Karma chameleon: Fisker Automotive reborn

You might remember the storied Fisker Karma.

Fisker’s future looked promising back in 2011, when the Department of Energy earmarked $1 billion in federal loans for electric car development. Half of that $1B was designated for Fisker Automotive, and the other half for another upstart electric car company of which you may have heard—Tesla.

Fisker enjoyed an early rise to prominence in some influential circles. It was a PR person’s dream, in fact—Justin Bieber had a chrome one. Other celeb owners included Ashton Kutcher, Leonardo DiCaprio, Phil Mickelson, Al Gore, and Colin Powell.

But the dream ended abruptly in 2013, when the company—whose battery supplier, A123 Systems, went bankrupt after two battery recalls—filed for bankruptcy. (Fisker was also losing $557k per vehicle, according to Jalopnik.) Its assets were purchased by Wanxiang Group, China’s largest auto parts company.

Fast-forward to 2015, when Wanxiang relaunched the company as Karma Automotive. Karma’s first model is the Revero, and when I was recently invited to test drive it at an event in Menlo Park, California (the nearest dealer to the Bay Area is in Orange County, but they’re looking to add one in Northern California soon, possibly in Palo Alto, San Francisco, or Los Gatos.)

Revero, first impressions

IMG_7852
The Karma’s styling still turns heads. (image: Christina Perry)

Visually, the Karma Revero is not all that different from the Fisker Karma. It’s almost entirely the same—which works, because the design is striking and still doesn’t look dated (unlike the long-in-the-tooth Tesla Model S, which was arguably not pushing any design envelopes even when it debuted 7 years ago.)

The interior is quite similar to the original Fisker Karma, as well. The leather is very high quality, though the overall effect is somehow reminiscent of a luxury car from the 90s—it’s comfortable and luxurious, but the lines and contours—and the steering wheel, in particular—feel dated. So do the controls on the center console. The wood trim is reclaimed, and looks more like real wood than most of the highly polished woods in other cars. It’s a nice stylistic homage to the car’s eco-friendliness.

Screen Shot 2019-02-24 at 9.26.22 PM

In place of a shifter, there’s a diamond-shaped cluster of raised buttons. It’s interesting, but also a little awkward; but then, maybe after using it for a few days it would become intuitive. There’s also a clear piece of glass in the center console, showcasing nothing in particular beneath it. It’s an odd detail.

IMG_7865
Revero shifter and mystery glass panel. (image: Christina Perry)

As with the Tesla and many other cars today, a majority of the Revero’s controls are accessed via touchscreen. This is a matter of personal preference, but I’d prefer more tactile controls, since they’re easier (and safer) to use while driving.

Solar power

The Revero has a solar panel on the roof, which doesn’t actually power the car, but stores solar energy to support auxiliary functions, like air conditioning, which helps mitigate their impact on the car’s range.

Range

Range is not a strong point for the Revero. Its claimed all-electric range is only 50 miles. (And EPA testing has unfortunately found the actual all-electric range to be significantly less than that, at just 37 miles.) It does have a range extender, which is a 4-cylinder turbocharged engine, that kicks in to charge the battery when it starts to get low, so you can keep going up to about 300 miles.

This is all a little disappointing by today’s standards, especially considering that most far less-expensive electric cars and plugin hybrids can go a lot further in purely electric mode on a single charge. (The latest Nissan Leaf, for example, can do 151 miles.)

Driving experience

The Revero definitely has its own character, in terms of drivability.

There are three drive modes: stealth, sustain, and sport. Stealth is, disappointingly, not some sort of invisibility cloak but an all-electric mode. Sustain mode relies on the car’s generator to maximize battery range, and sport—well, sport is the one you want. It makes use of both electric motors as well as the gas motor to give you maximum power.

I started out in Sustain, driving out of the parking lot, and I can only describe the feel as sluggish. It took a lot of pressure on the pedal to make it go, at all, and the steering was so heavy I wondered at first if something was wrong with the power steering system. Once I got it up above about 35, it felt better, but still not quick or light. It just felt heavy.

That might have something to do with the fact that it is. It’s very heavy. It weighs over 5,400 pounds. (That’s almost 1,000 pounds—a half ton—more than a base Tesla Model S. A female moose weighs about 1,000 pounds. Why does the Revero weigh a moose more than a Tesla?)

I got it out into some curvy, open roads, and put it into Sport mode. I had high hopes for Sport mode. And it helped, considerably. The extra power definitely made the Revero feel more responsive, and a little more fun. The handling, around curves at 50+ mph was decent. Not sporty, exactly, and not fun in the way that even a Porsche Cayenne can manage, but competent. And the regenerative braking provided a nice engine-braking effect that I enjoyed.

So, the Revero is comfortable, and the cabin is well insulated from road noise. It’s stable, and easy to control, even at high speeds around curves. But it’s not a car that makes you want to drive it at high speeds, around curves.

One other point of contention  when you’re behind the wheel is the visibility. The Revero’s short greenhouse is part of its appeal, stylistically… but as a result, visibility is tough out the back and side rear windows. Blind spot monitoring would be very useful, but unfortunately isn’t offered.

Limitations

Compared to Tesla, the technology of the Revero is, well… pretty outdated. The infotainment system is primitive compared to other current models in the $100k+ price range (and even most cars in the $40k and up range.) It lacks a lot of the other advanced features that are standard from Tesla and other manufacturers—like active cruise control, sophisticated blind spot monitoring, and crash avoidance.

IMG_7867
The Revero’s infotainment system.

Practicality probably isn’t a primary consideration for the type of buyer the Revero draws, but at the same time, it really isn’t sporty enough to justify having a seating capacity that is less than most other luxury sedans.

The hardest shortcoming to overlook, though, is the very short all-electric range. It’s just too much of a limitation for a PHEV that starts at $130,000.

Conclusion

The main allure of the Revero is its styling. Its exotic looks are striking and—mercifully, especially in the Bay Area where every third or fourth car is a Tesla—unique. It’s a beautiful car that turns heads.

For a buyer who wants a mostly-electric experience and doesn’t need to drive more than 35 miles between charges, doesn’t need Tesla speed or seating for five, and wants something unique, the Revero may be an attractive option.

For me though, it doesn’t measure up to the range or performance expectations I have of an EV or PHEV in 2019, especially at its price point. It’s also not a car that is exciting to drive. It’s perfectly well-mannered and comfortable, but not fun. (For me, that’s a requirement, but a lot of car buyers are less concerned with sportiness, and for them the Revero would likely hold a lot of appeal.)

Ultimately, the Revero makes me very interested to see what’s next from Karma—they have three new concepts being announced in 2019, with at least one new model slated for release in the next 18 months.

Comments are closed.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: