Test Drive: The 2012 Fisker Karma Plugs In, Goes Fast

Test Drive: The 2012 Fisker Karma Plugs In, Goes Fast

2012 Fisker Karma
Power: 402hp, 959 lb-ft
Engine: AC permanent magnet synchronous, with 2.0L DOHC inline-4
Projected Fuel Economy: 85 MPG (electric only) 33 city, 38 hwy (dual power)

“F**k your Ferrari!” It was the first negative thing anybody had said all day. Up until this point, my day of cruising LA’s canyons and thoroughfares had been met with honks, thumbs-ups, and a bevy of inquiries. But curiosity soon caught up with the foul-mouthed derelict who was quick to judge me as a one percenter. Moments later, he was at the window, asking, “What kind of sports car is this, Mister Cool?” I barely got out, “it’s a Fisker,” before his ADD had already taken him elsewhere. Still, I can’t deny I was digging the attention.

Yes, I can now say I’ve been behind the wheel of the Fisker Karma--the first production vehicle to deliver extended-range electric technology in a supercar-styled package. Still stuck on the moniker? You’re not that out of the loop. The all-new American carmaker is the passion of Henrik Fisker, who founded the brand in 2007. And though you may not know his name, you undoubtedly are familiar with his work. Fisker, a former designer at BMW and Aston Martin, is responsible for modern day icons like the DB9, V8 Vantage and Z8 roadster.

Fisker’s penchant for low-slung, sleek, and sexy design shines through in the Karma. But he, with his team, has also delivered a whole new spin on electric technology. Not unlike the Chevy Volt, the Karma rolls off the assembly line with a plug-in hybrid powertrain. But it’s a more involved design, which works to put energy back into the car’s battery pack through standard driving and braking. All this is accomplished via two 150-kilowatt (roughly 200hp a piece) electric motors that drive the car’s massive 22-inch rear wheels. Under the hood also sits a 2.0 liter turbocharged four-cylinder that kicks in to keep things moving when the charge dwindles. But the GM-sourced fuel-burner never directly takes over. Instead, its purpose is to drive a generator that, in turn, keeps the motors juiced. Given this approach, the Karma manages to make moves with no transmission. It also has just one speed–if you don’t count reverse–and has reduced basic shifting to little more than a few electronic switches on the center console.

But is it fast? Conventional wisdom would tell you “oh, hell no.” After all, the Karma’s initial power is generated through a 22-kilowatt-hour battery pack, a component that makes up a good portion of the vehicle’s curb weight of more than 5,000 pounds—a stat that doesn’t hold much promise for performance. However, before you dismiss the Karma as a fatty shoehorned into a tight little dress, give the throttle a mash, like I did. From the instant you apply pressure, the Karma’s 402 horses dash into action with absolutely zero lag or delay, propelling it to 60mph in just 5.9 seconds–pretty remarkable considering the aforementioned numbers.

Once mobile, the Karma continues to impress with its prowess. Simply put, the car handles like an absolute beast–a somewhat tamed beast, that is. From first glance, you can see the style department tucked the huge wheels into their arches with incredible precision. But the engineers got the suspension tuning right, far beyond aesthetics. Thrown into a hard corner, it responds like a car half its weight, and does so with almost zero noticeable body roll. Coupled with the instantaneous throttle, you’re able to navigate twisties and switchbacks as daringly as you see fit, without having to worry if you grabbed the right gear. On highways, the Karma is equally quick, smooth in its delivery, and can be navigated cleanly, thanks to surprisingly minimal blind spots.

It its cabin, you won’t feel like you’ve given up any of the luxury experience to be a more environmentally responsible being. Ultrasuede wraps the wheel, dash, and headliner like many other vehicles at its price-point, though Fisker has taken extra measures to echo its planetary commitment. The use of plastic is minimal, and wood-trimmed elements have been “reclaimed” from forest fires, driftwood, and the like. When opting for leather, the brand has also committed to using 85 percent of the hide, meaning you may encounter an occasional scar or imperfection. But you’ll eventually make your own marks anyway, right? On that note, the Karma is a ride you might want to institute a “no eating” rule for, as the use of fabric is generous to say the least. The car’s guts could benefit from a bit of piano back through the midsection. I mean, there have to be a few baby grands scrapped somewhere, right? Still, little of the opulent vibe that a $100K sticker should deliver is lost on “doing the right thing.”

Back outside, not enough can be said about the Karma’s highly stylized good looks. Like Brooke Burke, the body lines are sexy, and extremely fit at the same time. Its broad, muscular stance positively hints to Henrick Fisker’s time at Aston Martin, but also delivers the strength and toughness necessary to fittingly be labeled a new American brand. Up top sits another attention-grabbing aspect of the car’s skin–the roof. Black, with gold TRON-like tracks running in pattern across its real estate, the Karma’s crown is a mobile solar panel, providing the energy to fuel many of the vehicle’s 12V power draws, buying more drive time for the battery. Think that’s attention getting? Try rolling through a residential area with the windows down. To compensate for the almost silent operation of the electric motors, each Karma emits a futuristic whirring noise at idle and drive, alerting pedestrians and motorists to its presence. Incidentally, Fisker engineers refer to this as the “TRON sound,” though it sounds more like some secret prototype aircraft.

Only time will tell if the world is ready for a supercar like the Karma. Fisker is hoping the current wave of environmental consciousness will appeal to rack-stackers looking to push something a little (ok, a lot) more fetching than a Prius. So what if it’s a plug-in that starts at $96,895. You’re still getting distinct styling, marvelous drivability, and an electric EPA of 85 MPGe, and at a fraction of most exotics. Skid Row’s finest may have said it best. “F**k your Ferrari!”

Tags: fisker-karma, test-drive
blog comments powered by Disqus