The Fisker Karma
by Merkel Weiss 3/15/12
I had an opportunity to drive the Karma the other day and although this is a very complex car, I’m going to try to distill all the information down into it’s most basic form. This car is what we now call a plug-in hybrid and its drivetrain function is at least in theory, similar to a Chevrolet Volt.
First the differences: They operate in different ends of the market. The Karma costs a whopping $105K where the Volt comes in at about $42K. The Karma is rather beautiful rear wheel drive performance luxury car where the Volt is a fairly conventional looking front wheel drive conveyance using extraordinarily is GMs idea of fuel-saving transport.
They do have much in common however. They both have very low all electric range. Both are heavy, as a result of having batteries onboard, both are comfortable to sit in so long as you’re in the front and not the rear, and both are capable of fantastic fuel economy numbers but your results will vary depending on how, where and for how long you drive between battery charges.
And there you are. Now you know nearly everything except any of the real details. The Fisker has a unique package; the 2.0 liter turbocharged engine borrowed from General Motors coupled with a generator is housed in the front. The battery pack takes up the center console volume, and the 959ft-lb (!) dual electric traction drive motors are in the center rear, driving the rear wheels through dual halfshafts. The car has 4-wheel A-arm suspension and sits rather low. As a result, the center of gravity is also low and the car has some serious grip provided by the 255/35-22 front and 285/35-22 rear tires.
Interior materials are very ritzy with grippy suede seat faces which have a bit of a circus pattern on them, and high quality dash and instrument panel materials of carbon and dull leather-looking stuff, all very nicely laid out with a clarity one rarely sees in modern car design any more. There are just so many things to set, adjust, and select that there are seldom any voids left, but the Fisker instrument panel is stunningly simplistic with well defined controls that leave no room for wondering which one you need to choose. I especially like the clearly defined regular and sport settings on the steering wheel.
I like it because with the Sport button selected, and the throttle substantially depressed, the Karma launches like a rocket, feeling every bit the equal of a modern Corvette. The acceleration is listed on the internet as 0 -60 in 6.3 seconds, but it felt much faster to me, in the 4’s. This is one fast puppy and fear not because it has a very serious set of brakes to match.
I set out to see how the car could handle. I need to explain this a little bit, because pretty much everyone I speak with continues to mistake handling for tire grip. This is not at all so, and in fact is just the opposite. Handling is what happens when the speed in a corner exceeds the tires ability to grip. I figured it’d be no big deal to throw this 5500lb monster into a drift, but the car is so well balanced and planted that using anything right up to the limit of propriety, I was actually unable to break grip. I’m sure that I could have done it on a track, but that’s not really the point here. This is a hybrid sedan and it felt to me as if it were able to corner at somewhere north of 0.95g. The chassis was very stiff and rattle free, while the low center of gravity and remarkably well calibrated suspension all merged to produce a sense of connectedness and confidence in the car. This is admirable indeed for a gas-saving device.
In contrast to the rear seats, the fronts have adequate space – not spacious mind you. It’s a little on the snug side for my 5’-11” frame but a comfortable place to get down to business. On the down side, I was uncomfortable entering into and sitting in the rear seat. Once inside, it was clear that a bit of that sexy tumble-home and shoulder from the side glass could have been sacrificed for a bit more rear shoulder room, and only a few degrees of fastback inclination would have helped headroom immensely. I didn’t fit well at all in the rear, but I was surprised when my 5’-5” friend hit his head on the roof too. Sorry, but it’s just too small back there for an expensive car marketed as a 4-door sedan. To absolutely fair about it, the Rear seat of the Karma isn’t nearly the utter torture chamber of the Aston Martin Rapide.
I was deeply impressed with the outlandish stance of the Karma. The car sits on its wheels beautifully, with the central cabin appearing low and sexy, and sporting a suitably low 0.31 drag coefficient, quite good for a car of this segment. In fact, I found the overall styling appealing. I like the side elevation the best, the rear also is very nice. I find the front grille a little fussy. But what the hey? That’s Henrik Fisker’s trademark grille shape and who am I to criticize? Oh well, on third look, it’s a funny mustache.
Do I like the car? Hell yes. It’s really a masterpiece of driving metal, and a hybrid too. Would I buy one or would I recommend that you buy one? Any new product is a risk, and a new car from a new company is even more so. If, however, fuel saving and exotica are in your future, this may well be the only game in town.