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The electric Fisker Karma

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Sun, Jan 27, 2013

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

Fisker Karma (John Grafman)

By John Grafman Behind me, right across the shopping center parking lot, a teen flipping pies at the local Dominos Pizza is shouting “Hot ass car!” like his pants are on fire. Considering he's bolting outside of the store to tell me his thoughts on the Fisker Karma, I’m pretty sure that it’s the pizza that’s burning, not his jeans. Afterwards, I pondered the moment. Wow, maybe teenagers still care about cars after all, or maybe it just has to be the right car? Well, that artery clogging, dough slinger did have it nailed. Today’s youth doesn’t mince words, and the feedback everywhere is pretty similar. This really altered my thoughts on the Fisker Karma. This isn’t an electric vehicle with extended range (EVer) that looks cool; this is a kick-ass exotic car that just so happens to have an alternative powertrain and an ecologically minded twist to it. Therein lies the difference between a Fisker Karma and all others that plan on ascending to legendary status, and win the hearts and minds of car enthusiasts. Yes, that’s a pretty bold statement, but this does fit the mold. Henrik Fisker, CEO/Executive Design Director, clearly concurs stating; “The Karma proves that we can drive environmentally responsible cars without sacrificing the emotional things that made us fall in love with cars in the first place.” To explain how the Karma works really isn’t so difficult. This is a series plug-in electric vehicle. It does run on battery power, and it can be plugged into a 110 volt outlet for recharging, and even 220v. As the 20 kWh battery from supplier A123 depletes, the 2-liter, turbocharged gas engine starts up and runs a generator, creating more electricity for either the battery, or it’s sent directly to the electric motors on the rear axle, or both. So, there is no mechanical linkage from the gas motor to the wheels. There are two battery systems, one for the engine, and another for everything else, like accessories. The solar panel roof can recharge the accessory battery, further reducing a need to plug-in.

Fisker Karma (John Grafman)

Consider this, the Fisker Karma has more torque than a Bugatti Veyron with 959 pound-feet on tap with just a touch of the accelerator. Or to look at it another way, this has more than double the torque of the upcoming 2014 Corvette. In other words, this always feels like it has a pair. But, it does truly feel different, as this doesn’t have a driveshaft and gears, so it’s exceedingly smooth, like a jet. Either throttle up, or throttle back, no shifting, just pure power. What tree huggers and pizza-boy alike will find special is the attention to recycled materials and the ability to recapture energy, and extract power from the source the driver finds most suitable. The paddle shifter behind the left side of the steering wheel toggles the car from Stealth mode - just battery power, to Sport mode - using the gas power engine. In Sport the Fisker will use both battery and gas engine until there is 26 miles of range or less on the battery, then it switches to the front mounted 2.0-liter engine for generation of electricity. Used wisely this allows conservation of the battery power for when it’s most effective, such as in city driving, or stop and go on the freeway. The paddle shifter on the right controls the energy recapture system. While in a typical car with paddle shifting, clicking the paddle into a lower gear will reduce the speed of the vehicle. In the Karma, as it has only one gear, it increases the energy recapture abilities to effectively slow the four-door down. Depressing the right paddle shifter once moderately reduces speed, and the second pull reduces speed even more dramatically. Slightly confusing to us is the numerical value shown in the center of the speedo of the digital instrument panel. In a manual mode of every other car on the planet first gear will produce the same effect as we see in Fisker once it is in position 2. Position 1 in the Karma is similar to a higher gear on a typical vehicle, such as second or third gear. It takes a little getting used to, but if you drive by the seat of your pants this is much easier than looking at the counter intuitive digital readout.


