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Fisker Karma: TopSpeed Test Drive

Ah, the Fisker Karma . It is likely one of the most well designed and heavily debated cars available today. Some people love it and cannot get enough of it and others can’t stand it. It’s truly one of the most polarizing cars on the market and a lot of that is because of some of the issues it has run into and the massive DOE loan that Fisker took out to help produce it.

We pretty much sit right in the middle. We’ve loved its looks from the day we saw the concept model that no one believed would ever be produced. Its issues and some of the sub-par reviews, on the other hand, pushed us back toward the middle..

Well, the only way we can really find out if we truly love it or hate it is to test drive it. And that is exactly what we did, as we took a road trip to Fisker of Tampa Bay at 320 East Fletcher Ave. in Tampa, and met up with Fisker brand manager Jackie Daly and general manager Bryan Mobley for an exclusive viewing and test drive.

So, did we walk away impressed or did the Karma underwhelm?

Click past the jump to find out.

Exterior

First of all, when you approach the Karma, you cannot help but notice that you are looking at a work of art. The Karma is truly a design marvel that started on a designer’s desk, then the engineers were challenged with the task of making this thing work. So many cars go the exact opposite direction – fitting the design to meet the functionality – and that results in some of the most boring cars on the road today.

The Karma’s massive front fenders and rear quarters would seem a distraction on most cars, but it’s oddly sexy on this model. Add these massive arches with the 22-inch wheels inside of them and you have a cartoonish side profile that just fits the entire model, and we mean "cartoonish" in a good way.

Fisker Karma: TopSpeed Test Drive

it feels like you’re riding in a tank – a really fast, economical and comfortable tank.

In addition to its awesomely odd shape, the Karma is just as oddly heavy. It weighs in at about 5,300 pounds, which is just a few cheeseburgers shy of a GMC Yukon’s curb weight. Yeah, it’s super heavy, but that just adds to its charm, as it feels like you’re riding in a tank – a really fast, economical and comfortable tank.

Now that we’ve outlined some of the good, let’s have a look at what we didn’t particularly like about the Karma’s stunning exterior. The trunk is what we, and some Fisker reps, call a “one-body trunk.” By that we mean it is just big enough to fit a body, with some very careful manipulation. Yeah, it’s tiny. We also didn’t particularly care for the door handle interface, which uses a button under the door handle to activate the electronic door release. You actually look pretty silly when you go to pull the door open and miss the button – I know because I did it several times. Another downside is the puny rear window that limits visibility. It’s not really as bad as everyone says it is, but the lack of vision makes changing lanes on the highway a little too “I think it’s clear” for us.

Fisker Karma: TopSpeed Test Drive

Exterior Evaluation:

ProsCons
Curb weight makes you feel safeSmall rear window
Sexy, sexy, sexy bodyTrunk? What trunk?
22-inch wheels fit it just rightElectric door opener interface is easy to miss

Interior

Fisker Karma: TopSpeed Test Drive

Oh the inside… How I loved sliding into those seats – once I got the dang door opened. The seats are decked out in two-tone leather that is unlike any leather you’ll see on other cars. It is called “Happy Cow” leather. Yeah, we know, that’s a little bit of an oxymoronic name, but hear us out. Instead of slaughtering the cows for their hide, the company that provides the leather gets it from naturally deceased cows that were kept as pets. This eco- and animal-friendly trend continues throughout the interior too.

The seats grip you firmly, but not too overbearingly, and their finish does not store heat and make you sweat like other leathers. The same “Happy Cow” leather graces the dashboard too, giving the Karma’s interior a smooth and soft finish that is becoming commonplace in the luxury car realm these days.

Fisker Karma: TopSpeed Test Drive

Also gracing the dashboard with its presence is a hunk of wood trim just above the center stack. Much like the leather, this wood is "friendly," as it is recovered wood. Fisker offers three types of recovered wood: sunken wood recovered from Lake Michigan, wood salvaged from wildfires and wood from previously fallen trees. The model we drove featured the sunken wood option and the fact that Fisker doesn’t doctor the wood up, leaving it in an unfinished form, really adds character to the car.

We often give cars grief about their center stacks being a big mess, well, the Karma is the anti-mess, as its center stack is 100-percent LCD screen – no buttons, knobs or switches. There are only two issues that we have with the Karma’s center stack now that we’ve gotten a chance to play with it. It is still a little slow to respond to actions – it is much faster than it was a few months ago and Fisker Fisker is working on improving it – and it washes out pretty badly in direct sunlight, which is also being corrected for future models. The washout can be easily rectified with a change in screen color and a changeover to LED or OLED backlighting.

Fisker Karma: TopSpeed Test Drive

Down the center of the Karma’s interior is a massive tunnel that literally splits the car in two. This gives you a sporty feel and also adds tons of character to the. On this tunnel is something that I absolutely fell in love with and those are battery-viewing windows. Yeah, you get a nice look at the battery that powers this beast. Unfortunately, one complaint that Fisker gets about the Karma is that this viewing area can be better used as storage space, so we might see that go away at some point.

the center storage bin can barely hold something as thick as an empty wallet

Now, onto the things we don’t necessarily like about the Karma’s interior. In this case, we need to be very nit-picky, as we truly loved sitting in this car. We agree with customer complaints that the interior storage is a little light, as the center storage bin can barely hold something as thick as an empty wallet and the glove box, which opens electronically, is pretty small too. Short of the lacking storage and the LCD screen washout, we can’t find anything else that we don’t like.

