Sexy as it is, the sleekness of the 2012 Fisker Karma has some serious downsides. It has remarkably little space inside for a vehicle that looks so imposingly large. The U.S. government classifies the Karma as a "subcompact" based on its interior volume, and the accommodations can best be described as cozy. Trunk space is also tiny, at only 6.9 cubic feet; it'll handle a couple of golf bags, but don't expect luggage for four to fit.
The Karma is wide, with the battery-pack tunnel between passengers giving sufficient space that front-seat riders don't touch. The front seats are well bolstered, comfortable and adjustable in all dimensions, and a standard six-foot man fits comfortably--though a portlier colleague found the front seat tight. The steering wheel both tilts and telescopes, but we found it didn't extend quite far enough out from the dash to provide an optimal driving position.
From the inside, some drivers could hear the pedestrian-alert noise emitted by the Karma whenever it was moving on battery power alone--they said it resembled nothing so much as the noise of a propeller plane overhead--while others could barely discern it. Such artificially generated noises are usually inaudible inside other electric cars, so it was surprising to hear it in the Fisker.
Engine noise ranged from barely audible to a quite noticeable howl under maximum acceleration. Because the engine isn't mechanically connected to the drivetrain, however, there was essentially no vibration even at maximum engine speed--Fisker has isolated the engine well. In electric mode, there was minimal whine from the twin electric traction motors (no doubt helped by their rear-axle location) but under certain circumstances, the power electronics emitted their own whine.
Interior materials conveyed an atmosphere of luxury, let down only by standard black plastic switchgear. The audio buttons and cruise controls on the steering wheel were okay, but the power mirror adjuster on the driver's door was definitely downmarket and felt out of place in a car with a six-figure price tag--especially in contrast to the elegant metal surrounds on different parts of the dash and console.
And the lack of individual knobs and switches for even simple functions like audio volume means that the driver spends a great deal of time looking at and touching the low-mounted display screen. The graphics are good, though we found the screen somewhat dim on its standard setting, but we hope Karma owners spend time memorizing frequently used touch points--to reduce distraction while driving.
We drove two different Karma test cars from among the first 1,000 built, and each one had a few quality issues. On one, the instrument cluster simply blanked out, requiring the car to "go to sleep" for a few minutes before it was restarted. That problem was subsequently fixed in a software upgrade, but another problem reared its head among newer Karmas tested by colleagues: The simple act of plugging an iPhone into the USB port crashed the display monitor on the console. Fisker says there's a software update coming for that one, too, and that minor early teething troubles like this are standard for brand-new vehicles.
On our second Karma test car, the panel fit was not only sub-par for the luxury sector, it was nowhere near as good as what you'll find on any mass-produced Toyota or Chevrolet. Wide gaps yawned between the trunklid and the fenders, the rubber seal bulged in the gap between the rear door and fender, and the arch of the hood edge didn't quite match that of the front fender it abutted. We confirmed these issues on several other Karmas at a test drive event, meaning they weren't unique to our specific vehicle.
Whether these issues will prove problematic for the early adopters and wealthy plug-in car fans who will buy Fiskers, we found them troubling in a car with a base price of $106,000 before options.