Used 2012 Fisker Karma
- Plug-in-hybrid fuel economy
- smooth and ample electric power
- sharp handling
- head-turning style
- earth-friendly cabin materials.
- Cramped two-person backseat
- tiny trunk
- poor visibility
- excessive glare on touchscreen
- firm ride
- some subpar cabin materials and construction.
Edmunds' Expert Review
The all-new 2012 Fisker Karma expands what a plug-in hybrid can be, as it promises not only fuel efficiency but also exclusivity, luxury and performance.
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.
2012 Fisker Karma configurations
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.
Performance & mpg
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.
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.
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.
Most helpful consumer reviews
Features & Specs
More About This Model
Back in 2007, we cautiously admired the choice by Henrik Fisker and longtime business partner Bernhard Koehler to completely change their business model. Instead of rebuilding BMW and Mercedes convertibles through Fisker Coachbuild, the partners instead dove headfirst into the eyebrow-raising Fisker Automotive, a company that would be dedicated to building electric cars of its own design.
After the usual ups and downs of an automotive startup, Fisker showed up at the 2008 Detroit Auto Show with its eye-popping Karma sedan concept. Now, three years later, we're in Southern California to drive the first pre-production examples of what will be the 2012 Fisker Karma EVer (i.e. electric vehicle extended range).
Eco, Eco, Eco...
The Fisker Karma grabbed the "Eco" label early and ran with it. It's a big reason why the company was able to attract a substantial amount of private investment, not to mention a cool $529 million from the Department of Energy. Much of the latter was earmarked to fund Fisker's purchase of GM's former Delaware plant that built the Kappa-architecture roadsters and will, by the end of 2011, be building units of the lower-priced Fisker Nina.
Every single supplier and associate Fisker Automotive deals with is, in one way or many, a green-obsessed company. These include the free-range sustainable Scottish leathers used in the EcoSport to the wood trims sourced from existing sunken and fallen Michigan timber to the optional metal-flake metallic paints that get their sparkle from recycled material.
More importantly, Fisker is touting the Karma as the first pure-electric luxury car. It's powered by twin 150-kW electric motors and a lithium-ion battery pack. As with the Chevrolet Volt, there's a GM-built four-cylinder engine onboard to keep the Karma on the road even after the initial battery charge is done. Fisker is promising a 50-mile EV range and a 300-mile range extended capability.
Green Track Time
After a little track time with the Karma, we can report that owners who have the gumption to push their car toward a sportier drive will be rather pleased. The double-wishbone suspension with its forged aluminum arms and self-leveling rear dampers puts the Karma near the top of the sporty premium four-door class in terms of handling characteristics. Some credit also goes to the exceedingly long 124.4-inch wheelbase, wide front and rear tracks and 22-inch Fisker "Circuit Blade" wheels wrapped in Goodyear Eagle F1 performance tires.
During our initial laps, we left the powertrain in the default "Stealth" or full-EV mode, which cuts the 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder gasoline engine out of the equation completely. Power is limited, but Fisker says it can still go from zero to 60 mph in 7.9 seconds despite its nearly 2-ton curb weight (a final number isn't available yet). Top speed in Stealth mode is an energy-conserving 95 mph.
For this phase of the drive, our only gripe was that the Karma didn't feel as solid all around as its German and Japanese competitors. A Maserati Quattroporte came to mind in this difficult-to-quantify part of the argument. Wind noise and road noise, however, are very well contained overall. Some smaller wheels might help out in the ride quality department, too, but according to Fisker's engineers, a change in that direction would bring the center member of the steering mechanism a little too close to the ground. A set of 21-inch all-season tires is as small as they're willing to go.
And Then Comes Sport
It is when we arrive in Sport mode via a single pull of the left steering-wheel paddle that some good things happen. And a couple not-so-good things.
The first thing we notice is the sound of the 2.0-liter turbocharged GM Ecotec inline four-cylinder engine. The 255-horsepower, direct-injected power plant is mounted longitudinally in a front-midship position and is reasonably quiet. At least initially.
Then we dip into the throttle a little more to experience the Karma's "Sport" mode, the one that Fisker says will deliver a 0-60-mph time of 5.9 seconds and a top speed of 125 mph. Suddenly, it sounds as if the Ecotec engine is sitting in the passenger-side footwell. They're not exactly the kind of noises we expect from a $100,000 luxury sedan.
