It's pretty much impossible to overstate what Fisker has accomplished. The five-year-old start-up has broken into one of the world's toughest and most regulated industries with a product that is more beautiful and more advanced than what's being produced by companies that have been at it for 50, 75, and 100 years. Fisker has had plenty of help from established suppliers and automakers, but the Karma's parts add up to something completely original.
For the uninitiated, the Fisker Karma is a range-extended electric vehicle from the mind of accomplished auto designer Henrik Fisker. While his namesake is as arresting as the Aston Martin V8 Vantage and the BMW Z8 that he penned earlier in his career, this time Henrik Fisker specified a powertrain of another breed. Beneath the Karma's aluminum skin, a lithium-ion battery pack provides roughly 30 miles of electric driving while a four-cylinder engine under the hood can supply electricity to the 403-hp motor as long as you keep the tank filled.
With the Karma's $116,000 base price, electrified drivetrain, and optional animal-free interior, Fisker is playing to the small set of people who could afford a Porsche Panamera Turbo S but would rather drive a Toyota Prius. Unfortunately, at 5300 pounds, the Karma isn't very efficient nor is it particularly fast, so the lofty promises of the big battery pack and the swoopy styling are largely undelivered. And as you might expect of a brand-new car from a brand-new automaker, there are some teething issues. Clunks, pulses, and rattles occasionally emanate from the drivetrain. The large touch screen infotainment system is slow and pocked with temporary placeholders for features that haven't been implemented yet. Exterior panel gaps are imprecise and some interior trim pieces feel like they won't be attached for long.
Despite these shortcomings, I can't help but admire the Karma and hope that the company pulls through the uncertainty surrounding its financial position. The Karma is one of the most evocative cars on the market today -- and that's before you even consider its gas-electric powertrain. Here's hoping that Fisker sticks around long enough to blow us away again with a second car.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
Henrik Fisker is a designer, so it's no surprise that the Fisker Karma car is one of the most beautiful cars on the market today. On the first evening I drove the Karma, I noticed a Lexus RX weaving in and out of traffic behind me. After a while it made its way up in the lane next to me, and the driver and passenger spent the next mile or so accelerating and slowing down so they could take in the Karma from all angles. A short while later, I drove to the grocery store. As soon as I stepped out of the car in the parking lot, a guy came running up to me from a couple lanes over and shouted: "I love that car. What is it?"
However, while the Karma's exterior is aesthetically striking, the interior is less successful. While it's admirable that Fisker tried to use renewable materials throughout the interior, the fabric-covered dash is just odd, and the small piece of reclaimed wood looks glued on, almost like something from an arts-and-crafts project. The touchscreen is slow and balky - twice while I was driving it stopped working. I had to turn off the car and restart it to be able to get the radio going again.
Despite that, driving the Karma is a pleasure. Coming in at more than 5000 pounds, it's undeniably heavy, but it feels stable and planted at high speeds, which are reached effortlessly with the immediate torque available from the electric drivetrain. Switch to sport with a flick of a paddle, and you can access the power from the turbocharged four-cylinder, which also gives you the added peace of mind that comes from knowing you won't get stranded on the side of the road when the battery power is depleted.
Despite the bad press that Fisker has received lately from some corners about its government loan guarantees, it's a testament to the fortitude of Henrik Fisker that he was able to bring his vision to reality. At $120,000, the Karma is not cheap, but you're sure to make a statement of your own when you drive one.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor