Fisker Karma Review

Fisker Karma Review

Thinking of going green? It took several years, millions of dollars and withdrawn government funding for the Fisker Karma to see the light of day. The plug-in hybrid sedan that combines sustainability with a sexy design is far from a crowd pleaser (Consumer Reports has already given it a failing grade), but it does have some redeeming qualities. The hybrid is a stunner in the looks department, thanks to design team led by Henrik Fisker (who has the BMW Z8 and Aston Martin V8 Vantage under his belt). On the road, the $102,000 Karma (EcoStandard base model) is a standout and no vehicle looks remotely like it. While it’s true that less-expensive cars are faster, speed in battery mode is fairly decent (you can go up to 40 miles without gasoline) and faster still running on gas with the electric motor on. The Karma’s core is a is a four-cylinder 260 hp engine, supported by twin AC 402 hp motors and a 20 kWh lithium-ion battery pack. The aluminum car frame has a solar cell for a roof that adds to the green energy.

Design

Design is arguably the Karma’s strongest point. The curvaceous hybrid rightly deserves the attention it gets from motorists and pedestrians alike. For the few who think they’ve seen the Karma before, it’s because it’s almost identical to the Fisker concept car that debuted in 2008. The cabin sits on bespoke aluminum propelled by 22-inch wheels. The low-slung profile is 35 series. It slightly shorter than the Chevy Tahoe and tips the scale at a whopping 5,300 pounds, but the sexy fenders and solar panel roof should distract you from that.

Power

Speed Racer the Karma is not, but the initial surge is respectable, although not as fast as similar sports sedans in this price range. All-electric mode (Stealth) is quiet as expected, but Sport (gas/electric) is the setting you want to really experience what the Karma is capable of. It does get plenty raspy on full throttle and you may hear the occasional valve clatter, but not to an uncomfortable degree. Mileage looks auspicious (no word from the EPA yet), but it will probably hit lower than the Chevy Volt’s 93 MPGe (electric) and 40 mpg highway on gas engine.

Control

Steering is precise with linear turn-in response, and the roll is barely noticeable when you throw the wheel. You start the car by pressing a button and move off by hitting the drive selector on the console. Pressing the right console buttons and navigating the LCD screen while steering is something you’ll have to learn by yourself. The paddle shifters (in lieu of transmission) shift the car from one mode to another (Stealth, Sport and Hill). Hill mode gives maximum charging energy while slowing you down forcefully when you release the gas pedal.

Interiors

It’s pretty amazing that four grown people can fit into the Karma’s compact cabin (it’s been called cramped by some reviewers and cozy by others). You may have to move your seat forward if you’re not 5’3” and slim. When you’re settled in, admire the 10-inch touchscreen display front and center, the upholstery (vinyl on the EcoStandard, leather on the EcoSport and high end suede and textiles on the EcoChic) and the trim (logs rescued from Lake Michigan or California trees saved from wildfire on the EcoChic). The EcoStandard also has parking sonar and Brembo brakes.

So is the Fisker Karma worth buying (if you can afford it)? It wins on Hollywood looks definitely, but tanks on the well-intentioned but failed-to-live-up-to-expectations sustainable design, price, cramped rear seating and drivetrain and reliability issues. If your heart is set on a high-status hybrid, there are other options (like the Porsche Panamera).

Forget the Electric Car How About an Electric Bike?

Say what you want about Chinese imported goods, but one thing is for certain they’ve made products dirt cheap. Items that were once out of reach of the average consumer are now well within budget. Take for example the electric bike. In an August 2008 article in the Seattle Times titled, “Europeans love their electric bikes … made in China” the reporter highlights these now highly affordable Chinese made electric bikes. The Chinese electric bikes cost around 300 EUROS ($470). “More than 10,000 electric bikes were sold in France last year, up from 6,000 in 2006, according to the Conseil National des Professions du Cycle, an association of bike professionals (http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/businesstechnology/2008120401_btbikeside18.html).” This trend is not only unique to France, the pattern seems to be continuing across Europe and the rest world. “The surging cost of gasoline and a desire for a greener commute are turning more people to electric bikes as an unconventional form of transportation. The electric bikes are the next big thing, said Frank Jamerson, a former General Motors Corp. executive turned electric vehicle guru (http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5inpZz_bKY5acLbQEJOZJmWF_VyggD92IQD100).” The author of the Seattle Times article points out, and I agree, that while people wait for the electric car the electric bike is a good starting point.

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