looks of the Karma to those of the Model S. Others might prefer the ability to run many hundreds of miles without stopping for half-hour (or much longer) recharges.

    Those are not MY views, just a few possible answers to your question. The car market is, thankfully, full of people with different views, needs, and ideas about what's practical and what's beautiful.

  11. As far as the aero Cd, the Karma is pretty ho-hum (0.36? 0.38? I think I heard) vs the 0.22 of the Tesla S, which is pretty and *actually* very sleek aerodynamically.

    I'll give Fisker the benefit of the doubt and let them improve on the efficiency as they go. But I strongly prefer the Tesla S -- as if I could afford either one...


  12. Does the low front end ground out when turning into a driveway, crossing railroad tracks, or going over speed bumps?

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