Car design is more subjective than car performance. Zero to 60 has a stop-watch time; braking has a distance; even cornering has measurable specifics. But design, though it has its canons, is more open to personal partialities. What appeals to me in the design of a car is a certainty of bearing and manner. Something expressing confidence that falls short of arrogance but wears its assurance like a favorite no-name watch.
Anyone conversant with automotive design would expect a car with the name “Fisker” on it to display the required aplomb. And indeed the Fisker Karma, a four-door four-place grand touring car has the calm effrontery to disrupt conversations mid- sentence, to snap a neck or two. Its presence is not immediately definable. I like that. And the design expends no effort to be ingratiating. It’s simply there. At a still point. The rest is up to you.
High wheels are a car’s high heels – they’re meant to add drama to a car like stiletto’s to a woman’s legs. Ah, both come with expected pain. And a long wheel base can smooth a highway ride but plays hob with an acceptable turning circle. (As it turns out the 22” wheels and the 124.4” wheel base of the Karma both neatly evade their expected negatives. Yes, the ride is firm but firm is good. (Clever engineers.)
A car, like a painting, should not be totally available at first look. Nor too pleasing. Designs I like have a hiccup, an interruption of expectation, which creates a tension that gives longer life to mere good looks. The Fisker Karma has it in some interplay of arcs on the long body – a break at the root of the windshield - and a hefty, truncated haunch. Not expected but welcome.
So. Too damn much about styling? Haven’t even reached the interior. But now’s the time. Yes, leather is available. And pretend suede. Leather prepared by an ecologically undemanding process so it is green green whatever neutral color it is. But the upholstery on this LA day of driving is a lush fabric equally eco-pleasing but quite too heavily dotted and textured for me to take to immediately. (I ask - snidely? – was this intended for export to the Middle East?) But the comfort of the four-seat interior and the delightful art deco touches here and there encourage a deeper acquaintanceship with the-less-than-perfect interior. But charming. I smile at the minimal wood touches. Matte in finish and, we are told, either salvaged from a California forest fire or Great Lakes flotsam. How exquisitely whimsically upscale green. Romney-esque one might say. The car, note here, is priced a few thousands over $100,000.
By late afternoon, impressed by the peacefully readily thereness of the low-end torque (ample “torques” is my favorite character trait in a car), the feel-good steering wheel and the prompt response it gets when applied I’m starting to warm not only to the smoothly satisfying driving experience but even to the companionship of the surprise fabric. It is rather like the dubious painting in the exhibition that you’re glad you returned to for the fourth time. I’m beginning to get it.
You’ll find the numbers for, say, 0-60 and horsepower etc. in internet reviews. (Try: http://www.edmunds.com/fisker/karma/2012/.) What I’m doing is a perception-driven piece and my perceivers were charmed. I like small cars that drive Big and big cars that drive Small. The Karma almost qualifies for the latter but its width has to be noted. On traffic-laden twisty streets, like LA’s Sunset Boulevard, the driver next lane over might actually feel encroached upon. But then chances are he’s casing your ride and not as attentive to his own placement as he might be.
It’s fun to enjoy driving a vehicle whose first intent seems to be to cosset and cater to your luxe-sensing nerve endings. But ask it for quickness and you get it. Request a hunkered pose in a fast negative-camber diminishing-radius turn and, by golly, you’ll get it. (Would that it would rain!) Braking can be wrapped in a few words: Brembo for one; among the best of the regenerative sort I’ve experienced, and good feel. OK, it’s no Porsche but the Fisker Karma is very good at being what it is. What is that? It’s been called a four-place sports sedan but I think Gran Turismo is more fitting. And it is really more a two-plus-two with the back seat inhospitable to big folk for long distances.
Rudely, I’ve got to bring up the weight matter – nearly three tons despite a lot of aluminum and lightweight materials. The bulk of the bulk is cleverly amassed in in a central tunnel where the lithium-ion batteries are housed. Batteries? We had to come to that. Of course you knew from the start that the Karma is an “EV er” (Electrical Vehicle, extended range.) But I held off mentioning it because to me the Karma’s association to that stuff that sparked Ben Franklin’s kite is the least involving matter about the car. The Karma is first a particularly attractive, well-performing luxury car. Then, oh yes. You can plug it in and “get” 52 mpg.
But the electric interplaying with the on-board gasoline-powered generator gets intriguing as you tune-in to its possibilities. The EV part of the Karma’s is in two 150kW motors on the rear wheels. That’s what will move the vehicle some 32 miles before you need to attach it to the grid. (Not sure what the roof-mounted solar collectors can do.) However, like with the Chevy Volt, you needn’t fear running out of juice. You have a friend in Mr. Gasoline aboard and you know how readily that liquid can be found. Beats a very long extension cord. In the Karma, gasoline powers a four-cylinder 2-liter turbo-charged 260-hp generator which keeps power flowing to the electric motors. And thus your range before you stop for quick gas or a long overnight plug-in is some 250 miles more. (Yes, diesel-lovers, they actually call that range. Ha!)
In the Karma you can choose electric power alone (Flick the “Stealth” paddle.) “Sport” will bring in the generator as well. Twinned. That ups the horsepower to 403 and is said to be good for 125 mph top (you may be ticketed for around 95 mph using the electric alone.) Electric, like steam, gives you full power at the 0 mark and that is a (WOW!) 981 of them torques. Ah perception is everything and you are rocketing across the intersection, up the ramp, past the truck. It will never stop.
I don’t think any other extended range electric offers the variety of using this mode or that mode or both together. With the Volt I drove you ran it out of stored power and then you were on the generated juice provided by the gasoline engine. With the Fisker there is choice if you choose. Cool.
Another feature of the Fisker that I found so sensually satisfying was the smooth ramp of acceleration. Not gear steps to take, not even ones you barely feel. Just steady winding. Ok, not too helpful while descending hills. All that dab-dabbing at the brakes to control your descent. However flick that paddle and have at your fingertips two different degrees of “engine” braking. Then you discover that toying with that paddle can make entering and exiting turns a different exercise. Another choice. Another cool.
Quick summary: never mind that this is an electric car, that’s just one attribute of a pleasurable, appealing, “driverly” vehicle that will say something about your taste, style and wheel habits. And even your sensitivity to the likelihood that humans are mistreating the homestead. It’s an intriguing package, all told. Someone in his review asked if the Karma was worth its six-figure price tag. Frankly, Paul, that’s a stupid question; a question all but meaningless for a rolling object over $100,000. You need to ask worth it to whom? And for doing what with?
Think about it. Would a capital-S Star really drive a Prius or a Volt to the Oscars? Yes, they have done so but weakly. That’s making a statement? One ending in an upward inflection at best. It pales your green cred to a Granny Smith hue. If you want to line your suit jacket with a shimmering deep jade then wheel up in a Fisker Karma. Now that’s a statement with !!!!.
And one I see young Justin can now be making.
Ah youth. I sing the auto electric. But this one is fine.
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