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Starting a car company is really, really hard. Starting a car company to build the world's first plug-in hybrid luxury sport sedan is even harder. And managing to pull it off by launching a car with truly jaw-dropping style, a car that causes people to stop in their tracks--and to make it run 30 miles or more on electric power from a wall socket to boot--has got to be absurdly hard.
But that's what Henrik Fisker has done, and the launch of the 2012 Fisker Karma four-door luxury sport sedan late in 2011 was a notable event. The car had a number of delays and technical stumbles, but now it's out there, it's being delivered to customers who put down deposits as long as three years ago, and the company's several dozen U.S. dealers now have cars in stock to show. Fisker hopes to sell as many as 15,000 Karmas a year, globally, once the production lines in Finland are running at full speed.
Unveiled in January 2008 at the Detroit Auto Show, the Karma is the first offering from Fisker Automotive. Its slinky, low-slung styling is the first thing you notice, along with the solar roof covered entirely in photovoltaic cells. But underneath is an extended-range electric powertrain along the same lines as the one in the Chevrolet Volt.
The 2012 Karma has a 20-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack that sends electricity to a pair of 150-kilowatt (200-horsepower) electric motors mounted fore and aft of the rear axle. According to the EPA, the Karma can deliver 32 miles of electric range, after which a 260-hp, 2.0-liter direct-injected and turbocharged four-cylinder engine switches on. Crucially, that engine does not provide torque to the wheels. Its purpose is to turn a generator that produces electric power to send to the drive motors. Rated by the EPA at 20 miles per gallon when the engine is on, the gasoline-powered generator can provide up to 200 more miles--and the same again once the gas tank is filled up.
There are two driving modes: "Stealth," the battery electric option, and "Sport," the mode in which the engine switches on for better performance and additional power. Drivers can switch between them, assuming there's energy left in the pack, and the car defaults to Sport once the pack is depleted until it's plugged in to charge again.
The 2012 Karma offers an unusual option, an interior known as "EcoChic" that contains no animal products and uses only reclaimed wood and recycled fibers. On the dash surfaces and seat upholstery are various simulated suede and brocade-like cloth fabrics, creating a look that's likely to be memorable whether or not you like the style.
Base pricing for the Karma starts at $106,000, with only a few options: the EcoChic interior, an upgraded stereo, winter tires and wheels, and a 240-Volt Level 2 home recharging station. Many buyers will qualify for the $7,500 Federal tax credit for purchase of an electric car. Fisker has shown two additional body styles on the Karma platform: a "shooting brake" wagon called the Surf, and a two-door retractable hardtop called the Karma S or Sunset. No word yet, though, on whether or when those models will go into production.
- Stunning, sexy, drop-dead styling
- First-ever plug-in luxury sport sedan
- Strong acceleration in Sport mode
- Full-length solar roof
- Audacious new car company
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- Subcompact-sized interior, tiny trunk
- Far from the best sport sedan
- The most inefficient plug-in on the market