Road Tests

First Drive: 2018 Karma Revero

The 2015 Fisker Karma has arrived

LAGUNA BEACH, California — If the 2018 Karma Revero was a typical car with a typical story, its arrival would elicit the exact amount of attention that a mild mid-cycle facelift deserves. But there’s nothing typical about the car formerly known as the Fisker Karma.

The automaker’s backstory is short but convoluted. The quick version is that Fisker went bankrupt in 2013 following a series of battery-related issues, including several incidents of uncontrolled external combustion, with founder Henrik Fisker resigning from the company shortly before the filing. Several months later, Fisker’s assets were bought at auction by Chinese supplier Wanxiang Group, which also acquired Fisker’s bankrupt battery supplier, A123 Systems. Rechristened as Karma Automotive, its first goal was always to restart production of the now-eponymous hybrid grand tourer.

Job one was to make a decision on the production site. Fisker contracted Finland’s Valmet Automotive, which is perhaps best known for assembling the first two generations of Porsche’s Boxster as well as the first-generation Cayman. But the new management ultimately opted to bring manufacturing in-house and setup a factory close to their Southern California headquarters in the industrial inland suburb of Moreno Valley, roughly 60 miles east of Los Angeles; it is the first automotive assembly plant built in the region in decades.

This Southern California connection is incorporated into the Karma brand. The Revero’s brochure is replete with region-specific photos, and the name of every exterior shade and interior scheme has a direct connection as well. For example, the two primarily tan interior shades (there are six in all) are named after beaches in Orange County (Crystal Cove and Salt Creek), while two of the eight available exterior colors are named after the famous Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (Borrego Black and Anza Desert). Buyers can also choose from six caliper colors and four different wheel options comprised of one 21-inch offering and three 22-inch versions.

With a fairly long list of issues to tackle before relaunching the car, engineers focused on the most important ones. It helped that Fisker’s striking sheetmetal aged particularly well and could be left alone, especially given that many would-be customers had never seen the Karma/Revero before. (The most apt comparison is probably the oft-forgotten Maserati Gran Turismo, which has now been on sale for a full decade but still looks fairly fresh and eye-catching to anyone that’s not a car connoisseur.)

Interior design was left alone as well. Updates were focused on improving fit and finish, as well as offering better interior colors. In addition to the two tan schemes, there’s a full black, red-and-black, black-and-orange, and full brown to choose from; carbon-fiber trim comes with the black and black-and-red interiors, while the other four receive wood trim.

The most significant change inside is the all-new infotainment system, which is an in-house design. Controlled either via touch screen or with steering wheel-mounted paddles, it is fast, intuitive, and easy to use; the performance-related complaints levied at Fisker’s old system would be decidedly out of place. Sounds broadcast by the system come from a 275-watt stereo that splits power between eight speakers and a single subwoofer; though it’s no booming Burmester, the setup does a good job of filling the Revero’s cabin with well-rendered audio.

Despite having a wheelbase as long as the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, and being nearly the same overall size as it, the Revero’s interior is best described as snug. The driver and passenger have ample space for their bodies once they navigate the sports car-esque ingress, but rear passengers are not afforded the same luxury. The twin back seats are only suitable for carry-on luggage, small children, and Tyrion Lannister; my 6-foot 4-inch self would only fit back there if my head and lower legs were severed and placed into the lap of my lifeless corpse. If you need to carry anything more than a duffel bag, you’ll have to leave the Headless Horseman at the topless bar anyway, as the Revero’s tiny trunk offers just 6.9 cubic feet of space, and a large tunnel occupies the middle of the interior.

The Revero retains the Karma’s original powertrain, a combination of twin electric motors mated to a 2.0-liter turbo-four that can serve as a parallel power source or range extender. Outputs are the same as well: a combined 403 hp and 981 lb-ft for the motors and 235 hp for the engine (Karma did not specify an engine torque figure). Battery-only range remains at around 50 miles, and charging still takes about 10 hours at 16 amps and six hours at 32 amps, but the car now comes with support for DC quick-charging as well. This can get the batteries back up to 80 percent (40 miles) in 24 minutes. Additionally, the solar roof also now charges the battery, though it can only provide around three miles of extra range over the course of day.

