Fisker Karma, 2012: Six-figure, four-seat hybrid sports car turns heads

Your dream car may just have arrived.

The stunning new 2012 Fisker Karma low-slung sedan looks like a futuristic experimental car. Moreover, it’s a “green” gas/electric plug-in  model with a fairly long driving range.

I found the Karma to be a head-turner at a media preview of it on a variety of Los Angeles area roads. No wonder actor Leonardo DiCaprio bought one of the first ones, following the old Hollywood tradition of stars driving the most coveted cars.

The approximately $104,000 Karma feels solid as a rock and is beautifully assembled, inside and out, although the low front end can be damaged by moderately high curbs if a driver isn’t careful. And the standard eco-friendly dashboard material looks rather odd. (Leather is optional, and a Fisker Automotive spokesman say most order the car with it.)

Afraid of trying a new automaker? Fisker Automotive has had start-up financial problems, but says the Karma has a four-year warranty, with a 10-year battery life expectancy. The company said it has made about 1,500 units, with a good order bank. The Karma is made in Finland by an outfit that has assembled Porsche models.  

“I decided to build a car that would bring back the romance and excitement of American cars of the 1960s," said Henrik Fisker, the 48-year-old chief executive officer and co-founder of Anaheim-based Fisker Automotive. Among other things, he designed the Aston Martin DB9 and BMWZ8.

Fisker feels affluent car buyers want something very different from top-line BMW, Audi and Mercedes models.

“The Germans own the luxury car market, and everyone copies them,” said Fisker. “I grew up in the 1960s, when Americans were excited by new Detroit cars. So why not build one that does the same thing? You won’t get anywhere copying other cars.”

The highlight of the four-door Karma is its gorgeous styling. Fisker says it can get 52 miles per gallon (or 32 mpg, depending on how you drive) in purely electric mode and up to 300 miles with help from the turbocharged 2-liter, 260-horsepower  General Motors Ecotech four-cylinder engine that has a 9-gallon gas tank and extends the driving range.

A generator charges a lithium-ion battery pack, giving a maximum system output of 402 horsepower. Dual electric AC traction motors straddle the rear axle and deliver power to the differential to move the car. The electric motors are the only mechanical driving force connected to the wheels.

The automatic transmission has only one speed, allowing seamless acceleration.

The 125-mph Karma can be driven in “sport” mode, using the gas engine and electric power during hard acceleration for a 0-60 mph time of 6.3 seconds or in “stealth” battery-only mode, which makes it a bit slower, but still with a 0-60 mph time of under 8 seconds.

Huge brakes have good pedal feel and stop the car quickly. They also provide regenerative braking to recharge the batteries.

I drove mostly in stealth mode and found that quick merging and passing were no problem. After all, the Karma has a mind-boggling 960 pound-feet of torque.

The precise steering is a bit heavy, but not overly so. A Fisker Automotive spokesman said  the automaker experimented a lot with steering feel to get what it feels is the right amount. The turning circle is commendably tight for such a large,long-wheelbase car because Fisker Automotive wanted the Karma to be city friendly. The car has special 22-inch wheels and special tires. It delivers a firm, but supple, ride.

The suspension is all-independent, but has no futuristic road-adaptive feature. Thus, with  limited wheel travel, deep potholes cause jarring.
 
The Karma can be recharged overnight using a 110-volt household current, or in six hours with a 220-volt line.

All the Karma’s  power and torque are needed for good performance because it weighs a hefty 5,300 pounds — although most of the time it feels lighter than it is. It’s mighty big, with a 124.4-inch wheelbase and is nearly 200 inches long. Still, it sits low, being only 52.4 inches high.

The styling, low height and extremely wide body give it great “road presence,” which is just the way Henrik Fisker wants it.

A large center console runs through the lush-life “eco-friendly” interior, which is extremely quiet except for some occasional muted supercharger whine. The Karma is so quiet what looks like dual exhaust outlets are really speakers that subtly emit a whirring noise to alert pedestrians it’s approaching. (There also are two speakers up front.) Exhaust outlets for the gas engine are small ports discreetly put behind the front wheels.

The interior has easily read gauges, fairly simple controls and supportive seats, although the sound of the turn signals is annoying. The Karma is as well-equipped as one might expect a $100,000-plus car to be and uses lots of eco-friendly materials, including salvaged lumber from lake bottoms.

The optional leather seating is from cow hide with scratches that didn’t come from overly confined cows—not like the perfect leather found in other luxury cars. (No cruelty to animals here, you see.)

The large center front/rear console tunnel makes the Karma strictly a four-seater for adults despite its size. There’s good room up front. Rear seat room has decent—if far from limo-style — rear legroom for a six-footer and tight headroom for a tall person wearing a hat.

The trunk can only swallow, for instance, a few golf bags, and its lid has mechanical hinges instead of hydraulic struts The hood uses such struts.

You need not be a “greenie” or “tree hugger” to like the Karma. To some, who just want the car for its styling and exclusivity, its eco-friendly nature will probably be regarded as just a side benefit they can brag about at parties.

Pros: Stunning styling. Fast. Nimble. Smooth drive. Beautifully built. Lush-life interior.

Cons: Small trunk. Heavy. Only four seats. Possible Fisker Automotive financial problems.

Bottom Line: The most intriguing new 2012 car.

Dan Jedlicka has been an automotive journalist for more than 40 years. To read more of his new and vintage car reviews, visit: www.danjedlicka.com.
 

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