Fisker Karma (2011-2012): Review, Problems, Specs

The Fisker Karma was a huge market flop, yet it was a flop that looked so good, people still bought it; some went so far as to say they love it.

It was always the styling that made people stick with the Karma, even if the engineering that backed it up wasn’t all that bad. It was a trendsetter too, being the first performance-oriented plug-in hybrid range extender.

However, reliability, build quality and ultimately image issues eventually killed it off in its original form; we’re now awaiting for it to be reborn under the new company name Karma Automotive - it promises to fix its shortcomings while also bringing it up to date in terms of tech.


Pros & Cons
Strong Points

Pros


Strong Points
  • Head-turning good looks
  • Comfortable ride

Recommended Versions
Strong Points

Cons


Weak Points
  • Bad build quality, fit and finish
  • Handling dulled by excessive heft
  • Noisy gasoline engine
  • Slow, laggy, difficult to use infotainment touchscreen
  • Appalling legroom and headroom for rear occupants

Stay Away From
  • -
Strong Points

Attention


Known Problems & Recalls
  • August 2012 recall to replace faulty cooling fan which may cause a short and possible fire
  • May 2012 recall to fix / replace improper battery pack clams
  • 2012, 2013 MY cars had faulty door pull rings that could fall off
Car Details
Powertrain

The Karma’s powertrain was pioneering for several reasons: it was the first plug-in hybrid to power a luxury vehicle and also one of the very first range extender-type hybrids to make their way into a passenger car.

At the time of its launch, its claimed 52 MPG-e (4.5 l/100km) efficiency made it one of the most frugal cars you could buy Stateside.

Comprising it were a 2.0-liter GM-sourced turbo four-cylinder that fed its power directly to the electric motors. The Karma has two of them, each making 161 hp / 479 Nm of torque and they can propel the car to sixty in a claimed sub-six seconds.


Handling

While the sporty, low-slung looks of the Karma scream 200 mph and flat racing car-like cornering characteristics, it really isn’t like that. It actually feels like the big 2.5 ton barge that it is through the corners, and coupled with the occasional lag from the electric motor’s power delivery it’s definitely no canyon carver.

It’s fine for just cruising around at a relaxed pace, though, and it is blessed with precise steering that inspires confidence and also makes highway driving easy; it doesn’t need constant correcting in order to be kept straight.


Safety

All Karmas get front and rear head aribags, as well as dual front side-mounted ones to basically surround all of the possible passengers. However, being a 2012 car, it lacks any and all active systems.
It does have anitilock brakes with electronic brake force distribution and stability control, but that’s about it.

Comfort

The Karma’s driving position is excellent and both front occupants are generally quite cosseted. The high tunnel running through the middle of the car does add to the sensation of being cocooned inside it, but its pleasant choice of materials makes touching it enjoyable.

Interestingly, it seems it was decided the Karma’s interior would feature as little visible plastic as possible and as such, pretty much all surfaces you’d expect to be bare plastic trim is actually covered in a textile material.


Quality

The interior of the Karma is a continuation of the exterior’s haute couture-like design theme. Having more freedom for material use in the interior results in quite the intricate look, and while it could never hold a candle to established rivals’ build quality standard, its shapes and the way they meld into each other is rather special.

All the wood used for interior trim is actually reclaimed, in-keeping with the eco philosophy underpinning the whole car.

The aforementioned material that covers much of the interior is of high quality and very pleasant to the touch. You move its fibers as you wind your hand through it; this exudes quality and adds to the ambiance, or if you don’t like it you can search for cars that use leather instead.


Practicality

Fancy eye-catching design seems to have sat ahead of practicality in the development hierarchy of the Karma. However, it’s by no means bad at it, featuring four cupholders (two in the front, two in the rear) as well as decently-sized door bins.

The trunk is smaller and shallower than you’d expect from a sedan this big. Rated at a measly 6.9 cubic feet. Compare that to the 9.8 cubic feet you get in a Fiat 500 mini-hatch and the 16.3 cubic feet you get in a Mercedes S-Class to put it into context.


Infotainment

The Karma came with a nice looking, large touchscreen for the infotainment. Its graphics were nice, in-keeping with the design theme of the car, but its laggy response confirmed the impression left by the entire Karma package (a classic case of style over substance).

This would have been less of a problem had the Karma featured actual physical buttons for the climate control. It still retains these for the hazard warning lights, door locking function, electric windows and gearbox.

It does feature Bluetooth, though, as well as steering wheel-mounted controls, but these and other similar features have been criticized for not working consistently (or at all sometimes).

Efficiency

The Karma 52 MPG-e rating puts it on par with more modern plug-ins. YOu can obviously increase it dramatically if you always keep the battery topped up, therefore requiring the engine to work less (and implicitly use less gas).

If you keep it in Stealth Mode and do your best not to have the combustion engine start, you could almost run it as an EV.

If, however, you rely on the 2.0-liter turbo engine to make the power, you’re more likely to be looking at 20 mpg US.


Equipment

All 1,800 Karmas built come very well equipped and this can have a dramatic effect on their look, especially on the inside. Good quality faux leather upholstery is standard on most cars you’ll come across, as are powered front seats and climate control, although satellite navigation is not.

EcoChic trim models promise to be completely “animal free” in their construction, but otherwise there isn’t that much differentiation in the number and selection of toys you get.


Acquisition

With plenty of sub-$50,000 Karmas on the second hand market, it’s hard not to be tempted by its concept car proportions, the part-electric drivetrain and the bespoke-feeling interior.

However, you need to keep in mind that it won’t be a problem free ownership experience as small things seem to go wrong all the time, according to current owners of the car.

Windows can jam, displays can go awry and gaps in the assembly are sometimes annoyingly uneven.

As a rolling piece of automotive sculpture with green credentials, though, it’s still hard to beat even some five years after it went out of production.

There is also the option to buy one and have it turned into a V8-powered WM Destino, if you don’t much care for penguins and polar bears. Be prepared to shell out an extra $150,000 on top of the original acquisition price in order to have it converted.

Click on a model to learn more about it.
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