Aside from the easy to use push-button activated drive selector, the Karma comes off as pretty straight forward, well, as much as an exotic car can. There are subtle differences, like the brakes seem to be touchy, as the regenerative braking also reduces forward motion at the same time. On the flip side, the massive Brembos bring the 5,000-pound car to a stop much faster than one would expect, which are assisted by extremely wide tires. The ample 22” are so large that they graze the wheel well inners when new. Fisker couldn’t get rubber any larger under the fenders unless they change the sheet metal! Snow chains? Forgetaboutit! Surprisingly, despite the wheelbase length, this can execute a relatively tight turn, as the front wheels really tuck in when the steering wheel is fully locked to either side. What does all of this mean to us and the kid with the blue apron with pizza sauce splattered on it? The world is no longer the same. This electric car isn’t just for nerds. This has looks that kill, enough power to climb vertical walls, a cleaner powertrain, and is the start of something new. Enough said! Now, this isn’t all rainbows and puppy dog tails. A few compromises and quality hick-ups are discernable. The most obvious is the tight passenger compartment, due to the intrusion of the L shaped battery that runs down the middle of the car, and the low roofline. The bodacious, curvy body does its share to add to this confining situation. Likewise, the trunk is not much to crow about, perhaps one golf bag’s worth. Gansta rappers will have a tough time squeezing a body in there too. The interior has a few areas that should be improved upon soon enough, such as the ill fitting A pillar panels, and the oversized gaps around the interior door panels. Similarly, the trunk gapping is uneven and massive, as if the trunk itself is a quarter inch-or-so shy all the way around. The controls on the steering wheel aren’t illuminated either, which tests the drivers ability to recall the position of the audio and cruise control buttons. Unfortunately, a Bluetooth connected phone inside the car sounds has interference of an odd sort, creating a clicking, popping sound. The center stack control center isn’t bad, but it could be better. The reaction time of the controls is slow, and glare does make the readout hard to see. Albeit, this does work in a fairly logical way once we spend a little time with it. This does offer voice controls, allowing functionality without taking our eyes off the road, which is always a good idea. When it comes to driving, the long wheelbase and ground hugging body means that it’s easy enough to get marooned on large bumps, and it’s inevitable to scrape the front on steep, unfamiliar driveways. Ah, the price of beauty.


The eco-minded will love that the Karma can provide short drives with no or minimal use of petroleum. But, it really is hard to resist goosing the pedal on the right just for shits and giggles. Inevitably, that means less efficiency, and increased use in fuel, just as it is in every other car on the road today. If the numbers aren’t as stellar as the EPA estimate, surprise, it’s pretty much the same story as any other car. Those numbers are for perfect-world scenarios, as if that place really exists! Now, if this sounds like the Karma isn’t a blast you’d be wrong, very wrong. A quick side note, Fisker Automotive is one a just a few start-up companies that have been born over the past few decades. There have been a few teething pains, but this is 98% on the mark from the start. That is very impressive considering how much of a head start other car companies have on Fisker. The Fisker Karma is a better-built car than low-volume products were from Bentley, Ferrari, Lamborghini, or Rolls Royce just a little over a decade ago. Given the commitment and awareness of the founders, Henrik Fisker and Bernhard Koehler, it won’t be very long before the company is on parity with the big dogs. Don’t be swayed by the low-points, the gleaming, swanky electric has some sharp arrows in it’s quiver. The diamond dust paint is as brilliant as can be short of being polished chrome. This has charisma to spare. The body styling is a sweet blend of modern Aston Martin, and a 70’s Corvette. Ferrari only wishes it made a four-seater with this much sex appeal. The blend of organic curves and taut lines creates a sculpted form that’s very alluring. Skip the detailers, Karma owners will only be too eager to massage wax over this lovely, sensuous body. The two electric motors and the synthetic exhaust sound have the faint whine of an air-force experimental hypersonic jet hitting its stride. When the windows are closed tight this is silent like a desolate library at night. The sound isolation in this is top-notch, with road and motor noise kept to an absolute minimum. There’s no squeaks or rattles to detect. But, this isn’t to say this car can’t rock. The audio system can wake the dead and without distortion. Take that zombies! The leather seating and ultra-suede trim are pleasing to the eye and to the touch. Even a few little details are crafted far better than we have seen in other products, like the thin, stiff, leather bound sun visors. Touches like flush interior door release buttons streamline the interior of extraneous knobs and switches, almost to the point of looking like something is amiss. The lack of clutter is both a breath of fresh air, and Apple-like. The metallic buttons on the side of the front seat headrests (above the center console) look interesting, but have an actual function. These chrome knobs are really coat hangers. This is a simple yet elegant solution, as opposed to blocking a rear window, or draping a jacket over a seat.


