The 2012 Fisker Karma is a bundle of contradictions: a stunningly sexy sport sedan with a green powertrain, a large luxury car with the interior space of a subcompact, and a range-extended electric car that gets worse gas-mileage ratings when running on gasoline than some of its conventional competitors. The first Fiskers arrived at the company's several dozen dealers in December 2011, though the company won't say how many have been sold since then.
The car is clearly a traffic stopper. The low, sleek four-door sedan rides on enormous 22-inch wheels and tires, with the fenders drawn up and over the wheels and the cabin slung between. And the entire surface of the roof is covered in photovoltaic solar cells, easily visible because it sits so low. The Fisker Karma looks like little else on the road, and drivers quickly become used to jaws dropping, heads turning, and other drivers questioning them at stoplights.
The heart of the 2012 Karma is its 20-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, which sits in the wide tunnel between the pairs of left-hand and right-hand seats--with a clear glass panel giving passengers a view of the pack itself. In so-called "Stealth" mode, it sends energy to twin 150-kilowatt (200-hp) electric motors, one each ahead of and behind the rear axle, for an electric range rated by the EPA at 32 miles. Unfortunately, in electric mode, the Karma is roughly half as efficient as the Chevrolet Volt--the only other range-extended electric vehicle on sale this year.
Once the pack is depleted--or, any time the driver presses the "Sport" mode button--a front-mounted 260-hp, 2.0-liter direct-injected and turbocharged engine switches on to power a generator that sends electricity directly to the drive motors. In that mode, acceleration from 0 to 60 mph is a bit more than 6 seconds, a respectably quick number--especially for a car as heavy as the 5300-pound Fisker Karma. Running on gasoline, the Karma is rated by the EPA at just 20 miles per gallon, making it the least fuel-efficient plug-in vehicle on the market.
The interior, whose limited volume caused the EPA to put the Karma into its "subcompact" category, is relatively more conventional, with hooded instruments and leather seating and upholstery. At 6.9 cubic feet, however, the trunk is absurdly small. A low-volume option will be the EcoChic interior design, which uses no animal products but features recycled fibers and reclaimed woods. Not only the seats but also the dash surfaces are upholstered with simulated suede and cloth fabrics similar to brocade, leaving the indelible impression that the car was cross-bred with the living room of an exceptionally elegant mansion.
With all that weight down low and its enormous tires, the Karma holds the road well. But there's very little suspension travel, leading to teeth-jarring crashes through deep potholes. And the sense of momentum is strong enough that while the Karma handles fine, it's not necessarily all that much fun to drive. It's more a grand tourer than a sporty sedan in the BMW mold.
We observed a number of quality issues, both in body panel fit and glitchy electronics, in the Karmas we've driven. The factory says those are early production issues and that it will update the software as required. The 2012 Fisker Karma starts at $102,000, and options can add up to $20,000 on top of that. An upgraded audio system, 21-inch winter wheels and tires, and installation of a 240-Volt Level 2 home electric charging station are among the few additional boxes to check--along with that EcoChic interior.
Fisker has also shown a pair of additional body styles on the Karma platform: a shooting brake to be called the Surf, and a two-door convertible with a retractable hardtop that is known as the Sunset. The company plans to put them into production over the next couple of years, once Karma production in Finland has risen to the projected level of 10,000 to 15,000 cars a year.
But early reliability issues and questions over Fisker's financial situation could cast a pall over the future of the Karma--proving once again that starting a car company, let alone one that builds the world's first range-extended electric luxury sport sedan, is incredibly challenging.
For a more detailed description, see the full 2012 Fisker Karma review on our sister site, TheCarConnection.