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Karma Hybrid comes with a drool worthy body and a near $100k price tag

Although many people had doubts whether Fisker's voluptuous Karma hybrid would ever make it to production, the company is making good on its promise to take on the big guns in the automotive world. To show its good faith, Fisker gave automotive publications the chance to test its first hybrid sedan.

For those that don't remember, the Karma features a turbocharged 2.0-liter Ecotec four-cylinder engine (supplied by General Motors) that develops 260hp. In addition, the Karma also features two rear-mounted 201hp electric motors (402hp total) which get their power from a 21 kWh lithium-ion battery pack. Like the current generation Prius (as an optional feature), there are solar panels in the roof to power interior accessories.

According to the previews, despite having a relatively complex and powerful 260hp engine on tap, it is only used as a generator. As a result, the Karma's electric motors are always providing the forward thrust for the vehicle.

Car and Driver:

Tugging the “sport” paddle to the left of the steering wheel brings additional energy to bear. When the gasoline engine kicks in to supplement the battery pack’s wattage—to trim the 0-to-60-mph run from a claimed 7.9 seconds to 5.9, or to add 250 miles to the driving range—the extra thrust is accompanied by the whistle of a turbo spooling up, the snarl of angry exhaust gas, and a resonant boom or two…

But the physics conspire against it keeping pace with other $100K sports sedans. In spite of the joys of low-rpm electric torque, the realities of a curb weight well above 4000 pounds and only one gear ratio mean that mileage is where this car excels. 

Inside Line:

All the exterior panels on the Karma are made of either aluminum — including the hood and outer door panels — or molded resin composite as on all four fender panels. The supersize 124.4-inch wheelbase (almost 10 inches longer than on a Porsche Panamera) is the exterior's most notable dimension and the 22-inch wheels bookend the look quite nicely... 

Our only gripe was that the Karma didn't feel as solid all around as its German and Japanese competitors. Wind noise and road noise, however, are very well contained overall. Some smaller wheels might help out in the ride quality department, too, but according to Fisker's engineers, a change in that direction would bring the center member of the steering mechanism a little too close to the ground. A set of 21-inch all-season tires is as small as they're willing to go. 


But the Karma has several vital factors in its favor, not least its stop-the-traffic looks, its thorough engineering, its great driving characteristics and a price that, while high, doesn’t look unrealistic against the competition. If the car makes a good start — and the 3,000 orders already held seem to promise as much — it could easily become the next must-have automobile among Hollywood’s glitterati. 

The 2012 Fisker Karma is expected to have a base price of $95,500. Conveniently, this places it in direct competition with the Porsche Panamera Hybrid S (base price $95,000). There's no question that the Karma has the Panamera beat (by far) on looks, but the Panamera has a proven family history/pedigree while the Karma is starting with a clean slate. 

With 3,000 buyers having already waiting in line to get their hands on the Karma, at least a wealthy few are willing to give the vehicle a chance.

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Woooo 1/4 of HP max from roof solar panels
By phxfreddy on 2/21/2011 7:52:07 AM , Rating: 3
.... the roof panels are the equivalent of propaganda. Max power from them theoretically can be about 1 kw / square meter.

I wish our society would give up its collective wishful thinking in the form of its "green religions". Its tiresome. Want to be revolutionary? Get an engineering degree instead of just listening to all the bobagem sold to you by the lefty politicians.

RE: Woooo 1/4 of HP max from roof solar panels
By superPC on 2/21/11, Rating: 0
By theapparition on 2/21/2011 9:54:24 AM , Rating: 5
The roof panels don't attempt to charge the car. They are only to supplement accessory power only.

I believe the Prius has something similar that only uses the power to ventilate the car while parked, keeping interior temperatures down.

By Thats Mr Gopher to you on 2/21/2011 10:51:08 AM , Rating: 5
To have known that they would have had to read the article properly. Don't be silly. You know most people who comment on here only read enough to see something they can kick up some ridiculous fuss about.

Not that I'm saying the solar panels on the car are a great idea. The tiny benefit you get from them is simply not enough to warrant their expense. They are a gimmick.

RE: Woooo 1/4 of HP max from roof solar panels
By mars2k on 2/21/2011 4:05:26 PM , Rating: 2
The solar panels don't have to charge the car completely they only have to provide enough power to justify their weight + a little more. OK so if you say it would take "days" to charge the car, how many days are you talking about? 2? 3? How about putting PV on every horizontal surface? If it takes 3 days and you double the surface area and sit the car outdoors in the sun while you're inside working wouldn't that get you home at night?
My point is that any gain is good if it's a net gain and saves carbon based fuel.

