The Fisker Karma is a veritable superstar. I could not even leave my driveway without people stopping to gawk and ask questions. Friends that I have never heard talk about cars in my life had gobs of questions. It’s like walking around town with Reese Witherspoon. Everyone wants to know what is going on. But like Reese Witherspoon (and you and I), the Karma is far from perfect. Much like an actress, in order to get the whole picture, you need her filmography. So here it is.
(Disclaimer: Since I am a volunteer at the wonderful Lane Motor Museum here in Nashville, Tennessee they loaned me their 25,000 miles Karma for the weekend. If you would like to see this car in person it goes on display in late May 2018.)
This example is a 2012 Karma and it was the first and only car from Fisker Automotive built during a two year span between 2011 and 2012. It was designed in California by Henrik Fisker and built in Finland by a contract manufacturer, Valmet Automotive. As you probably already know, it is an electric vehicle but has an on-board generator to extend the range. During its production, Fisker spent the equivalent of $660,000 for every car it sold. The MSRP? $103,000. Thus, production lasted only 2400 vehicles before grinding to a halt as funding dried up and Fisker Automotive went into bankruptcy auction in 2014.
Still, despite the company drama, the Karma definitely has its positives.
Look at the images and tell me a single design feature that is lacking. This car does not have a bad angle. It’s hard to even quantify how beautiful this car is. This is the car every director should want as their star. From the long, sweeping hood to the gorgeous solar panels to the perfectly proportioned rear quarter panel, it just works like almost no other car has done before.
Everything you touch in the plush, eco friendly interior is leather, reclaimed wood, or glass. It looks magnificent. A window in front of the shifter allows a view of the battery. LED lighting softly glows with each selection of a new gear The steering wheel feels like you are holding a foam roller covered in that high quality leather. The seats are some of the best I have ever experienced. I could write an entire paragraph on the seat heaters…and all four seating positions feature them; the heat they produce rivals that of the nuclear power plant that provided the energy to build the Karma. After an entire weekend of running around like crazy the seats were always there to melt away every ache and pain. If the future looks and feels like this Karma, I will welcome it with open arms.
Handling and Ride
Once you get past the looks, it’s time to understand how the Karma performs. I’ll start with the ride quality and road handling capabilities. Despite the low slung, sporty appearance, 22” wheels and low profile tires, the Karma rides like a vehicle aiming for a very different goal. It soaks up bumps and road imperfections while still providing direct steering and trust that it will go where you point it. This is certainly helped by the low center of gravity provided by the battery pack that runs down the middle of the car. The ride is nothing like I expected.
But nobody’s perfect. Not even the most popular actresses. The Karma is no different.
Acceleration and Range
Unfortunately…they are both underwhelming.
In the standard “Stealth” mode you achieve 60 miles per hour from a standing start in 7.9 seconds. With the assistance of the General Motors sourced 2.0L turbo engine, it makes a claimed 406 horsepower and a whopping 900 foot pounds of torque and propels this sleek, gorgeous spaceship to 60 miles per hour in a brisk, but still slow in today’s standards, 5.9 seconds. That is just 3 tenths of a second faster than my 1998 Lexus LS400.
While the electric motors give a slight sense of exhilaration, that feeling fades as you look down and see the actual speed click by. Trying to achieve that blistering sub-6 second 0-60 time also comes at the expense, and you area already starting with a limited 50 mile range. While adequate for commuting, over the weekend I found the generator to be more active than I expected. It also took nearly 12 hours for a full charge. After 8 hours charging the night before we were only at ⅔ charge. Having a range extender makes this car usable as you can travel up to 300 miles between the two modes. I made it about 2 hours into my morning before the car started relying on the gas engine to keep the motors going. To boot, over our entire weekend, we only came across one location that had a supercharger available, and it was occupied.
Just look the stunning exterior! Isn’t it beautiful? Well that comes at a cost, and in this car it’s definitely the interior space. The Karma, at nearly 196” in length and 78” wide, is just a hair shorter but 3” wider than a 2018 Mercedes S-Class. However due to the interior space, the government classifies it as a sub-compact. So it feels impossible to park with the wide hips and front fenders covering the corners, yet anyone over 5’9” will not fit in the back seat without hitting their head. The maximum interior volume is 6.9 cubic feet. The S-Class covering the nearly the same footprint has 18.7. It is impressive how little space is in the car given its portly exterior.
While the minimalist interior looks fantastic, this leads to some problems. Mostly with the user interface experience while driving. The screen is rather small for all and made ir harder to view all of the features of the car I wanted to change while driving. It was a new, and not necessarily good, experience navigating the screen to figure out how to change various settings. The radio tuner only changed via the screen and it’s jumpy and hard to find the exact stations you are looking for. The AC controls are equally as confusing. With a rework of the screen or just a few knobs to assist the screen, it would be perfectly serviceable.
The Fisker Karma shares yet another downfall with a famous actress. It gets too much attention. Everywhere we traveled people stopped us to ask about the Karma. They all had a million questions and much like the famous actresses, we got a bit tired of the attention, answering the same questions over and over about the Fisker. It grew tiring after a short while.
So given all of these opportunities, why would anyone ever buy one? Well, take a look at it. I still love this car. I want to own this car. Karma Automotive, a product of the bankruptcy auction, has started production of the Karma Revero. Some things have changed and upgraded that make this car is absolutely worth the $130,000 MSRP they are still asking for.
This car is like being around an A-List Hollywood Star. You can hate it all you want, but over time you realize what you’re driving and experiencing is special. It’s not normal, and that feeling is worth every penny.