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

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.
24 February 2012

What is it?

“It’s a dream car,” says Henrik Fisker, the former BMW and Aston Martin designer behind the Fisker Karma. The new range-extended electric saloon certainly has visual presence, but then you’d expect that from the man behind the Aston Martin DB9 and V8 Vantage.

Beneath that striking bodywork though is some very exciting technology, aimed at offering guilt-free performance in a luxury saloon. The Karma is a series hybrid, meaning the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine is there only to act as a generator when the lithium-ion battery pack that drives a pair of rear-mounted electric motors runs out of charge.

The drivetrain allows the Karma to boast some very impressive numbers on paper. Total power is 397bhp and total torque a mighty 959lb ft. It can crack 0-60mph in 6.3sec and reach a top speed limited to 125mph, while returning 62.4mpg (converted from US certified figure) at the pumps and emitting 53g/km of CO2 on the EU cycle.

We’ve had two drives in the Fisker Karma before, one in a pre-production model and then another in one of the first production cars off the line in Valmet, Finland. But like any new car, let alone one from a start-up manufacturer, there have been early teething problems, notably to the battery packs.

So the Karma driven here is one with a series of software and mechanical upgrades, and is in the exact same specification as the first 350 or so Karmas that have been delivered to customers in the US.

What’s it like?

The Fisker Karma looks like nothing else on the road, and it drives like nothing else either. It is certainly not a driver’s car in the traditional sense, but this does not make it without appeal. It’s full of little quirks and nuances that turn driving it into a memorable experience.

Push the button to start, for instance, and select ‘D’ from the pyramid mounted on the high centre tunnel, and a futuristic Tron-style hum sounds outside the car. That’s to warn pedestrians of your presence, but it always raises a smile inside the cabin too.

Chances are you’re already smiling thanks to the quality of the cabin. All of the surfaces, switchgear and dials ooze style and quality. The front seats are comfortable and the driving position low, while rear visibility isn’t quite as horrendous as you’d expect looking at the design of the C-pillars and rake of the rear windscreen from the outside.

The Karma has two distinct driving modes. ‘Stealth’ mode means the engine is off and it runs solely off the power of the batteries. It can travel up to 50 miles in Stealth mode. Step-off is brisk in Stealth thanks to the full compliment of torque being instantly available, and it responds well to throttle inputs higher up the speeds.

Sport mode switches the engine on and exposes the Karma’s full performance potential and boosts its range to 300 miles. Improvements have been made from early versions to make the engine quieter, but it’s still fairly audible under acceleration, settling into the background only when travelling at a settled speed.

As brisk as the Karma feels, you’re never in any doubt that this is a very heavy car. Performance would be greater still if it were not for its vast 2404kg kerb weight. This weight also affects the low-speed ride, the Karma capable of sending the odd jolt through the cabin on broken surfaces, something also not helped by its vast 22in alloys. There are no such problems on the motorway, however, where the Karma glides over bumps at speed with competence and grace.

Despite the weight, the handling balance is fairly neutral and there is little pitch and roll. It’s not nimble, but the Karma is entirely predictable under hard cornering and there’s even a subtle wiggle from the rear end and some tyre squeal if you really push it. The steering is also nicely weighted and responds as expected to your inputs.

Should I buy one?

Thinking of a conceptual rival for the Fisker Karma is hard enough on paper. Despite what the looks suggest, it’s no sports car, and the two rear seats are too cramped and the boot too small for it to worry even an Aston Martin Rapide as a spacious GT.

But then the Fisker Karma is actually an entirely new concept. It’s an entirely believable and capable luxury car for the eco-conscious – who honestly takes a wealthy person driving a Toyota Prius seriously?

Fisker Karma

Price: 85,500 euro (£72,500); Top speed: 125mph (limited); 0-60mph: 6.3sec; Economy: 62.4mpg (converted from US certified figure); Co2: 53g/km (EU equivalent); Kerb weight: 2404kg; Engine type: twin electric traction engines with 256bhp 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine/generator; Power: 397bhp; Torque: 959lb ft; Gearbox: Direct drive; Range: 50 miles on electric power, 300 miles with generator

Join the debate

Comments
42

27 February 2012

I'd save a lot of money and buy a 550d xDrive. I don't know what it is about the Fisker, but it really doesn't appeal to me.

27 February 2012

Is the Fisker 4wd? If so it would make it more appealing. I thought BMW were not bringing the 55D Xdrive to the UK but might bring it as a rwd?

I think it would have too much torque for the rear wheels if only rwd, shame they cant bring X drive versions of their regular range to the UK.

The Karma looks very good to me, a bit of Aston Martin with a dose of Maserati too, very heavy though.

