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2012 Fisker Karma - A weekend full of Karma

Consumer Reports News: March 08, 2012 01:08 PM

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When I picked up our Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid test car, it marked the end of a 16-month wait. With a price tag of $107,850, it was much more than we’d normally spend on a test vehicle, even for a luxury sedan, but we thought it important to assess a new breed of car from a start-up company that’s used millions in seed money from the U.S. government.

Fisker Automotive is a California start-up headed by Danish designer Henrik Fisker. The Karma four-door luxury model with coupe-like styling is partly electric. Like the Chevrolet Volt, it can drive on electricity for about 40 miles and then relies on a gas engine acting as a generator to supply power to the electric drive. (We first drove the Karma in January.)

As soon as I rolled out of the dealership, our Karma Eco Sport drew attention from just about every driver and pedestrian. Its long, low, sensuous looks are stunning. Even among the string of high-end dealers, no one raises an eyebrow at the site of a Maserati or an Aston Martin, but few have seen the Karma even in pictures, let alone in the metal.

To preserve the 40-something miles of battery power for later, I simply flipped the “Sport” paddle on the steering wheel to engage the GM-supplied 260-hp, turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It roared to life to provide juice to power the two electric motors in the rear. In gasoline mode, there’s no escaping an engine moan, which you don’t expect from a high-end car. And, despite the electric motors’ 402-hp rating, I wasn’t bowled over with the power delivery. Once I got closer to home I cruised in “stealth” or electric only-mode.

Despite the huge 22-inch tires, the ride remains supple. On twisty country roads, the big-and-heavy Karma (it’s over 16 feet long and weighs 5,300 pounds) handled quite well, staying flat in the corners and responding quickly to steering inputs. Unlike virtually any electrified vehicle, the Karma benefits from a communicative, well-weighted hydraulic steering system.

Throughout the weekend, my teenage boys admired the space-age interior and controls but thought the “dune” suede was rather tacky. They didn’t appreciate the scant back-seat room, either. My wife, rightly, was concerned that the center touch screen was distracting my driving too much. Everywhere I parked, I found myself explaining the Karma and the Fisker automotive company to crowds of curious onlookers. A handful surprised me with their knowledge of this rare car. For example, some knew about the speakers in the rear apron that emit a fake sound to warn pedestrians; this warning was designed by a Hollywood studio. They pointed at the exhaust pipes exiting just aft of the front wheels and the ecologically-correct driftwood used in the interior trim.

We’ll post updates on the Karma soon, sharing further insights on the car and an interview with the namesake company founder, Henrik Fisker.

Gabe Shenhar

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