2012 Fisker Karma First Drive Roundup; Production Begins Next Month

By · February 24, 2011

We're now about a month away from the expected start of production of the Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid electric luxury sports sedan. To mark the occassion, Fisker has provided a scant few chosen media outlets with the opportunity to drive the $97,000-$110,000 car—representing the first time it has been driven and reviewed for public consumption.

Given that the car and the company have been beset by past delays and price increases, these two milestones feel significant. And these days, even with the past problems, the company seems like it's in a strong position moving forward, having secured an additional $150 million in investment funding earlier this month, bringing total investment in the company up to more than $1 billion. During the latest round of investment funding, Fisker was valued at around $600 million.

We've compiled this list of initial reactions from the various outlets for you to peruse.

Motor Trend

Motor Trend Technical Editor, Kim Reynolds, says that unlike other other extended range electric vehicles that "rhyme with jolt," the Fisker Karma's wheels "are never ever, even slightly, mechanically connected its engine-generator unit," making the Karma a "genuinely unique proposition." Although he's technically right—he is the technical editor, after all—we're not sure how much the mechanical linkage matters in the grand scheme of defining what an extended range electric vehicle is and isn't.

Calling the difference between the car's "Stealth" all-electric mode and it's "Sport" combined driving mode the difference between the "good Karma" and the "bad Karma," Reynolds says that the Stealth mode is more of a "stately" endeavor with a 0-60 time of 7.9 seconds, firmly in the realm of "four-banger Camry territory."

In Sport mode Reynolds was more impressed with the 981 ft-lbs of Bugatti Veyron-like torque, but the massive 4,100 lb. weight of the vehicle checks 0-60 mph time in this mode at a respectable 5.9 seconds. Reynolds did find something bothering about Sport mode: the noise. "Unfortunately, when the Ecotec engine chimes in—its exhaust hoarsely huffing from orifices just aft of the front wheels—you look around wondering where the Pontiac Solstice GXP is," he wrote. "When I mentioned this to the engineers they rolled their eyes and replied that a new exhaust is on the way."

With it's very even weight distribution, Reynolds found the Karma to be well behaved on the racetrack, but he couldn't decide if the steering was what you should expect from a luxury sports car of this caliber, saying "it seemed slightly imprecise on-center, and its ramp-up of effort, a little too shallow. There's a difference between steering and handling."

Edmunds Inside Line

Over at Edmunds Inside Line, European Correspondent Matt Davis, was most impressed with the "eco"-ness of the Karma. "Every single supplier and associate Fisker Automotive deals with is, in one way or many, a green-obsessed company," he wrote. "These include the free-range sustainable Scottish leathers used in the EcoSport to the wood trims sourced from existing sunken and fallen Michigan timber to the optional metal-flake metallic paints that get their sparkle from recycled material."

As opposed to Motor Trend's take, Davis felt that the Karma's handling and steering were "near the top of the sporty premium four-door class." Interestingly enough, he also felt that when in "Stealth" all-electric mode, the vehicle didn't feel as solid as its German and Japanese competitors, but that when it was switched into "Sport" mode, it started to shine. As with Motor Trend, Davis was also thrown for a loop when the engine whine kicked in under acceleration, saying, "It sounds as if the Ecotec engine is sitting in the passenger-side footwell. They're not exactly the kind of noises we expect from a $100,000 luxury sedan."

In all, Davis thinks the Karma will hold up well to other luxury sports sedans on the market, including the Porsche Panamera Hybrid and the base Panamera.

Automobile Magazine

Jason Cammisa, with Automobile Magazine, starts with an exuberant endorsement of what both Fisker and Tesla represent to the automotive world, saying that over the past several decades the Big Three automakers have struggled to make real innovations. "While they sit around and wonder why young people aren’t excited about cars, they’re showing a complete lack of understanding of youth," he wrote. Tesla and Fisker, he wrote, appeal to the younger generation because they are "rolling science fiction, in the same way that fin-tailed Cadillacs were rolling Sci-Fi to their parents and grandparents."