By phxfreddy on 2/21/2011 4:21:51 PM , Rating: 1
And you Mr Mars2k are my point incarnate. You say "anything is a good think" at the cost of common sense and fiscal sanity.

Thank you for bringing my strawman to life. Isn't that straw poking out your pant leg itchy???

Poor libs can figure out anything for themselves. They wait till they get their marching orders from NPR and the repeat it endlessly.

By JediJeb on 2/21/2011 6:00:47 PM , Rating: 2
The solar panels would take infinite time to recharge the car since in the article it says they are only used to help run accessories. They keep the radio and fans from drawing too much power from the batteries they don't charge the battery in any way at all.

By Solandri on 2/21/2011 8:05:34 PM , Rating: 2
Pulls out favorite rhyme:

In fourteen hundred and ninety two,
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
Divide the year of his voyage by two,
and you get the number of watts in a horsepower.

Assume a 1 m^2 rooftop. 130 W peak is only 0.17 hp. If you figure the car like most needs 25 hp to maintain highway cruise, at noon the roof panel extends the car's battery range by .17/25 = 0.68%. For a 25 mile drive during a rush hour commute when the sun is not at peak, the panels are probably only providing about 0.1 miles extra range. About 500 feet.

How about saving money in terms of staving off when the gas engine will kick in? Well, the article says with the gas engine it'll get 40 mpg highway. So that extra 500 feet represents 0.0024 gallons of gas saved. At $3/gal and a 25 mile commute, that's 0.7 cents worth of gas you save per trip. 2 trips a day, 250 trips a year, that's $3.50/year in gas you save.

Now say if instead of running accessories, they had made it so the panel is used to charge the battery while the car is parked. Figure over an 8 hour work-day the roof panel generates 65 W average, that's a total of 0.52 kW-hr per day. Electricity costs about $0.11 per kW-hr, so it'll save you 5.7 cents worth of electricity per day running it. If the panels cost you $200 to install (which is a little cheaper than what you'll pay for your home), it'll take 9.6 years for them to pay for themselves. Assuming every day is sunny.

It's a marketing gimmick, nothing more. People vastly overestimate how much power you can get from solar without covering huge swaths of area with panels. There's a reason all those "cars" in those solar powered races look like little more than bicycles with a housing covered in solar panels on top of them.

By PlasmaBomb on 2/23/2011 11:34:08 AM , Rating: 2
Assuming that the solar PV cells generate as much as the Prius' cells typically do (165 W (215 Max W)), then it would take -

21kW = 21,000W / 165W = 127 days 6 hours 28 minutes 48 seconds of continuous sunlight to generate the maximum 21kW the batteries can hold...

RE: Woooo 1/4 of HP max from roof solar panels
By DarthKaos on 2/21/11, Rating: 0
By Sivar on 2/21/2011 10:42:52 AM , Rating: 2
The cost, both in money and in environmental damage due to manufacturing, is far greater by producing these solar panels than they will compensate for by saving small amounts of energy.
It's distressing how easily it is forgotten than manufacturing isn't "free."

By Nutzo on 2/21/2011 12:34:27 PM , Rating: 3
Did you know that even with the most efficient solar panels available, for most drivers the car is going to use more energy hauling around the extra weight of the panels, than the energy produced by the panels?

Too many people belive in the magic of a solar powered car.

Even if the entire roof the the car was solar panels, it would take a couple weeks of full sunlight to charge the batteries to drive just a couple miles.

That's why these solar panels on the roof are just just for "accessories", and are nothign but a PR joke.

RE: Woooo 1/4 of HP max from roof solar panels
By MartyLK on 2/21/2011 11:00:59 AM , Rating: 1
At least they're making an effort to help the world. You and your oil-lovin' righties would do anything to stop any technology that gets away from the use of fossil fuels.

By JediJeb on 2/21/2011 6:06:30 PM , Rating: 2
If an effort uses more energy than it saves is it still worth it to pursue?

A 260 hp gas engine?
By ussfletcher on 2/21/2011 8:07:14 AM , Rating: 2
So this uses a 260 hp engine as a generator to power the 400 hp electric motors (combined).. with that much power it seems to be incredibly slow. I would think the same performance could be made with a motorcycle engine powering those motors.