It shouldn't have come as much of a surprise, as the exhaust exits for the Ecotec engine are positioned just behind the front wheels. "We are aware of this concern," says Koehler, "and we have on order an all-new muffler to help deal with this." Fisker adds, "We envision customers spending over 80 percent of the time on average in Stealth mode around town." If the sport noise remains, though, they'd better hope people stay in Stealth for 99 percent of the time. This is not a question of a poor extended-range engine choice, but of incorporating it better.
Numbers Are There
Cracking the magic "400" at 403 hp from the two 201.5-hp JEE electric motors was of major image importance to the 2012 Fisker Karma's credibility. It all hits the road differently than internally combusted horses, as the momentum is right there under your foot immediately. Fisker also likes to point out that the Karma has 981 pound-feet of torque, a number bested only by the Bugatti Veyron.
Thankfully, the Karma also features vented Brembo brake discs — 14.6 inches in diameter up front with six-piston calipers and 14.4-inch discs in back with four-piston calipers. They stop things as if hitting a wall of wet cement, so we were able to late-brake with almost no fading by the final hotter lap. No carbon ceramics will be offered, partly since, as Fisker tells us, "they cost nearly one-sixth the price of the total car." And, as a parting bit of goodness, the tail end lets go predictably and smoothly whenever such constructive letting-go serves the line through the curve. We're now eager to get this thing fully track tested with full numbers.
The Fisker School of Design
So the Karma doesn't always sound refined. Thankfully, it always looks refined. It's more attractive than the 2008 showcar and buyers will feel suitably unique compared to the other four-door executive grand tourer sedans out there. We expect plenty of buyers to pony up the $95,900 base price for that alone.
All the exterior panels on the Karma are made of either aluminum — including the hood and outer door panels — or molded resin composite as on all four fender panels. The supersize 124.4-inch wheelbase (almost 10 inches longer than on a Porsche Panamera) is the exterior's most notable dimension and the 22-inch wheels bookend the look quite nicely. No antennas or little fins are visible since satellite and GPS receptors are concealed beneath the composite rear deck lid. The 52.4-inch height definitely helps the car's impression as a capable performer, and we never once banged our head while getting in or out of the front or back.
Interior finish and materials quality are exceptional for this class and there is no cabin more ecologically conceived as this. The steering wheel is a tad overdone, though the thickness of the wheel itself is just right.
Central to the cabin's controls is the standard 10.2-inch interface created with Visteon called the Fisker Command Center. All audio and climate controls are housed in the system, as are all general system tools and diagnostics. The touchscreen functionality appears fairly straightforward, although our interaction with it was limited.
But Will It Catch On?
Surprisingly enough, the 2012 Fisker Karma is in an admirable state of readiness just 37 months out from its concept debut. There are key NVH issues to deal with, but everything else is market-ready. "Most of our other-brand shoppers," says Fisker, "are coming from Mercedes. They really enjoy the feeling in Stealth mode around town especially."
There is clearly a niche of wealthy early adopters out there who want this car, given the 3,000-plus pre-orders for the Karma. We can see people cross-shopping the Fisker with a $95,000 Porsche Panamera S Hybrid, or the base Panamera at $74,400 and 4S at $94,700.
Then again Henrik Fisker says, "Many of these customers will have these other cars already in their garage and simply wish to add something unique and at the leading edge of green innovation." He could be right, but if Fisker doesn't muzzle that exhaust note, those customers will surely wonder if being that far ahead of the curve is worth it.
Used 2012 Fisker Karma Overview
The Used 2012 Fisker Karma is offered in the following submodels: Karma Sedan. Available styles include Eco-Sport 4dr Sedan (gas/electric hybrid DD), Eco-Standard 4dr Sedan (gas/electric hybrid DD), and Eco-Chic 4dr Sedan (gas/electric hybrid DD).
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Should I lease or buy a 2012 Fisker Karma?
Is it better to lease or buy a car? Ask most people and they'll probably tell you that car buying is the way to go. And from a financial perspective, it's true, provided you're willing to make higher monthly payments, pay off the loan in full and keep the car for a few years. Leasing, on the other hand, can be a less expensive option on a month-to-month basis. It's also good if you're someone who likes to drive a new car every three years or so.