Cammisa goes on to say that even though Automobile bestowed the Volt with its car of the year award, the Volt is saddled with two problems: one, it's an $18,000 hatchback in a $41,000 package and two, "GM developed a brilliant powertrain and wrapped it in a completely undesirable package." Meanwhile to him the Karma suffers from neither of those, saying "It’s a $97,000 car with a $97,000 window sticker. The technology is merely a bonus."

One item of note that Cammisa appears to be the first to calculate is that, when running in extended range mode, the Karma may only return 26 mpg, given that Fisker says its 9.5 gallon gas tank is good for 250 miles. If driven in Sport mode, that fuel economy will drop drastically.

Citing impressive pre-production calibration, Cammisa writes that the Karma's handling is impressive, saying "Cornering grip is, for lack of another word, tremendous."

He also notes, like other reviewers, that the sounds coming from the Karma in Sport mode under full acceleration are mind-numbing, but he seems to find it pleasurable. "At full tilt in Sport mode, there’s a spaceship-like scream coming from both powertrains," he wrote. "The dominant sound is the turbo whistle, which builds to a crescendo as the four-cylinder reaches its maximum speed. It’s an otherworldly sound when mated to the whine of the electric motors in back and the angry growl of a four-cylinder at full-tilt -- and if you let off the accelerator quickly, you’re treated to the intoxicating sound of the blow-off valve as the turbo’s frenetic scream retreats into the background."

Cammissa leaves us with this thought: "If left with a $100,000 budget and the choice to buy a four-seat luxury car, the Karma is your chance at buying the future instead of living in the past."

Car and Driver

In Car and Driver's short review, Don Sherman writes that the Karma's Stealth mode is like motoring "sedately to the future with little more than a hum from the powertrain," but that when switched to Sport mode "the extra thrust is accompanied by the whistle of a turbo spooling up, the snarl of angry exhaust gas, and a resonant boom or two. Bent on fulfilling its mission, the generator set keeps growling even when you ease off the accelerator."

Sherman felt that the "Karma’s initial surge is sufficiently potent to avoid damnation as a slug," but that "physics conspire against it keeping pace with other $100K sports sedans"—meaning its so heavy that even with its massive torque it will never be able to outperform any competitor on acceleration. Handling, on the other hand, Sherman found to be "supple" with "minimal body roll."

"Fisker claims to have 3000 deposits in the bank," writes Sherman. "Some of those who’ve plunked down the cash are doubtless atoning for past turbo-V-8 sins, but others may be less altruistic, simply drawn to the sexiest fenders ever draped over an American sedan. Whatever their motivation, they’ll get a beautiful, luxurious machine that goes easy on the guilt."

Autoblog

Autoblog says that the 7.9 second 0-60 mph time of the all-electric Stealth mode "isn't bad considering the Karma weighs just over two tons." Autoblog staff also said that they "were blown away by the dynamics of the all-new very stiff Karma chassis," adding "Shall we risk a shower of disbelief from commentators by saying the Karma is the best handling large premium car in this entire segment? Why, yes, we shall."

Saying that the Karma's interior is beautifully designed and spacious, Autoblog also writes "If there's a chink in the Karma's packaging, it's that luggage space totals just 7.1 cubic feet, meaning that despite the car's generous footprint, you'd better ring NetJet for longer trips."

As with most other reviewers, Autoblog also found that the noise the Ecotec engine produced during acceleration was far too loud for a $100,000 luxury sports car. "See, the exhaust pipes exit right at the back of the molded composite front fender panels mounted way down low, and there are the corresponding nicely designed heat extractors, too," they wrote. "This is aesthetically beautiful, to be sure, but functionally and packaging-wise, it's a real headache, quite literally." Fisker also told Autoblog that they had ordered a new muffler to deal with this issue that all reviewers took note of.

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