RE: A 260 hp gas engine?
By theapparition on 2/21/2011 10:32:34 AM , Rating: 5
Part of the performance differential comes from the heavy weight (over 4000lbs) and single gear transmission/differential/rearend (what ever you want to call it).

Conventional cars use a transmission (multiple gear ratios), coupled with a differential (fixed gear ratio) that has the effect of reducing engine RPM to the tire RPM. Since power can never be created or lost through gearing, reduction of RPM also has the effect of increasing torque at the tires. HP=RPM*Torque(FTLBS)/5250.

If a conventional car had no gear ratio reduction (or 1:1), a engine at 5000RPM would be rotating the tires at 5000RPM. A typical 26" high tire at 5000RPM would be theoretically moving a car at 386mph.


So some reduction in tire revolution is required. It has the added benefit of increasing torque at the tire. Using a Corvette as an example (since I am familiar with), has a typical 1st gear final drive ratio of around 10. That means (using the example above), that top speed in 1st gear is 10 times less than above (38.6mph) but torque is multiplied by 10 times as well. So instead of a engine max rated 400ft-lbs of torque, it is actually 4000ft-lbs at the tires. Exactly why many cars can spin tires in 1st gear, but not 2nd. (I have a car that can spin in 4th gear, but that's another story ;P).

Torque divided by the moment arm (radius of tire) gives the force between the tire and pavement. If that force is greater than wind resistance and rolling friction, the car will continue to accelerate until those forces will be equal, at which point the car has hit its top speed.

That's important to note, because the torque is actually an easier mechanism to use to determine acceleration caracteristics.

Problem comes with typical ICEs, since they are non-linear devices. Power peaks at certain RPM, and torque curves are never flat. Because of the non-linear operation, multispeed transmission were developed to help the car perform best in various power bands. 1st gear is for acceleration, 4th gear for cruising, 5th or 6th gear usually overdrive for fuel economy, etc.

Back on topic, electric motors are very linear, and have a very specific torque curve. Because a large amount of low end torque is available, electric cars can chose to eliminate the multispeed transmission. But in doing so, you are left with a one-sized-fits-all scenerio. Either gear the car for lower top speed and higher torque (better acceleration), or for lower torque and higher top speed.

Early Tesla Roadsters suffered from this, as thier single speed models performance was decidedly lackluster. Even so, this Fiskar models seems to be competitive with other 400hp 4000+lb models. Best comparison would be to something like a Dodge Charger SRT-8, with over 400hp and 4200lbs, gets 0-60 in about 5 sec. So this is about a second slower. Not bad for a car that's targeted at a completely different market segment, not a dragstrip racer.
That tells me it' probably geared slightly higher to aid with fuel economy.

Now, if it's "worth" it's $100k price tag, that's a discussion for another day. Does look sexy though.

Sorry for the long post, just that it seems there is a lot of confusion with gear ratios and thier effect on performance.

RE: A 260 hp gas engine?
By fic2 on 2/21/2011 1:51:31 PM , Rating: 2
What car(s) have a typical 26" wheel?

RE: A 260 hp gas engine?
By theapparition on 2/21/2011 3:29:16 PM , Rating: 2
Corvettes have a 26.66" diameter tire (just off my head), along with a myriad of other models. Camaro and mustang are even larger, with the Camaro SS at 28.66" and the Mustang GT at 27.25" diameter.

Plenty of other car models have a much smaller diameter, for example, the Honda Fit has a 23.95" tire, but since the context was about performance, no point in trying to compare a $100 hybrid sports coupe to an entry level econobox.

Still, just modify the numbers a bit.

RE: A 260 hp gas engine?
By mars2k on 2/21/2011 4:11:37 PM , Rating: 2
Great post. What we need is more information not a lot of negativity.

I wonder why they don't use a turbo diesel instead of gas diesels are more efficient particularly at partial loads?

By the way Fisker has been making beautiful exotic automobiles in Switzerland for decades. They are an exclusive and well respected brand overseas. Kudos to them

RE: A 260 hp gas engine?
By BZDTemp on 2/22/2011 9:28:16 AM , Rating: 2
By the way Fisker has been making beautiful exotic automobiles in Switzerland for decades. They are an exclusive and well respected brand overseas. Kudos to them

I'm confused - what cars are you think of that Fisker Automotive or Henrik Fisker for that matter have made in Switzerland?

