Fisker Karma First Experiences

Somehow, I ended up on the right mailing list, and I was invited to test-drive the Fisker Karma.

On the way to the test-drive, another test driver passed me in the opposite direction. I was immediately impressed by the gaping grill, eyeliner LED headlights, muscular curves of the front end, and the apparent length of this vehicle that is the epitome of “low-slung.”

While checking in, a white Karma arrived from behind me, making a noise straight out of Star Wars. My wife and I were told that this is a synthetic sound to reduce risk to pedestrians.

On display were the two charging options for the car, one 110-volt and one 220-volt. One of the polite and knowledgable salespeople informed us that Henrik Fisker, the CEO of the company, was the designer behind the Aston Martin DB9, Aston Martin V8 Vantage and BMW Z8. Solar cells in the roof add visual interest and help to power interior features. The 22-inch rear wheels are driven by an electric motor, but the battery may be recharged by a gasoline engine.

Watching the white Karma depart, I was puzzled by what looked vaguely like chrome tailpipes. They are merely faux fixtures, apparently to complete the look of the rear end of a traditional sports car.

The door latch was a downward-facing rubber-covered button similar to those found on trunk latches. Not the classiest feel, but it definitely said, “electric.” The doors were light and frameless windows clattered a bit when closed. Not what I would expect from fine German automotive engineering.

The driver’s seat at its highest was too low for my tastes. The view through the windshield was excellent, anchored in the corners by the rises in the hood above the wheel wells. The long hood reminded me of a Corvette I once drove. Side view is also excellent as this sedan has four doors and four side windows. The minimally-sloped rear windshield yields an unfortunately narrow rear view, about a third as tall as you would expect.

The interior was free of clutter and dominated by a bright instrument cluster. This is a digital display pretending to be analog, but it has high enough resolution to pull it off successfully. In the center of the dashboard was a touch-screen display for dual-zone environmental controls and audio. Where console storage would be expected, there was merely a clear case containing colored lights.

The car has three drive modes: stealth, hill, and sport. While I would expect these to be controlled by buttons or a dial on the console, they are actually controlled by levers placed where paddle shifters are expected, which is totally counterintuitive.

We started out in stealth mode with zero engine noise. Hauling a driver and two passengers, the car did not feel as sprightly as I am accustomed to, but was certainly faster than a Prius. The suspension was stiff to the point of being uncomfortable. As soon as we got on the road, there was significant road noise.

We then switched to sport mode, and the engine revved up. Despite the salesperson’s warnings, it was thoroughly unnerving to find that the throttle was disconnected from the engine. The engine revved up or down based on the needs of the battery, and the throttle controlled the (silent) flow of power from the battery to the wheels.

We stopped briefly to take a photograph, and I sat in the rear passenger seat on the way back. The interior door latch was a simple metal button. My elbows rested high on the door handle and console, and there was minimal headroom. We switched to hill mode, which is supposed to feel more sluggish but optimized for regeneration of the battery.

Upon return, we popped the trunk to find a storage space sufficient for “a set of golf clubs.” The engine cover is hinged in the front for a sporty look.

Conclusion

This car is very strong on exterior looks and green/electric features. It has the suspension and spartan interior of a sports car, but falls short on agility. It has the four seats and doors of a sedan, but with minimal rear seating and storage space, falls short on practicality or comfort. With an $80K+ price point, I predict few of these cars will sell.

Tags: Design, Fun

Updated at: 12 November 2013 2:11 PM