Interior Evaluation:

ProsCons
Cow-friendly leatherCommand Center washout
Recovered-wood trimNo real interior storage
Comfortable seatingPush-button transmission is a little slow reacting
Battery-viewing windowsA lot of random buttons to figure out

Driving Experience

The immediate torque from the electric motors is enough to push you back into your seat

Where do we even begin on this part? So Jackie, the Fisker brand manager, took the car out first, so I could get a few videos. We began in “Stealth” mode, which is pure electric, and it is not only completely silent with the exception of the electric whine and the humming from the exterior speakers – a warning system that Fisker installed, so blind people can hear the car coming – but it is extremely quick. The advertised time to 60 mph on pure electric is about 6.3 seconds, but it felt a lot faster than that. The immediate torque from the electric motors is enough to push you back into your seat and is likely why it feels so much faster than it actually is. The above video is the vehicle accelerating on I-75 (AKA the “Orange Barrel Highway”) and we hit a highway speeds, and then some, in no time at all. Additionally, the ride is exquisite and I had no clue that we were going as fast as we were.

After that, we kicked the drivetrain into “Sport” mode, by pulling the steering-wheel-mounted paddle, and added a little petroleum power to the mix. The initial launch isn’t any different, as you still get planted in your seat, but the 403 horsepower and 981 pound-feet of torque get this behemoth to 60 mph at an unnaturally fast rate — just shy of 6 seconds.

To add to its mechanical beauty, the Karma has a one-speed direct-drive transmission, so there is no shifting or lag of any kind. It is just steady acceleration, which helps make it feel significantly faster than it actually is.

Once I got a chance at the reins, I tried my hardest to find anything to complain about, but there was nothing. The takeoff is smooth, the acceleration is even and it’s simply a beauty to drive. The only issue I could dig up is that you have to be extra careful and keep a close eye on your speed, as it is easy to cruise at 80 mph without even noticing.

Let’s touch on one of the common complaints that we often hear, which is that the engine is excessive. I have very sensitive ears and I could hardly make out the engine until I really hammered on the throttle. At that point, what the hell do you expect to hear, a kitten purring? Drive any Aston Martin or Jaguar Jaguar and hammer the throttle, and you’re going to hear the wonderful growl of the engine. The little bit of engine noise we heard simply adds a character to the car and gives it the life that many other EVs do not have.

Fisker Karma: TopSpeed Test Drive

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to put the Karma’s fuel economy to the test, as our drive was only about an hour long. We are promised a longer drive at some point in the future and we will put it to the test then. With that said, Bryan and Jackie stress that Fisker and its dealerships are very honest with customers. Bryan said: “This is not a car for a traveling sales person looking to save gas money."

"This is not a car for a traveling sales person looking to save gas money."

It is for the person that drives just a little but each day and is tired of burning gas on these short journeys. If you buy it for long-distance trips, you’re going to be disappointed. Sure, it’ll get you better gas mileage than most cars in its class, but not the huge number you’re expecting.

I came away from the drive with nothing to complain about and all praise for the Karma. It is truly a sports car wrapped up in a massive luxury sedan package. If I had an extra $102,000 ($82,000 for a demo model), it would be in my parking space right now. Unfortunately, I do not and it is not…

Engine Specifications:

Gasoline Setup2.0-Liter Turbocharged 4-Cylinder
Electric SetupDual 150 kW Electric Motors
Total Output403 Horsepower and 981 Pound-Feet of Torque
Transmission1-Speed Direct Drive
Fuel Economy Electric54 MPGe
Fuel Economy Gas Only20 mpg city / 21 mpg highway
Electric-Only Range50 Miles (Depending On Conditions)

Conclusion

Fisker Karma: TopSpeed Test Drive

It is truly a sports car wrapped up in a massive luxury sedan package.

I don’t really know how else to put it but with “Wow.” Does the Karma have its issues? Absolutely it does, but its benefits way outweigh the problems. If I have to deal with a washed-out LCD screen and a small rear window to get awesome performance, a great ride, 54 MPGe and 50 miles of electric range, I will take that each and every time. It is truly a sports car wrapped up in a massive luxury sedan package. Now, is this a car for you if you do a lot of traveling and are looking for a way to save some gas money? No, this is not the car for you. However, if you are looking for a luxury sedan to take to the golf course once in a while or drive around town here and there, this fits your needs perfectly.

We never mentioned the “Cool” factor either. In the Fisker Karma, you get tons of looks. People are interested in what kind of car it is, where you got it, why it’s so quiet and how fast it is. If you like talking about your car, the Karma is also right up you alley, as people love to ask questions about it. Regardless of what some other folks may have said about the Karma, we give it a wholehearted thumbs up! Fisker hit the nail squarely on the head when it built this car.



1 comments:

Truly an engineering marvel. Every time I drive it still have that feeling of excitement.

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