Driven: Fisker Karma

By | May 19, 2012

Fisker Henrik Fisker, founder of Fisker Automotive, is no stranger to the automotive industry. Contrary to popular belief, the Karma isn’t exactly his first car.  Let me explain. Fisker has designed several recognizable cars over the years.  Most notable are the BMW Z8 and the Aston Martin DB9.  In 2005 he created Fisker Coachbuild, a company inspired by the coachbuilders which took the chassis from a manufacturer like Bentley and even Ferrari and designed the body of the car to the liking of the client.  These companies were popular in the early 20s to the 1950s when they fizzled out. Henrik Fisker took the idea and created the Tramonto and the Latigo CS which were built on a BMW M6 and a Mercedes-Benz SL65 respectively.  Then in 2007 Fisker Automotive was founded.  So, the Karma may not be Fisker’s first car, however, it is their first car built from the ground up.

So the Karma.  The Karma is the first of its kind – a plug-in electric extended range vehicle, and luxury sedan.  As I approach the car, I can’t help but notice its presence.  The footprint is that of an Audi A8 as it has an elongated wheelbase to contain the powertrain. The other thing I noticed is the massive, but proportional, 22 in wheels.  Road presence indeed!

Fisker Karma InteriorStep inside and I am welcomed by a spaceship-like interior with its unique patterns of brown and caramel leather (a different car than is shown above) in the seats and on the dash.  The dash houses a large touchscreen infotainment center with a single strip of wood trim above it.  So simple.  The wood itself, depending on the wood chosen, comes from a variety of places and is all harvested from trees already fallen, been buried at the bottom of Lake Michigan for centuries, or even burned in recent wildfires.  Everything about this car is “green” and eco-friendly.  I push the big “On” button and nothing seems to happen.  The only sign of life is the formerly dead gauges are now all lit up and ready to go. The pair of 120Kw(161hp) motors begin whirring away without a sound.  Hit the “D” button on the console and off you go.  To address the lack of sound made by said motors, Fisker has added a sound to the car via speakers on the rear underside of the car for pedestrian safety, which is active only while the vehicle is travelling under 30mph.  The sound it makes is very fitting for the car; see, instead of imitating a V8 or any other type of internal combustion chamber engine of old and instead gave it a sound rather like a hovercraft from Star Wars.

Fisker KarmaDriving the car is an absolute delight.  Cruising at freeway speed, very little road noise gets in, and you can travel about 40 miles on pure electricity. After that, just like the Chevy Volt, the engine, a 260hp turbocharged 4-cylinder lifted straight out of a Chevy Cobalt SS, starts. Instead of driving the wheels, it turns a generator which in turn charges the batteries, and drives the wheels for a combined range of approximately 230 miles.  Now that may not seem like a lot considering most cars range is typically about 400-500 miles a tank, however 230 miles is more than enough for typical everyday use.

Now what about the performance numbers?  At 5300lbs the car isn’t exactly fast but it is still quick and should do 0-60mph in about 5.9 seconds in Sport mode.  The acceleration isn’t what you expect either.  Being electric, the Karma only has one gear and the power comes linearly instead of building up to a peak and so as you accelerate, just when you think the car will shift, the power keeps coming and you keep going on to a top speed of 125mph.

While speed isn’t the name of the game, handling wouldn’t seem to be either given the size of the car, but even so, the grip is there.  The Karma feels quite composed and the electric steering feels great. While the performance specs may seem about as exciting as a Toyota Camry, keep in mind this car is a luxury car not a sports car by any means. But that doesn’t make it any less special.  Going back to the road presence and the car’s amazing looks, it only took about a mile of driving on city streets when I look in the rear view mirror and see a motorcyclist flying up behind me to make a pass only to slow down beside me to have a good look.  If you want a car that is sure to stop traffic and still get the equivalent of 112mpg then this is the car for you.

Photos by Chance Hales

For a full gallery of images click here


5 Comments

Tracey on May 20, 2012 at 4:54 pm.

You do realize that this car, just like the volt, is really just a hybrid. The term “extended range electric vehicle” is just PR spin.

Chance Hales on May 20, 2012 at 7:21 pm.

Tracey, That is only half true as well. The car is similar to a hybrid in a sense that they both have a combination of electric and an internal combustion engine. They are different however, in their approach as far as the way they are used. See, in a hybrid, the main source of power comes from the internal combustion engine and the battery power is used only at low speeds and for acceleration purposes. In an extended range EV the electric motors are the only source of power driving the wheels. The internal combustion engine is used purely for recharging the batteries and in no way give power to the wheels. The Volt works in the exact same way. In fact the only difference between the Volt and Karma as far as the powertrain goes is the power itself. Both use a version of GM’s Ecotech 4 cyl engines and both rely on an A123 battery system. Does that help clarify?
-Chance Hales

Rob Taylor on May 21, 2012 at 7:51 am.

Chance, thanks for the great article. And, those are great pictures! I love the one in front of the power plant.

The Karma is definitely a hybrid. So is the Volt. But, they use different types of a hybrid drivetrain…remember, hybrid just means a combination of 2 or more things. They two main types of hybrid drivetrains are parallel and series. With a parallel system, both the electric and gas systems move the wheels. In the US, all hybrids are like this except for the Fisker Karma. (the volt originally started out like this, but in final production, the gas engine actually does power the wheels. This article is terrific in breaking this down: http://tinyurl.com/89aqqu5 ).

The Fisker, on the other hand, is always moved by electricity and is a series hybrid. It operates in the same way has locomotives have done for years. This electricity can come from the batteries where the owner plugged the car in and charged it up or it can come from the generator that is being turned by a gas engine. In my mind this is a much more simple design. There are a lot fewer moving parts and therefore more efficiency. Now, the trick with all the hybrid vehicles is to get the range extender more efficient. Obviously, plugging in a Karma is the most efficient use of power. But, there is a long way to go on making the generator more efficient.

I am sorry for the long post. I hope this helps.

-rob

Chance Hales on May 21, 2012 at 8:31 am.

Thanks for the comment Rob and the excellent explanation. In the sense that the Karma uses both gas and electric it definitely is a hybrid but when compared to the hybrids we have gotten use too like the Prius it works backwards and so in my personal opinion it needed to be called something else in order to not be confused with the more common hybrid system that the Prius and so many others have begun to use.
-Chance Hales

steph k on May 21, 2012 at 12:04 pm.

I have to admit… I’m really I love with this car. Great article!

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