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.