Despite unchanged motivating hardware, Karma claims the car is quicker than before thanks to new software and electronics. The Fisker-branded version needed 6.0 seconds to hit 60 mph in Sport mode, 7.1 seconds in range-extender “Sustain” mode, and 7.9 seconds in “Stealth” mode as a pure EV. Karma claims times of 5.4 seconds, 7.2 seconds, and 6.9 seconds, respectively — better, but still slow by modern standards.

Lackluster acceleration aside, the Revero felt like the grand tourer it is intended to be on the suburban parkways and back roads of south Orange County. Despite its considerable dimensions and full-size truck-like 5,400-pound weight, the Revero is pretty fun to hustle through corners. Part of it is good old physics — much of that weight sits in the car’s floor, giving it a low center of gravity, while its footprint distributes it over a considerable surface area — and part of it is the well-sorted steering and chassis. The former leans toward heavy with a good amount of resistance, sharpening up when switched to Sporty (yes, Sporty), while the latter handles transitions well and stays settled even in off-camber corners.

Braking duty is handled by 14.6-inch discs clamped by six-piston Brembo calipers up front, and 14.4-inch discs with four-piston clamps at the rear. There are three braking modes that offer progressive levels of regenerative resistance, but only the third and most aggressive mode provides noticeable levels of deceleration, no doubt due in part to the Revero’s considerable heft. It’s not terribly keen to slow down with light application of the pedal, either. Fortunately, brake pressure and pedal feel are fairly progressive and there’s nothing here that should throw an attentive driver off in the direction of too much braking or not enough.

Although the Revero is fitted with large wheels shod in performance-oriented Goodyear Eagle rubber — 265/35R22 front and 285/35R22 rear — tire noise was minimal and the ride was smooth and luxurious, even on rougher stretches of pavement. Wind noise was excessive, however, with far too much entering through the side windows, possibly due to a poor seal; this may have been limited to the early build car I drove, as one of the Karma executives that rode shotgun with me noted that he didn’t experience the same levels of wind noise in the car he occupied prior.

Another niggle is the high-pitched electric whine emitted by the motor at cruising speeds, which will have those with sensitive hearing screaming up the wall in short order. Far more obnoxious than the whine or the wind noise, however, is the harsh, groaning drone emitted by the four-cylinder engine through the floorboard when it’s putting in work. The GM-sourced mill was never noted for its refinement, and while it turns on and off without any mechanical fuss, your ears will know right away thanks to the short exhausts, which exit directly behind the front wheels and don’t give engineers much to work with when it comes to noise reduction.

In all, while Karma addressed most of the Karma’s build quality-related flaws, the fundamental compromises made in the name of design remain. While further software refinements and the addition of new features will be implemented in the near future through the Revero’s built-in two-way 4G connectivity (on deck is the addition of adaptive cruise control, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto), the aging powertrain and poorly packaged interior aren’t going anywhere.

The Karma team seems to be cognizant of the product’s limitations and spoke of the Revero more as a brand-building exercise than a potential profit center. Building the Revero is also an experience-gaining exercise for everyone involved, particularly the new-to-automaking factory staff, which will get the opportunity to cut its teeth in the oddly-more-forgiving-of-flaws world of boutique luxury cars. That experience will be valuable when Karma goes to launch a follow-up to the Revero, which will be a far more substantial undertaking than a mild mid-cycle refresh of a six-year-old car.

2018 Karma Revero Specifications

ON SALE Now
PRICE $131,400 (base)
ENGINE Two permanent drive synchronous AC motors/403 hp, 981 lb-ft; 2.0L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/235 hp
TRANSMISSION 1-speed reduction
LAYOUT 4-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, AWD sedan
EPA MILEAGE 51 mpge
L x W x H 196.4 x 84.0 x 52.4 in
WHEELBASE 124.4 in
WEIGHT 5,400 lb
0-60 MPH 5.4-7.2 sec
TOP SPEED 125 mph

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