Price increases be damned, the 2012 Fisker Karma is finally here, and first examples are about to arrive in customers' driveways.
Earlier in the week we posted our video driving impressions of the new four-door extended-range electric car from startup Fisker Automotive. Now it's time to expand on those.
Before you even get into the Fisker Karma, it presents a commanding presence. With more curves than most pop stars, it's one car that earns the term sexy styling.
Up front you have what some would call a mustache of a grille, below a hood with some deep sculpting. With 22-inch wheels filling the wheel wells, and tasteful chrome accents strewn about the exterior, the Karma isn't flashy but looks like nothing else on the road.
The car overall is very low-slung, and the view from the driver's seat reminds us a lot of a Corvette's, with a long curvy hood ahead. Front and side visilibity is good, with rear vision being hampered by the relatively high trunk line. While the windows are small, the cabin never feels claustrophobic, only cozy.
The inside of the EcoSport model we tested was finished in a Canyon tri-tone color scheme with thick leather and nicely finished wood trim. Glass and metal accents are placed around the cabin to finish off the well executed and unique design.
We wouldn't call the interior of the Fisker spacious, but it isn't cramped. Entry and exit from the back seat will be less than pretty, though, and we wouldn't recommend that rear-seat passengers wear short skirts. While comfortable, the front seats are not wide; large Americans need not apply.
2012 Fisker Karma EcoSport
The EPA declared the Karma a subcompact car, however, based on its interior volume. And storage space is hardly lavish.
With a tiny trunk and very little storage in-side the cabin, we suggest packing lightly. The center armrest is large enough for two iPhones, while the trunk will likely fit three weekend bags. There are two cup holders up front, with small storage in the front door pockets.
When we saw a prototype Karma on an early road tour, it felt very unfinished--as if we might break something if we touched it wrong. While there is no question the Fisker has the slight irregularities of a hand-built car, the cabin now feels well put together and very luxurious, as you are wrapped in leather, wood, glass, and metal.
The Karma's powertrain is what sets it apart from any other good-looking, expensive four-seat luxury sport sedan. Its range-extended electric powertrain draws electricity from the lithium-ion battery pack in the tunnel (visible through a clear panel in the console) to operate a pair of electric motors totaling 400 horsepower that turn the rear wheels.
In Stealth mode, the car runs on electricity until the pack is depleted. At that point, the range extender--a combustion engine that only turns a generator, and does not drive the wheels mechanically--switches on to provide electric power to the drive motors.
There's also a Sport mode, that switches on the engine even if the pack isn't depleted to provide additional current for better performance..
We tested all three driving modes: Stealth, Sport, and Hill. The Hill mode, with its stronger regenerative braking, reminds us of the Tesla Roadster--though the regen still isn't as aggressive as the Tesla, and we aren't sure you could drive the car completely on a single pedal.
In Stealth mode, the Karma is powered only by the lithium-ion battery pack. That mode offers quick, but not neck-snapping, acceleration. Running electrically, the car is nearly silent, with a surprising lack of tire and wind noise even at highway speeds.
2012 Fisker Karma EcoSport
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 EcoSport
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 EcoSport
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.