2012 Fisker Karma EcoChic, New York City, Jan 2012Enlarge Photo
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?)