2012 Fisker Karma: Illusion versus reality

Photography copyright Team Killeen

It’s interesting how the brain works. For example, look at the lead photo. It may appear that the 2012 Fisker Karma is on a New York street in the early morning before the crowds begin to bustle. But that’s not reality. It’s actually parked on the outdoor “New York Street” stage at the CBS Studio Center in Los Angeles, California. It’s an illusion. The same is true about the 2012 Fisker Karma. For many, at first glance the Karma appears to be an ultra-fast sports car that burns gasoline at the same rate as a Delta rocket. In reality, the Karma sips fuel like a rescued baby bird drinking from an eyedropper. Both serve to remind us to be careful about first impressions.

Few may be familiar with Fisker, as it’s a new automotive company with a focus on building fuel-efficient vehicles that also happen to look stunning and go fast. It’s nice to find out that a car company believes those traits aren’t mutually exclusive.

While Fisker isn’t the first to create an electric drivetrain, a dual power source or even a great design, it is the only one that manages to do it all in one vehicle.

Fisker Automotive has been in business since 2007, and is the brainchild of two impressively credentialed men: Henrik Fisker and Bernhard Koehler.

Henrik Fisker’s first love is design, having worked as the creative director at Ford’s design and creativity center in London, England. He also led Ford’s Global Advanced Design Studio in California. Plus, he headed the design department at Aston Martin, and was responsible for the V8 Vantage and the DB9 styling, arguably two of the most beautiful vehicles to grace the highway. If that wasn’t enough, he served as president and CEO at BMW’s famous DesignworksUSA team, and created the BMW Z07 concept vehicle as well as the Z8 roadster.

Co-founder of Fisker Automotive, “Barny” Koehler, also spent time at BMW’s DesignworksUSA, serving as director of operations as well as director of 3D services. His efforts led the build of the first new MINI concept vehicle.

While we usually don’t provide company background, it’s important to understand the history of the brand’s creators, so when you look at the Karma from all angles, you’ll understand the familiar design influences.

Because the Karma is exceptionally pleasing to look at, and because it’s an electric vehicle with extended range, and because it’s politically acceptable to the world, you can see why celebrities are lining up to get one. Offerings like the Toyota Prius sedan or Chevrolet Volt transmit a B-list-actor vibe, unacceptable for overinflated celebrity egos. Fisker came along just in time to give those who grace the covers of People magazine something that befits their self-important status. For example, pubescent heartthrob Justin Bieber was gifted a Karma for his 18th birthday from his manager (it’s all chrome, something we would never recommend in sunny Southern California, especially if you’re trying to stay incognito from the paparazzi), and Ashton Kutcher’s character Walden Schmidt tools around Malibu in one on Two and a Half Men.

Celebrity status aside, the Fisker Karma is almost too pretty to be electric. The sweeping, elegant body is both sensual and athletic. Strong wheel arches, a long hood, short overhangs, and a low roofline make you think coupe, even though there are four doors.

Overall length is about 4 inches shy of 200, but the wheelbase is a solid 124 inches, roughly the same as an S-Class Mercedes-Benz. The 22-inch Circuit Blade wheels and low-profile tires are massive but proportional to the body. The most photographed and attention-getting feature of the Karma’s design, however is the solar-panel roof, unique in the industry. It’s a 120w panel designed to offset about 0.5kw/h of energy per day, or the equivalent of 200 extra gas-free miles per year. The solar panel generates the electricity to run the 12-volt systems, such as the audio, A/C compressor, etc, so there’s no draw on the main battery pack. Besides being a clever idea, it shows that a lot of thought went into the Karma’s design.

What’s equally cool, but not visible, is the Karma’s aluminum spaceframe architecture, which helps deliver high torsional rigidity and reduced body mass. What is visible — highly visible — is the Karma’s available sparkling Diamond Dust paint; this is a new process that’s more environmentally friendly during the paint process and features an infrared layer that helps keep the interior cooler.

If you think the outside looks good, open the door. There’s no question a top designer’s fingerprints are all over this cockpit. Our mid-level EcoSport trim model came with the Canyon Tritone combo that blends three colors of suede, leather and wood,  which best can be described as OMG. Taken a step further, besides using materials reserved for royalty, the eco-friendliness continues here as well. The leather is from a sustainable, closed-loop processing plant, the carpet backing is made from recycled post-consumer fiber, the wood is from reclaimed trees, and the seating is soy-based foam. Think gilt, not guilt here.

Besides the materials used, the list of cool features in the cabin is long. How about the clear pushbutton transmission selector? Or the gauges that were designed to resemble a Swiss timepiece? Or the large touchscreen of the Command Center that gives you audio, navigation and climate controls with the touch of a finger? If you’re interested in seeing what part of the car is working (engine, motor, etc.), that’s found on the screen as well. Door release handles are so last century. Pushing the EcoLucent button on the door will electronically release you to the outside world.