Ex-Aston designer creates an impressive new electric luxury saloon

Our Verdict

Fisker Karma
Hollywood looks hide an environmentally-conscious powertrain that produces just 51g/km of CO2

The Fisker Karma has stunning looks, backed up by impressive acceleration and has single-handedly made electric cars cool

  • First Drive

    Fisker Karma first drive

    The Karma is an entirely believable and capable luxury car for the eco-conscious
  • First Drive

    Fisker Karma

    Beautiful, likeable and amazingly credible for a brand new car from a brand new company. Just don’t expect it to be a hoot to drive.
14 February 2011

What is it?

The Fisker Karma is a luxurious, Mercedes CLS-sized petrol-electric saloon, engineered in Los Angeles by a top-class engineering and design team assembled by former Aston Martin design boss, Henrik Fisker. Now in production alongside the Porsche Boxster at Valmet, in Finland, the car is priced at $85,000 before taxes in the US, which should translate to a shade under £100,000 of our money, taxes paid.

The Karma has a bespoke aluminium spaceframe chassis with a rugged longitudinal spine that carries a mid-mounted battery-pack, big enough to propel this two-tonne machine from 0-60 mph in less than eight seconds, under battery power only, and on to a 95mph top speed. With the nose mounted 2.0 litre, 260bhp turbo four driving an on-board generator, the 0-60 sprint is slashed to 5.9 seconds, while the top speed climbs to 125 mph. Propulsion is provided by rear-mounted two 201.5 bhp electric motors, one forward and one aft of the single-speed limited slip diff.

The cabin is snug rather than roomy for four (a result of the body’s ultra-low dimensions and the fact that it runs 22-inch wheels) but its interior is one of the best features. Bespoke instrumentation and switchgear approach the industry’s best, and most ancillary functions (audio, navigation, telephone and more) are controlled from a unique-to-Fisker touch screen

What’s it like?

It’s certainly not like your usual German luxury ‘airport’ limo, all of which seem much more conventional and less sporty, though Fisker people do admit that in some respects (not rear packaging) the Porsche Panamera was their benchmark. You sit very low in the car, with a high centre console down the middle.

Driving is easy because engineers have tried hard to minimise the number of controls. You just press a start button, select D (or R) from a little PRNDL pyramid on the top of the console, decide which of two driving modes you want (electric only labelled Stealth, or engine-assist labelled Sport) and the car creeps forward, just as it does with an ordinary automatic. There’s a synthesised external noise, which Fisker engineers call Tron, to warn pedestrians that the car is running, but inside you hear very little the car moves forward quietly and without apparent effort.

Even on battery-only mode the car feels fast: with the engine on (it sounds a little pedestrian, but is admirably remote) the car is extremely swift. The Karma has excellent electro-hydraulic steering and an understeer-free chassis that seems to thrive on tight cornering. The car is a joy to drive on a tight handling course, and you can’t say that for every five-metre, two-tonne luxury saloons.

The ride isn’t luxurious in the soft and supple sense, but the car feels quiet and controlled over bumps, and tyre noise is well insulated. Though 22-inch wheels are standard, engineers have insisted on 35-series tyres, which give better road insulation than many of today’s “ribbon” tyre sizes. Overall, the Karma is an exciting, rewarding but entirely predictable car.

Should I buy one?

Well, on a Porsche Panamera scale it could be quite a risk, because the Fisker Karma has no pedigree and nobody can predict practical ownership stuff like residual values and major repair costs.

But the Karma has several vital factors in its favour, not least its stop-the-traffic looks, its thorough engineering, its great driving characteristics and a price that, while high, doesn’t look unrealistic against the competition. If the car makes a good start — and the 3000 orders already held seem to promise as much — it could easily become the next must-have automobile among Hollywood’s glitterati. Then, the sky’s the limit.

Fisker Karma

Price: £95,000 (est); 0-62mph: 5.9sec; Top speed: 125mph; Economy: 80mpg (est); CO2: 83g/km (est); Kerb weight: 2000kg (est) Engine: Dual electric motors, turbo 2.0-litre petrol engine; Power: 663bhp (combined) Torque: 981lb ft (combined); Gearbox: Single ratio

Join the debate

Comments
26

21 February 2011

Kind of reminds me of a 60s Bizzarini or Iso at the front. Drop dead gorgeous in my opinion and certainly doesn't seem to be copying anything available at the moment. The interior is as the article says just lovely - very bespoke without being too way out. I just love it and want one NOW!. another though - maybe this will speed up the Tesla saloon.

21 February 2011

If only the Panamera had as lovely proportions...

21 February 2011

A little too banana shaped for my taste and the "Fisker whisker", the grille in the manner of Hercule Poirot's moustache that has become his trademark grille, could do with a rethink ... but the car is extremely interesting in all aspects, especially its mode of propulsion.

When you think about it, it is quite amazing such a small company with limited funds can achieve so much in such a short time. Then again, he located to California knowing that that is where the moolah is for bespoke cars. I have a feeling he is ahead of the trend catering for those who have the money to achieve individuality.

21 February 2011

Very, very interesting car and a perfect example of what can be done with clean sheet thinking.

It has been set up with real thought as a road car (not a track biased special) from it's real world 125mph max speed, to its decent handling. If I were in the market for such a car, it would certainly be one I'd consider.

Autocar: "engineers have insisted on 35-series tyres, which give better road insulation than many of today’s “ribbon” tyre sizes."

I remember when 60-series tyres were considered as low profile!

 

 

It's all about the twisties........

21 February 2011

Estimated economy of 80mpg.... Really? Better than the (claimed, unachievable) economy of a Prius hybrid that weighs 500kg less? The EU cycles for testing CO2 and economy really need to be fixed soon, otherwise the roads will be full of over-priced, over-weight, cheap-to-tax cars that achieve the same fuel consumption (and pump out just as much C02) in real-world driving as the cars they've replaced.

21 February 2011

Looks good and well done to them for developing it so quickly with such a small, tight team but if the petrol engine only serves to power a generator does it really need a 260bhp turbo or is that just a sop to the punters?

21 February 2011

If this was a prototype from BMW, you would look at the front and believe it, as the grill is more BMW than a Ferarri F-150 is a Ford.

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DKW

21 February 2011

The Cadillac style steering wheel, nowt-but-grey interior, bottomless pit cup holders and Buck Rogers instruments all indicate it's American target market. Having said that the execution and details such as the pyramid selector are superbly done.

So what is the range of this range extender?

And why put the rubber in such a distant orbit around the wheels?

21 February 2011

Combined power 663bhp is rubbish. You can't add the petrol power to the electric motors, since the petrol engine isn't connected to the wheels - it only recharges the battery.

21 February 2011

I agree, this car does look very Iso Grifo at the front! Great looking car, appears to be as good as the makers claimed it would be. Strange that comments were made about the price / residuals / repair costs .... the kind of person who buys / leases a £100k car does not really care too much about any of those.

1. The kind of person who can run a £100k car is very very rich.

2. Residuals ... even a Porsche with good residuals still depreciates vastly more than the entire cost of a more practical equivalent vehicle (535d for example).

3. I don't know many people who are put off a car by it's repair costs .... unless they think the saving to be made going 3rd party only on their insurance is one worth making.

Thumbs up to Fisker, and yes .... this car is a Prius E-Type .... the trendy eco warriors will love it .... and normal people might like it too!

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