The designs from Henrik Fisker that I can think of are some for BMW, Aston Martin, Fisker Coachworks and most recently a sports car by a small German (or is it Dutch) company. Plus of course the car we are seeing in this article and the unused design made for Tesla.

Hybrid = Fail
By EricMartello on 2/21/2011 10:12:02 AM , Rating: 1
This car would have been better if it had the Ecotec engine alone, without the extra 1800+ pounds from the batteries, two electric motors and generator.

Making hybrid cars was a bad idea to begin with. It's a complex, expensive proposition that really doesn't solve the problem it was intended to solve.

Hybrid vehicles do not get better fuel economy on average than a modern diesel, or even an efficient 4-cyl car. As for performance, who cares? The electric motors weigh so much that any potential gains from increased torque/power are effectively negated.

If you want to be "green", don't drive a car. Don't even own one. Get a bike, and make sure that everything you need is within your bike's range.

RE: Hybrid = Fail
By encia on 2/21/2011 9:44:04 PM , Rating: 2
On the complexity question, the Prius G2/G3's transmission (i.e. power split device = HSD) has less moving parts than VW Jetta's transmission.

Refer to

Try again EricMartello.

RE: Hybrid = Fail
By encia on 2/21/2011 9:50:38 PM , Rating: 2
2010 Prius hybrid transaxle has a motor/generator #1 (MG1), Power Split Device (PSD), motor/generator #2 (MG2), and finally the reduction gear. Simple

At least they are starting to try...
By callmeroy on 2/22/2011 9:28:47 AM , Rating: 2
I'll give them some credit -- at least carmarkers are starting to try to make these hybrids look cool. It wasn't all that long again when any "eco-friendly" vehicle looked like a dorkmobile.

And why I realise we are witnessing just the birth of the "hybrid" revolution (as some will call it) the initial cars will be pricey.....still...$95k for those performance numbers is a bit sad.

And I'll head anyone off at the pass that wants to defend it by saying something like 'well the point is to improved mileage and energy efficiency' If you build a vehicle to have the appearance of being a speed demon (and you price it at nearly $100k) I'm sorry but its open game to diss its lackluster performance numbers.

If the car was more "tame looking" then I'd be a tad less critical on its performance times (or if it was considerably cheaper)...

After all while many luxury cars don't really look like speed demons most of them could blow most "sports cars" off the road....why? Because the theory is if you are dropping $80 - 125,000 for a car....damn it better have some GO to it!

By callmeroy on 2/22/2011 9:33:12 AM , Rating: 2
ugh sorry for obvious typos...."and why I realise..." should be "WHILE I realise..."...

"it wasn't all that long again..."....should be "all that long AGO..."

(I'm sure there are more..but those bugged me the most to quickly write this fix post)

No thanks
By Beenthere on 2/21/2011 10:25:13 AM , Rating: 2
There's nothing about this hybrid that makes sense to me. First it ain't exactly pleasing styling. Second it's over-priced. Third the performance ain't great for the gas engine and electric motors combined. Fourth it weighs too much. Fifth it's impractical and the list goes on. This is just a toy for the tree huggers who have more money than technical knowledge.

By Sivar on 2/21/2011 10:40:18 AM , Rating: 2
While I agree, it is rather important to distinguish fact from opinion, no?

Big Wheels
By thomp237 on 2/21/2011 3:31:07 PM , Rating: 2
I worked on this program for a while - until they didnt pay their bills. The reason for 22" wheels has nothing to do with steering cross members - Henrik designed a wheel he liked and that was the wheel that would be used. When told that a Brembo style 4 piston opposed caliper would not fit within the wheel we were instructed to find alternative solutions - the wheels would not be changed. The problem was Brembo was the only company that wanted anything to do with this vehicle. There were no alternatives! Eventually they revised the offset (screwing up the roll centers) to accommodate a Brembo caliper, but in all cases aesthetics ALWAYS came before engineering on this car. I guess its better than putting the bean counters first, but not much....

By FredEx on 2/23/2011 7:53:52 AM , Rating: 2
There is much I like about this car, but the performance is a huge disappointment. I know of a few people that have a third or less into electrics and or hybrids they are building in their garages that would smoke this car. Old gearheads with engineering degrees come up with some bad a** stuff and a couple work in the EV industry and know what is what.

"This is from the It's a science website." -- Rush Limbaugh
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