Fisker Karma reviewed
* New petrol-electric luxury GT driven * Price from 87,000 (est) * On sale September...
What is it? The term all-new is probably one of the most overused in the car business, but in the case of the Fisker Karma it truly applies. Not only is the Karma a new luxury GT from a new company, but it uses an innovative new petrol-electric powertrain.
Fisker Automotive led by former Aston Martin design chief Henrik Fisker describes the Karma as an electric vehicle with extended range because its always driven by a pair of electric motors, but has a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine that acts as a generator when the batteries run low. Vauxhalls Ampera, which goes on sale next April, uses a similar system.
The Karma can be charged from a conventional socket at night in around five and a half hours, and can then drive for up to 50 miles on battery power alone. For some journeys, this will be plenty, but if you need to go farther or have to make an unexpected trip when the batteries arent charged, the petrol engine comes into play, allowing you to cover an extra 250 miles before you need to stop for fuel.
The Karma gets around the range-anxiety problem that has traditionally plagued electric cars, then, and while it doesnt offer zero emissions, its still very green, assuming the electricity that went into the batteries wasnt generated by a coal-fired power station. Fisker reckons it averages over 100mpg and emits just 82g/km of CO2.
Fisker Karma gallery
What's it like to drive? In many ways, its like driving a conventional automatic car because there are no gears to worry about. You simply press a button on the centre console to select Drive, and the car moves off quietly so quietly, in fact, that Fisker felt the need to develop a special synthesized external noise to warn pedestrians that it is approaching.
The Karma is easy to drive smoothly in slow-moving traffic. Yet its two electric motors combine to produce a massive 981lb ft of torque thats available from standstill, so pick-up is strong and instantaneous when you put your foot down.
Even when the Karma is in its all-electric mode it can get from 0-62mph in less than eight seconds and reach a top speed of 95mph. Switch to Sport, which starts the petrol generator, and the 0-62mph time is cut to just 5.9 seconds, while top speed increases to 125mph.
Given that the Karma comes on 22-inch wheels, you might expect its ride to be terrible. However, the bespoke tyres that are fitted have reasonably deep sidewalls that offer some compliancy. The car is still pretty firm at low speed, but the ride is always well controlled, and it gets better the faster you go.
The handling also impresses, because the Karma hangs on well in corners for such a big, heavy car, and has steering thats both accurate and nicely weighted.
Refinement is more of a mixed bag. The Karma is good at shutting out wind noise, and its electric motor never emits anything more than a faint hum, but road noise intrudes over coarse surfaces.
Then theres the petrol engine, which gets very noisy under even gentle acceleration. Fisker blames the exhaust system that is currently on the car, and says it is working on a fix that will be ready before the end of the year. This will be retro-fitted to cars sold with the existing system.
What's it like inside? Fisker uses recycled wood in the cabin and offers the option of an animal-free interior with no leather. However, these eco measures dont stop the Karma from feeling like a premium product: its well equipped and trimmed with mostly high quality materials.
A large touch-screen infotainment system with beautiful on-screen graphics adds to the impression of quality. Its just a pity the system isnt as responsive as it should be you sometimes have to stab the icons more than once before they respond.
Most people will be able to find a comfortable driving position because theres plenty of head- and legroom upfront and a decent range of seat- and steering wheel adjustment. Unfortunately, the Karma is available in left-hand drive form only, and rear headroom is tight due to the cars dramatic, sweeping roofline anyone over 5ft 10in will have to slouch in their seat.
The batteries run down the spine of the car, too, so the Karma is strictly a four-seater. You also have to be quite flexible to get into the back because theres a wide sill to step over and the door openings are awkwardly shaped.
The Karmas boot is small, although you can squeeze in a couple of golf bags or enough luggage for a weekend away.
Should I buy one?
Buying a Karma is obviously a risk because its an expensive car that features cutting-edge technology and is made by a company with no pedigree.
The lack of a right-hand drive option is also an issue for UK buyers. However, theres a lot to like: the Karma looks incredible, seems well engineered and offers efficiency figures that no rival can get close to.