What's New for 2012
The 2012 Fisker Karma is all new.
So how would you like a car with 402 horsepower, sexy styling and a price tag of around $100,000? Not interesting enough? OK, how about a 52-mpg equivalent estimate for combined driving from the EPA? That, in a nutshell, is the 2012 Fisker Karma.
Fisker is a new American company that's dedicated to building environmentally friendly luxury vehicles. The Karma, the company's first model, is a plug-in hybrid, meaning it can run for a certain number of miles (an EPA-estimated 32) on electric power before the lithium-ion battery pack runs out of juice and its gas engine/generator kicks in, extending the range by about 250 miles. The EPA figures that with the generator running, the Karma gets 20 mpg. So using the estimated electric range (32 miles) plus 1 gallon of gas (20 miles) equals the 52 "mpg-e."
As with the two other plug-in hybrids on sale this year, the Chevrolet Volt and Toyota Prius Plug-In, the Karma's range and fuel economy greatly depends on the way you drive. We managed to achieve that 32 miles of electric range in testing, but we were driving rather aggressively. We're guessing most people will get much better, and as such, most Americans could conceivably commute in this exotic car every day without using any gas at all. We'll have to wait for a longer test to see if that 20 mpg is also on the conservative side.
Pushing the calculator aside and evaluating the car itself, we admire the 2012 Fisker Karma. It stands out with its bold styling, innovative technology and fun-to-drive nature. There's quite simply nothing else like it on the market. The plug-in Prius and Volt are similar in powertrain concept, but are radically different in design and especially price. The upcoming all-electric Tesla Model S will probably attract some of the same shoppers, but its larger electric range and lack of a range-extending engine make it a decidedly different creature.
That said, you'd be an extreme early adopter if you bought a 2012 Fisker Karma. Not only is the technology brand-spanking-new, but so is the car company itself. The cabin in particular is less polished than those found in established luxury brands, and there's a blank slate in terms of reliability. As an alternative, we recommend the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, which is available in two fuel-efficient guises: the S400 Hybrid (19 mpg city/25 mpg highway/21 mpg combined) and the S350 Bluetec diesel (21/31/25). There is also the Porsche Panamera Hybrid (22/30/25), which has a similar body shape and sporty driving dynamics. They may not be as green or special, but they're probably a more sensible purchase for now.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Fisker Karma is a large four-door luxury sedan that comes in three trim levels: EcoStandard, EcoSport and EcoChic.
Standard equipment on the EcoStandard includes 22-inch alloy wheels, Brembo high-performance brakes, xenon headlights, keyless ignition/entry, rear parking sensors, a solar panel roof, heated mirrors, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, dual-zone automatic climate control, cruise control, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, six-way power front seats (with power lumbar), heated front and rear seats, leatherette premium vinyl upholstery, real wood cabin accents, a trip computer, Bluetooth and an eight-speaker sound system with satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface.
The EcoSport adds leather upholstery, a navigation system, a rearview camera and an upgraded audio system with 10 speakers. The EcoChic features all that as well as 100-percent-recycled faux-suede, other eco-friendly upholstery and wood trim reclaimed from California wildfires or the bottom of Lake Michigan.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2012 Fisker Karma is a plug-in hybrid. As such, it features a pair of 150kW electric motors driving the rear wheels. Electricity is stored in a 20kWh lithium-ion battery pack. The Karma can be propelled solely under electric power for an estimated average of 32 miles, at which point the 260-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine takes over, extending range by about another 250 miles. (The engine is connected to a 175kW generator and never powers the Karma directly.) There is no transmission in the traditional sense.
The Karma can be driven in pure electric ("Stealth") mode or combination electric/gas mode ("Sport") in which both battery and generator work in concert, generating 403 hp and an astounding 981 pound-feet of torque for maximum performance.
In Stealth mode, Fisker estimates the Karma can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 7.9 seconds and hit a top speed of 95 mph. In Sport mode, the 0-60 sprint time drops to an estimated 6.3 seconds and top speed rises to 125 mph.
As stated previously, the Karma is rated at 52 mpg-e by the EPA, including a rather pedestrian 20 mpg combined when the gasoline engine is running. Charge times for the battery pack range from 14 hours (for a standard 110-volt outlet) down to 6 hours (with the optional 240-volt charging station).
Standard safety equipment for the 2012 Fisker Karma includes stability and traction control, antilock disc brakes, front seat side airbags, dual knee airbags and side curtain airbags.
Interior Design and Special Features
Emphasizing its environmental cachet, the Fisker Karma features a cabin decked out in recycled and renewable materials. The wood cabin accents are sourced from reclaimed lumber, seat foam is constructed of soy-based fiber and the EcoSport's leather upholstery is sourced from farms that adhere to a standard of humane animal treatment. The Karma EcoChic is "animal free," eschewing leather in favor of 100-percent-recycled (post-industry) faux-suede ("EcoSuede") and other fabrics. It's certainly environmentally friendly, but the Karma's cabin nevertheless lacks the same premium feel you'd get in a Mercedes or Porsche. Some of the plastic switchgear is a bit cheap, and it just can't match the craftsmanship those established brands have spent years and countless dollars perfecting.
From a functionality standpoint, a large touchscreen dominates the dash. Dubbed the Fisker Command Center, the interface provides intuitive controls for the audio, navigation, climate control and Bluetooth systems. As a result, dash clutter is minimized. Unfortunately, should you live in a place where the sun shines, there's a good chance you'll rarely be able to use this screen during the day -- it washes out and reflects worse than any touchscreen we've ever come across.
The Karma is strictly a four-passenger sedan, as a high central tunnel that houses the battery pack bisects the cabin. The extra-long (124.4-inch) wheelbase provides rear passengers with decent legroom, but it falls far short of every other $100,000 sedan. Rear headroom borders on terrible for even those of average height, with hiproom barely better than the similarly squished Aston Martin Rapide. Meanwhile, its low roof line, miniscule rear window, low-slung driving position, wide body and curvaceous front fenders make for limited visibility all around. We strongly suggest adding the optional rearview camera. Trunk space is tiny at just 7.1 cubic feet, and features gooseneck hinges that tend to crush whatever items you managed to fit inside.
Those who prefer a sporty drive should be pleased with the 2012 Fisker Karma, as its performance-tuned suspension, wide track, wide tires and relatively low height endow it with an athletic personality. The steering is quick and direct, and overall the Karma corners pretty well given its size. Its enormous 22-inch wheels aid handling as well, but they do contribute to a firm ride.
Acceleration in Stealth mode is typical of electric propulsion; the car will jump off the line if you so choose, as peak torque is immediately available. Switch to Sport and the car is certainly quick, though the gas engine can get raucous under full throttle due chiefly to an exhaust that exits out of the front fenders, rather than behind the car. The regenerative brakes are strong and linear.
Below 25 mph, the otherwise quiet Karma emits an artificial futuristic buzz to warn pedestrians. It's kind of cool and certainly gets people's attention. Above 25 mph, the car quiets down, but road noise coming from the wide tires keeps the cabin from remaining completely silent. When the engine starts up, there's a noticeable amount of vibration at peak demand.