Driven: 2012 Fisker Karma ES

Rude, crude, rough, and lewd, the turbo engine buzzes with all the refinement of a drunken Texan-and that's at light load. Under full throttle, the engine's racket is even more considerable, but the noise is overlaid with a bewitching whistle from the turbo-and if you pull your foot off the accelerator quickly enough, an intoxicating whoosh from the blow-off valve. As cool as the turbo noises are, they only partially mask the engine-there are four-cylinders that would sound better with a connecting rod poking through their crankcases. When pressed on its choice of gas engines, Fisker admitted that few powerplants met the company's specifications (2.0 liters or less, 260 hp or more). An obvious choice would have been the high-output version of Volkswagen's superbly refined turbo 2.0-liter -- but VW wasn't interested in doing business with Fisker.

Still, in the Karma, the internal-combustion engine is the backup plan, not the primary propulsion method. In EV mode, the Karma is so quiet that Fisker has installed two one-watt sound generators to alert pedestrians of its presence. After fifty miles of silence, some unpleasant noises are forgivable. Besides, listening to a coarse four-cylinder is far less unpleasant than walking home when your battery runs out of juice.

Our drive of preproduction cars was limited to a closed course, where we discovered that the Karma is a track monster. Having the big masses (engine, batteries, motors) positioned low and mostly inside the wheelbase helps the Karma turn into a sports car when pushed hard. It's blessed with instantaneous turn-in, virtually no body roll, no brake dive, and obscene cornering grip. It has spot-on chassis balance, supercar-quality initial brake bite, and more than ample suspension compliance. Add to that excellent weight distribution (47/53 percent front/rear); a low (18.9-inch) center of gravity; quick, communicative steering; and a tight turning radius. When it comes to dynamics, the Karma kicks ass and takes names.

In Sport mode, the Karma can achieve 60 mph in 5.9 seconds and continue to 125 mph. Without the gas engine's assistance, the mile-per-minute marker comes at 7.9 seconds, and 95 mph is the limit. Straight-line acceleration isn't exactly breathtaking, but like all EVs, the Fisker is quickest at low speeds, where you need it most. If you expected more acceleration from 402 hp, it's because you're forgetting the other side of the equation: weight.

The problem of importing and using oil has been well defined. Natural gas does not produce massive toxic waste. Natural gas and nuclear energy produce produce about the same amount of electrical generation as coal. The vast majority of the remaining electrical generation sources are low in pollution. Electric cars are no panacea, but they can certainly be part of a transitional solution.
I will answer your last question for you. It is expensive, has average performance, and a limited range. Electric cars are an answer to a problem that has yet to be defined. Unless we switch to nuclear energy, electric cars are nothing more than a toxic waste dump waiting for the day to be put to rest.

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