Like any good exotic, this is really about the drive experience. Pleasingly, the Fisker Karma is as rewarding to drive as it is to look at. About the best way to equate this is to think of an oversize slot car. Both are electric, and both handle like they are riding on rails. The Karma in spite of it’s heft doesn’t wallow or sway, it just sort of snakes along a path, yet it doesn’t feel overly taut or harsh. Thanks to solid engineering and the proprietary, advanced aluminum space frame, and lightweight aluminum and composite body panels. This has enough torque to get up and out of the way of trialing paparazzi in a flash, although it’s fruitless to try as they can spot this car a mile off in the distance. Subtle this isn’t! It’s almost as if Fisker took the electric carts from K1 Speed and turned those into full-size road worthy cars. The wide smiling grill on the front of the car is more than vaguely reminiscent of the grin on this Karma driver’s face. Just in case something bad should happen, the Karma meets or exceeds not just the US crash-protection standards with integrated front and rear crush zones and side impact protection, but this was built to meet global standards. Cruising along the San Diego Freeway and the 101 to and from Los Angeles I find the drive relaxing, as the visibility all around is really good, as long as you know how to use the mirrors. But, even over the driver’s left shoulder without the use of mirrors proves to be no problem, as the seats don’t impede the outward vision at all. Granted, the rear window isn’t panoramic, but it isn’t a cause for concern either. Additionally, even as wide as this is, the Fisker Karma is easy to keep within the lane. This tracks perfectly, and road imperfections do little to disrupt its appointed path. The added weight keeps this from hopping about when the pavement is uneven. As one might expect in a car of this nature primo features, and this doesn’t disappoint. Some of the niceties with a mind on our environment include Certified Deep Sunken Wood™, seating foam made from soy-based bio fiber, low-energy LED lamps for indicators, brake, tail, reverse, side markers and rear fog, and semi-aniline premium 'Bridge of Weir Low Carbon Leather™' interior prepared in 100% energy self-sustaining facility that sources hides from suppliers that abide by the Five Freedoms of humane animal treatment (Ecosport model). Other standard items found in the Karma Ecostandard model include solar-powered unattended cabin temperature control, parking distance sensors, Bi-xenon headlamps, Fisker Command Center™ with a 10.2-inch multifunction haptic touch-screen display, six-way power adjustable front seats with lumbar support and three heat settings and heated rear seats, and keyless push button start/stop, along with a host of other luxury bits. Also on the Ecosport model are upgrades like the available Diamond Dust Paint with high glass flake content, premium audio system including six-channel, eight-speaker with eight-inch subwoofer, voice activated hands-free navigation, and a rear view camera. After several days of driving this left me wondering, is the electric car a flash in the pan, or is it here to stay? The answer seemed obvious while driving through the San Fernando Valley. At a stop light I glanced to my left, and alongside the Fisker was the new Tesla Model S. Perhaps the world is finally accepting new approaches to transportation. That’s fine by us, and the kid at Domino’s is probably wondering why it took the rest of us so long to see the light.


SUMMARY JUDGMENT An exemplary first product, but it still needs a final polish. Find out more at SPECIFICATIONS Price: Base $110,000 as tested $116,600 Engine type: Two rear-mounted electric traction motors. 2.0-liter, 260hp, low-emission, four-cylinder direct fuel-injection w/ turbocharger and 175 kW generator. Battery: Center mounted, 20 kWh, 180 kW lithium ion w/Nanophosphate™ technology (A123 Systems) EPA mileage estimates Combined City/ Highway: 54 electricity / 20 gasoline Total range: Up to 300 miles (483 km) Up to 50 miles (80km) electric only Up to 250 miles (403 km) extended range Ho Torque: 959 lb.-ft @ 0 rpm Drive configuration: Front engine / rear-wheel drive Transmission type: Single-ratio gearbox/Limited Slip Differential combination Suspension: Four-wheel independent, sport-tuned aluminum Short-Long Arm (SLA) geometry Front: Mono-tube coil-over shock absorbers and 30mm anti-roll bar Rear: Self-leveling Sachs Nivomat® mono-tube coil-over shock absorbers and 24mm anti-roll bar

Fisker Karma in Earth (John Grafman)

Wheels and tires: Front: Aluminum alloy Fisker Circuit Blade™ design wheels wheels 22" x 8.5", Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar 255/35/WR22 Rear: Aluminum alloy Fisker Circuit Blade™ design wheels wheels 22" x 9.5", Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar 285/35/WR22 Brakes: Brake by wire, electro-hydraulically power assisted four-wheel disc with fully blended regenerative brake system and push-through override with Antilock Brakes, Traction Control, Electronic Stability Control, Panic Brake Assist Front: Brembo® 370mm x 34mm diameter floating, directionally ventilated rotors and six-piston monobloc calipers Rear: Brembo® 365mm x 28mm diameter single piece, directionally ventilated rotors with four-piston calipers Dimensions Overall length: 196.8” Overall width: 84” with mirrors Overall height: 52.4” Curb weight (lbs.): 5,300 Performance: Stealth Mode: Lithium-ion battery power only 0-60mph (97 km/h) = 7.9 sec. Top Speed = 95mph (153 km/h) Sport Mode: Lithium-ion power with Engine/Generator 0-60mph (97km/h) = 6.3 sec. Top Speed = 125mph (201 km/h) electronically limited [nggallery id=fiskerkarma]

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