"From a design perspective, we want to create really beautiful, timeless cars. We don't cater to the immediate, in-your-face impact. We cater to those who truly appreciate style-not because they want to be seen, but because they appreciate the finer things in life. It's about a limited-edition, truly personalized design." - Henrik Fisker
Yes, that's Henrik Fisker, the Henrik Fisker, the Danish designer behind the BMW Z8, the Aston Martin V8 Vantage, and most (if not all) of the Aston Martin DB9. And yes, it sounds a lot like some shopworn old infomercial pitch, or maybe something from the advertising section of Nouveau Riche Monthly. As a mission statement, it's grand, noble, and entirely unbelievable. In other words, it's exactly the kind of marketing-speak you would expect to hear from the man at the helm of a young, small, high-end car company.
Here's the funny part, though: All that stuff Fisker says? He means it. On top of that, it's actually... true.
For the past two years, Irvine, California-based Fisker Coachbuild has quietly gone about the business of reinventing the long-dead tradition of the coachbuilder. His $183,500 Tramonto roadster is attractive and sleek, arguably more so than the Mercedes-Benz SL upon which it is based. His clientele are almost always tasteful and wealthy - not exactly a common combination. And his cars actually seem to be unique (despite their being based on mass-produced corporate products), stylish, and worth their astronomical sticker prices. (That $183,000 fee that the Tramonto brings is a base number; most come in roughly $50,000 to $100,000 higher, and the only true price cap is the customer's imagination.)
So here we are in the summer of 2007, and the affable Fisker has decided to pop out with yet another production car. Unlike the Tramonto, Fisker's latest offering is based on a BMW product - it's essentially a reskinned and retrimmed BMW 6-series, albeit one whose engine can produce upwards of 650 hp, one that looks almost nothing like the ugly-baby car it began life as. Pay careful attention here: Yes, that's right. The Fisker Latigo is actually pretty.
Here's how it works: You pony up for a hideous-looking-but-really-quite-fast BMW 650i or M6, then drop it off with Fisker and his crew in Irvine. Your 6er is then cloaked in all manner of carbon-fiber and aluminum bodywork (carbon hood, bumpers, fenders, sills, trunk, rear diffuser, aluminum doors). The entire interior is dismantled-sadly, iDrive stays, though it's at least gifted with an uber-cool billet aluminum knob-and retrimmed by hand, with multiple grades of leather and a virtually endless selection of colors available. (The highest-grade leather on offer feels and looks like Italian furniture skin because, well, it is.) Billet aluminum touches such as switch surrounds and trim panels are installed - again, all to your particular taste and preference - and the headliner is retrimmed in heavily sueded Alcantara. There's an almost blinding amount of dead cow - it's like bathing in a sea made of the world's nicest couches. In short, everything in the interior is revamped, recovered, and extensively facelifted.
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Roughly four to five months after you've dropped your car off in Irvine, you're presented with the finished product. For reasons of both cost and logistics - every component that's even remotely related to safety must be recertified and/or re-crash-tested by the government if modified, a process that is neither quick nor cheap - the end result keeps the proportions, glass, and interior construction of the base vehicle. Regardless, the end result is truly astounding - the fundamental shape is obviously that of a 6-series BMW, but it's far more delicate, Italianate, and exotic. (The fact that the Latigo amazes as much as the stock 6-series underwhelms exemplifies the popular theory that the problem with BMW's current designs isn't the proportions, but the details.) In person, you spend a lot of time staring at the flanks, staring at the taut rear end, and soaking up the dripping reflections. In short, it's gorgeous.
On the road, as would be expected, the Latigo drives like a BMW. Our test car-number 001 of 150, and the first-ever Latigo in customer hands-was equipped with the optional Fisker Performance Plus Package ($50,000), a Racing-Dynamics-developed package for the M6's 500-hp V-10 that ups power output by 148 hp. The Latigo also comes standard with Racing Dynamics sport springs and twenty-inch, Fisker-branded, three-piece forged alloy wheels. (255-section-width rubber is standard in front, 285 in the rear.) The end result is a faster, lower 6-series with heavier steering and a noticeably fidgety-but not uncomfortable-ride. Running through the optional RD Sport exhaust, the V-10 is slightly boomy at idle, but sounds fantastic everywhere else. The M6's SMG-II seven-speed gearbox, along with its harsh factory calibration, is retained, and remains a wart on an otherwise pleasant driving experience. (Fisker claims that an exclusive, recalibrated shift program is in the works.) The M6's stock electronically adjustable shocks keep up decently, but not completely, with the heavier wheels and different springs. All in all, the car works like you would expect it to, and while a software glitch prevented us from exploiting the Latigo's full 648 hp (we were limited to a paltry 548 hp), the car is a composed, quiet, leather-stuffed good time.
As a company, Fisker is incredibly focused on personal attention and customer satisfaction. "We're aiming to produce a totally different buying experience," claims Fisker, "one that possibly used to be the realm of only Ferrari or Maserati, but certainly isn't any more. We're very (focused) on the quality we deliver because we're such a small company, and that's where smaller companies traditionally have issues. That's why we base our cars on known technology-our customers want a unique car that's also a known commodity. Our customers want to feel special."
In the end, that's all that matters. It doesn't matter that you've paid up to three hundred grand for a BMW with a different skin, and it doesn't matter that that same amount of cash could've snagged any one of a hundred Ferraris, Lamborghinis, or platinum-plated Bentleys. All that matters is the sensations that rush at you from behind the wheel; the Fisker feels hand-trimmed, unique, and truly luxurious because it is, and as a result, it's impossible to not feel special from behind its wheel. To boot, by supporting a supremely gifted artist - and the man who designed the V8 Vantage can be called nothing less - you feel as if you've done the world and yourself a service at the same time. Spend an awful lot of money to make an ugly car gorgeous? It feels like a cultured, educated choice.
Like every other Fisker model, only 150 examples of the Latigo will be built, so it's definitely exclusive. Would we buy one? Probably not. Fiskers are, admittedly, a very pretty statement and little more. (The Racing Dynamics engine package isn't exclusive to Fisker Coachbuild, and can be retrofitted to other BMWs through RDS directly.) But in a world where the truly unique is becoming harder and harder to come by, who can be faulted for wanting to be different?