27 February 2012

[quote Fidji]

I'd save a lot of money and buy a 550d xDrive. I don't know what it is about the Fisker, but it really doesn't appeal to me.

[/quote]

Now, I am at the other end of the spectrum. I desire this car on so many levels but not the ones I normally would. The whole design and build of it looks fantastic and I appreciate that it may not handle as good as it looks but as a car to cruise in, excellent.

Considering what has gone in to it as well (design and engineering), it even looks, dare I say it, cheap for what it is.

 

 

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

27 February 2012

[quote TegTypeR][quote Fidji]I'd save a lot of money and buy a 550d xDrive. ... doesn't appeal to me.[/quote]Now, I am at the other end of the spectrum. I desire this car on so many levels.[/quote]Well, gentlemen, I am in two minds: by rights petrolheads should be captivated by the innovative engineering, and by the clean lines of the interior - dubious "contrasting inserts" excepted. However, I remain to be convinced by Fiskers adoption of a grimacing grille, and whenever a sports car or sports saloon of an elegant length acquires a dropped waist line it weakens the visual strength of the side view - TVR's Tuscan a victim of yesteryear.

DKW

27 February 2012

[quote Autocar]who honestly takes a wealthy person driving a Toyota Prius seriously?[/quote] Who honestly takes any person driving a Toyota Prius seriously?

27 February 2012

[quote Los Angeles]

[quote TegTypeR][quote Fidji]I'd save a lot of money and buy a 550d xDrive. ... doesn't appeal to me.[/quote]Now, I am at the other end of the spectrum. I desire this car on so many levels.[/quote]Well, gentlemen, I am in two minds: by rights petrolheads should be captivated by the innovative engineering, and by the clean lines of the interior - dubious "contrasting inserts" excepted. However, I remain to be convinced by Fiskers adoption of a grimacing grille, and whenever a sports car or sports saloon of an elegant length acquires a dropped waist line it weakens the visual strength of the side view - TVR's Tuscan a victim of yesteryear.

[/quote]

I'm with Teg on this one.

The Fisker tickles my techie bits. I'm prepared to overlook the weight, size and admittedly unlovely nose because I like the idea, engineering and validity.
It's a slice of the future today and with very few caveats which this kind of product is usually saddled with.

27 February 2012

Without even considering the tech, I think this is a very attractive looking car.

"The Karma is a series hybrid, meaning the 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine is there only to act as a generator when the lithium-ion battery pack that drives a pair of rear-mounted electric motors runs out of charge."

What I don't understand though, and would love to be enlightened.....

- The engine is not mechanically connected to the wheels in any way, it just charges the battery pack - so why turbo-charged? Does this just charge the battery pack faster?

- Why bother with this configuration at all - is it really more efficient to use the engine to charge a battery and then the battery to drive the motor, than to just get the engine to drive the wheels in the first place? Seems like a lot of energy transfer, which is typically prone to large losses.

- OK, so you can drive 50 miles w/o the engine - but this system doesn't seem to be plug-in, so you have to turn the engine on at some point?

Perhaps this system is designed for the future when an alternative secondary source of power can be used to charge the battery, but it seems over-engineered for little advantage.

27 February 2012

[quote DKW]Who honestly takes any person driving a Toyota Prius seriously? [/quote] Larry David drives a Prius in real life and on Curb Your Enthusiasm. He is extremely waelthy but also a comedian. Confused as to whether I should take him seriously or not in this case!

27 February 2012

@leojk:

turbo charging the engine just means the power to weight is better than if it were naturally aspirated but larger to give the same power, although Im agreement with that it doesnt make as much sense from an economic view. Its why GM didnt go with a turbo charged engine in their Volt, a naturally aspirated engine is more efficient at open throttle than a turbo charge engine is at open throttle and both are providing the same power. ie. a turbo charged 1.2 giving 100 bhp is less efficient than a 1.4 NA engine that also does 100bhp. Obviously if you take the open throttle/constant speed out of the equation than a turbo charged engine becomes more efficient, but then these series hybrids are designed to operate the engine in this manner.

Im not sure but the Fisker may well send the electricity generated by the petrol engine directly to the motors rather than through the battery pack.

Finally the fisker Karma is indeed plug in, you can use it as a pure EV if you're daily commute will allow it.

However as Ive said in other posts I dont think the Fisker Karma does it right. If I were designing it, I would have made the engine naturally aspirated, running on an atkinson cycle (to be more efficient still) made the engine block out of magnesium or aluminiun to make it as light as possible, basically engineered it fit for purpose as a generator running at constant speed as efficiently as possible!

I think Fisker just went with a known run of the mill engine rather than wanting to spend money developing something bespoke.

27 February 2012

I like the Karma v. much, BUT not as much as Brian Johnson's 1928 Bentley plus a small car for going to the shops ...

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