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?
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