Driving the Fisker Karma
Not familiar with fledgling electric automaker Fisker? No worries -- here are some quick impressions of the California-based upstart's first vehicle.
The Fisker Karma luxury EV debuted in concept form at the 2008 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The following year, Fisker Automotive was approved for a $528.7 million loan from the Energy Department's Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing loan program, and in 2011 the first production Karma hit the road.
The Karma has two electric motors that can drive more than 400 horsepower to the rear wheels. At the front of the vehicle sits a 260-horsepower turbocharged engine that runs a generator, recharging the batteries when the car nears the end of its EV range.
Karma has two different drive modes: stealth and sport. In stealth mode, the gas engine does not turn on until the batteries need recharging. Stealth mode allows about 50 miles of silent driving. After that drivers have two choices: starting up the engine to recharge the batteries on the go, or stopping to plug in the car and replenish power from the grid.
Total output in stealth mode is 255 horsepower; however, in sport mode the generator sends power directly to the electric motors, supplementing the batteries and increasing total possible output to 403 horsepower.
Unique design: The Karma has a distinctive look that won’t be confused with any other vehicle on the road. The long, taut body tapers in the middle; the length is tied directly to the propulsion system. In fact, the entire car was designed around the battery pack, which makes up the “spine” of the vehicle. Range requirements dictated the number of batteries, which ultimately defined the length of the car.
Smooth, quiet power: With power coming from the two electric motors, the Karma accelerates smoothly and quietly. Even when the gas engine starts to recharge the batteries, it’s barely noticeable in the cabin. There is something surreal about accelerating such a large sedan and hearing only the sounds of wind and tires. Although a big car, the Karma is comfortable to drive and handles twisty roads with ease, assisted by a low center of gravity.
Green, green, green: The clean, efficient powerplant makes Karma one of the greener cars on the road. As long as the car is driven less than 50 miles between charges, drivers may never use a gallon of gasoline, and it won't emit any exhaust. The EPA reports a 54 mpg-e rating, which is pretty impressive for a large luxury sedan. Carbon-dioxide emissions are just 169 grams/mile, about half that of a Porsche Panamera Hybrid. The Karma’s roof also acts as a solar panel, capturing energy and adding power to the batteries.
All materials used for the interior are environmentally friendly. Three different types of wood trim are available: Rescued Wood, retrieved after a 2007 California firestorm; Sunken Wood, from the bottom of Lake Michigan; and Fallen Wood, obtained after storms in California. The leather trim is made in an energy self-sufficient, closed-loop plant with both gas and electricity generated on-site from byproducts of the leather-making process.
Poor use of space: Although the Karma is almost as long as a BMW 7-Series, there’s not as much room inside as you would expect. The interior seats four, and while the rear seats wouldn’t be described as roomy, they are adequate for two adults. Trunk space is limited -- it’s unlikely it could handle luggage for four people.
Power: In stealth mode, acceleration is smooth, and there’s plenty of power to get up to speed, but the Karma doesn't feel sports-car fast. Most electric motors have plenty of low-end torque, and so acceleration expectations might have been a little too high. Even in sport mode the Karma is quicker, but it simply doesn't feel like a 400-horsepower sedan.
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