Every so often, a car comes along that is so special in so very many ways, it immediately stakes a claim to becoming an instant classic. The 2012 Fisker Karma is just such a car. With a drive system similar to that of the Chevrolet Volt, the Karma is a drop-dead gorgeous plug-in hybrid super-saloon that promises approximately 295 kW and an all-electric range of some 80 kilometres.
One difference between this car and the Chevy, though: The 2.0-litre range-extending petrol engine in the Karma is not connected to the rear drive wheels and instead serves only to recharge the dual electric motors of the EVer drive system.
With the petrol engine engaged, the car’s range receives a boost of about 400 km. The solar panel glass roof, the largest ever for a production vehicle, adds to the visual and environmental impact by providing an additional 322 km of range per year.
As with other plug-in vehicles, there are three options for recharging the battery pack. The carmaker recommends installing a 220/240-volt home charging station to replenish a fully drained battery in approximately three to four hours. A trickle charger travels with the car; this piece of kit can accomplish the task in seven to eight hours. Finally, depending on where you live, you may be able to locate a public quick-charger that takes around 30 minutes.
The Fisker Karma performs as one would expect a premium luxury sedan to perform—it’s supremely quiet, incredibly comfortable and fairly quick. In sport mode, which activates both the petrol engine and the electric motors, the car accelerates smartly and smoothly. Make no mistake, the Karma is no track weapon, but it would hold its own against all but the most extreme examples in the luxury saloon segment.
The shift paddles on the steering column are not used to select gears—this is a fixed-gear transmission, after all. Instead, the right paddle selects the braking force for the regenerative braking system, with three separate settings. The left paddle, meanwhile, selects stealth (all-electric) or sport mode.
In terms of driving dynamics, the Fisker is stellar. The saloon features a very long wheelbase and massive wheels pushed right to the corners. Although the car was riding on tires with very thin sidewalls, these characteristics made the ride extremely composed, over even the roughest of surfaces.
The car was so brand new, it had yet to undergo dealer preparation, so the wheels were not properly balanced, something that became clear at around 120 km/h. Apart from this very minor disturbance, the experience was noteworthy for its sheer serenity.
In stealth mode on the highway, the only sound is the wind—and even that’s been muted. This theme continues at speeds under 30 km/h: In stealth mode, the Karma emits a Tron-like sound that’s designed to warn pedestrians that this otherwise silent saloon is in the vicinity.
On the topic of design, the Karma is one of the most stunning cars on the planet. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but this vehicle exhibits a long, low and curvaceous shape that is concept-car like to be sure.
As noted, the 22-inch wheels are pushed right to the corners; they also serve to fill the wheel wells to the brim. The deep cut lines highlight individual elements of the exterior design without detracting from the overall flow. There are tricks of the eye going on here—it’s really magical.
As stunning as the exterior design is, the cabin is equally impressive from a visual standpoint. Not only that, the materials used inside match the high standards for eco-friendliness being set, under the skin, by the hybrid-electric powertrain.
The wood for the interior trim—three different types are available to choose from—has all been reclaimed from fires, lakes and fallen trees. The leather for the seats and other trim pieces—if that option package is selected—is sourced from the world’s first energy self-sufficient manufacturing plant. The other option, called EcoSuede, is made from 100% recycled post-industry virgin polyester.
In the version tested, an EcoChic model with a blue and grey interior, one set of panels has the look of old blue jeans or a couch from your parent’s basement. In other ultra-high-end vehicles, the thought of having anything less than perfectly matched veneers or hides would be totally unacceptable. But in the Fisker Karma, this is a point of pride.
The back seat is a tight fit and is reminiscent of the ston Martin Rapide—two deep buckets designed to mimic the feel of the front seats. A centre console allows room for two cup holders back there. The embossing on the seats, front and back, is glorious. The trunk space is limited and the trunk covering left a little to be desired; deeper carpeting would have done the trick. The cargo space looks big enough for two sets of golf clubs, not of the over-sized variety.
The centre console screen features crisp graphics and a haptic feel. Similar to an iPhone, you can quickly and simply change screens to access the navigation system, phone, audio system or vehicle overview. A glass panel with real leaf insets is used to show the battery pack that runs along the centre on the car, set low to preserve the centre of gravity and the driving dynamics.
One misstep is the push-button crystal used to activate the gears: park, reverse, neutral and drive. As a gear is engaged, a red laser shoots across the glass panel. It’s a little too Star Trek.
The manufacturer should’ve probably also done more with the side mirror and window switches, which are just too common for this car. Meanwhile, the steering wheel is a bit thick; this would be fine if the wheel had indentations to rest the thumbs, but it doesn’t.
Let’s be clear, though: All of these are tiny criticisms, because the overall effect of the interior is wildly impressive.
The same goes for the car overall. Yes, the 2012 Fisker Karma is an expensive vehicle—prices start at US$102,000—but this is true of any luxury saloon worth its salt. When you consider all the incredible qualities of this unique car, this is, in fact, a very small price to pay.