2012 Fisker Karma: Brief Drive Report Page 2

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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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The EcoChic interior in the 2012 Karma we drove used textiles and glass, rather than leather, metal, and plastic, to convey an impression of luxury.

It's a unique approach. When was the last time you drove a car whose dashboard had a slightly velvety feel and a pattern that might almost have been used for upholstering a chair?

The most startling feature: magnolia-leaf patterns on the glass panels that give a view of the 20.1-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack in the tunnel and hold the armrest switches. Etched, we thought.

No, said Fisker representative Russell Datz, they're actual fossilized leaves. Hmmmmmmm.

Multiple driving modes

Putting the car in "gear" is a matter of pushing a small "D" button on the drive selector, shaped rather like a coffee-table ornament, on the console.

We checked the mirrors, pulled out into traffic, and found the Fisker in Stealth mode very quiet and otherwise quite conventional to drive. The engineers have programmed in the right amount of "idle creep," to simulate the familiar experience of an automatic transmission.

2012 Fisker Karma EcoSport

2012 Fisker Karma EcoSport

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In general, the Fisker Karma was easier to drive in congested urban traffic than we had feared, given its lowness and the wide stance. More like a Jaguar XJ, say, and less like an exotic Italian two-seat supercar.

Two paddles sit behind the steering wheel. The left paddle toggles between Stealth mode (the default) and Sport mode, when better performance is needed. The right paddle controls settings for the regenerative braking.

Fisker that drives like a Tesla

The 2012 Fisker Karma defaults to a regeneration setting that's not very aggressive, giving a driving impression very much like that of a conventional automatic-transmission car. Lift off the accelerator, and it glides with little resistance.

The right paddle lets the driver opt for more regenerative braking (mode "1") or the most aggressive regeneration (mode "2"). It's Mode 2 that allows the so-called one-pedal driving pioneered by Tesla, in which letting up on the accelerator slows the car enough that the brake pedal is only needed to come to a complete stop.

So Fisker has neatly covered all bases: You can have a Karma sport sedan that drives just like a regular car, or you can easily set it up to drive on a single pedal, like the Tesla Roadster, the BMW ActiveE we tested two days ago, or other fully electric cars.

(You can also, by the way, set up a Chevrolet Volt to drive like a Tesla as well.)


One incident on our short drive underscored the teething troubles suffered by the first Fiskers to go on sale, which were recalled not once but twice for both software upgrades (each owner was to receive a personal call and apology from founder Henrik Fisker) and battery-pack safety modifications.

2012 Fisker Karma EcoSport

2012 Fisker Karma EcoSport

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After taking the photos you see here at Grant's Tomb, we pulled out into traffic only to notice that the entire instrument cluster was dark. The display in the center stack was still working, but none of the digitally rendered gauges ahead of the driver were visible.

Pulling over and turning the car off and on didn't solve the problem. It ultimately required turning the car off for several minutes, so that it could "go to sleep" and shut itself completely down, before a restart lit up everything as per usual.

"We rely on our early customers to identify issues like this for us," said Fisker's Datz, cheerfully.

It's real, but what's it like to live with?

In the end, our short drive left us wanting to spend more time with the Fisker Karma. (For another take on the 2012 Fisker Karma, see our earlier drive report by colleague Joel Feder.)

We'd like to take it on a long trip, to see whether it gets better gas mileage in range-extending mode than the EPA's startlingly low 20-mpg rating. We know colleague Nelson Ireson would love to take a Karma onto the autocross track, to wring out its handling properly.

2012 Fisker Karma EcoSport

2012 Fisker Karma EcoSport

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And we'd just like to live with it for a week or so, to see how it compares to other luxury sedans, to the many other plug-in vehicles we've driven, and to the needs of your average affluent early adopter (as best we can simulate those).

We'd also like to see how reliable the car is in daily use.

Wanting more

But it's far from every car we drive that leaves us wanting more. We're just as happy to send some of our test cars back to their distributors, and that definitely wasn't the case here.

We look forward to our first extended test of a Fisker Karma. When that will be, of course, is anyone's guess.

The price of a new 2012 Fisker Karma starts at $106,000, and options can add tens of thousands of dollars more.

What do you think of the 2012 Fisker Karma? Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.

(Extra bonus question: Who's buried in Grant's Tomb?)


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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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