REASON TWO: THE PRICE and PACKAGE
We bestowed our highest honor, Automobile of the Year, upon the Chevrolet Volt, the world’s first real production range-extended electric vehicle. We did so not because of the car itself, but because of the technology it contains. The Volt isn’t perfect, nor have we ever said it was. It marks a landmark shift in the automotive world, and it’s a clear sign that someone is home, with the lights on, doing their homework at General Motors. Bravo.
On the other hand, the Volt is saddled with two big problems. First, GM developed a brilliant powertrain and wrapped it in a completely undesirable package. The Volt was supposed to pretty, like the original concept. The production Volt is anything but.
Its second problem is one that it shares with every other electric vehicle on the market (that includes pure EVs and range-extended EVs.) That problem: the sticker and the car don’t match. The Chevy Volt is an $18,000 hatchback with a $41,000 sticker. The Nissan Leaf is a $15,000 econo-hatchback with a $33,000 MSRP. Even the lovable Tesla Roadster is, essentially, a $110,000 sports car based on a $45,000 Lotus.
The Fisker Karma is saddled with none of these problems. It’s a $97,000 car with a $97,000 window sticker. The technology is merely a bonus -- the Karma would be desirable if it had a conventional V-8 under the hood. In terms of style and elegance, it’s easily the equal of the new Jaguar XJ -- another of the Automobile of the Year finalists. Combining the best -- and seemingly contradictory -- attributes of two AOY finalists is a clear recipe for automotive greatness. Now let’s examine the ingredients in detail.
The Karma is constructed using an extruded aluminum space frame with mostly -- the trunklid is composite -- aluminum body panels, aluminum control arms and subframes. Its 124.4-inch wheelbase is within a quarter inch of the long-wheelbase Mercedes S-class, but the Karma is almost ten inches shorter. More importantly, it’s 4.4 inches wider and 5.6 inches shorter, giving a low, wide stance that trounces even the Maserati Quattroporte’s.
Filling the enormous wheel wells are standard twenty-two inch wheels -- an industry first. 235/25-WR22 front and 285/35-WR22 Goodyear Eagle F1 tires are wrapped around the cast aluminum wheels (which are 8.5 inches wide in front, 9.5 in rear). Despite the small tire-to-fender gap, Fisker promises that the suspension has 3.1 inches of usable jounce travel in front, 3.5 inches in the rear. Sachs Nivomat self-leveling rear shocks keep that travel available, and also eliminate the need for level compensation on the bixenon headlights. (All other exterior lighting is provided by LED.)
Filling the enormous wheels are, of course, enormous brakes. Up front, 14.6-inch floating rotors are straddled by six-piston Brembo monoblock calipers. Peering out from the two-tone spokes of the rear wheels are 14.4” rotors and four-piston Brembo calipers. (The smallest wheel that will fit on the Karma is a 21-incher.)
Speed-sensitive steering assistance is provided by an electrohydraulic system that runs on the car’s 12-volt system. This low-voltage system powers the on-board accessories, lighting, and infotainment system, and stores power in a conventional lead-acid battery. The roof of the Karma has solar panels that feed the system with up to 120 watts of power on sunny days. While this electricity never powers the wheels directly, it can reduce the amount of low-voltage power pulled from the high-voltage system, and could, in theory, add up to 200 miles of additional range per year. Cool, yes, but it’s mostly there to make a statement, we suspect.