For the most part, the automotive world is about evolution, not revolution. We keep finding new ways to do things, but even with the Ford Model T-which made mass-production a reality-the question was: "How can we do things better?" That's an evolutionary thinking.
Revolutionary thinking, in contrast, asks, "How can we do things differently?" And if it's about being different, the 2012 Fisker Karma may be the closest thing to a revolution we've ever seen in years.
On the surface, the Karma doesn't stand too far apart from its rivals. It's a super-luxury sedan with four wheels, four seats, a steering wheel, and a US $102,000 price tag, putting it in line with cars such as the Maserati Quattroporte, Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class, and Porsche Panamera. It's just as fast and good-looking as the others, and while it does boast a cutting-edge, extended-range electric drivetrain, the Karma is arguably no more fuel-efficient than a similarly priced Panamera S Hybrid.
Ask which of these vehicles is "better" or "best," and you've got a debate on your hands. But ask which one is unique, and the answer is undoubtedly the Karma. Unlike traditional automakers, Fisker sees itself as a technology company. And unlike most gaselectric vehicles, the Karma doesn't feel like a compromise.
Some might question what is the point of being different if you're not better, and there's validity to that line of thought. While the Blackberry and the original iPhone changed the way we saw mobile communications, the Segway didn't have the same impact on personal transportation. Staying within the automotive world, the Pontiac Aztec was pitched as "different"- and look how that turned out.
The key, then, isn't just to be different, but to also make emotional impact. The Blackberry made sense for business people, and the iPhone made sense for consumers. In contrast, the Segway didn't make sense for most people's wallets and many cities' bylaws, while the Aztec was just a bad idea from the start.
As for the Karma? We've established that it's unique, different, and in the category of expensive, hightech, super-luxury sedans, it really does make an emotional impact. It's stunning to look at, whisper quiet, and extremely fun to drive. It turns heads wherever it goes, and as a status symbol it's on the top rung.
More importantly, the Karma demonstrates what we're capable of achieving. While its competitors are trying to leave the past behind, Fisker has shown us that the future is here. And that's why different, in this case, makes a whole lot of sense.
Is the revolution here? I think so.
The Karma may just be the most beautiful four-door sports car ever to exist, and photos simply don't do it justice. It looks impossibly long and low, like something right out of a video game, or a pie-in-the-sky concept car that went right from the auto show to the street.
It's tough to pick out one detail that "makes" the car, but the amazing profile created by the flared fenders and pinched waist go a long way toward the Karma's stunning looks. You can see the passion in the design.
Inside, the Karma retains the concept-car feel with a giant touchscreen dashboard and LCD gauges, machined cupholders, pushbutton shifter, and seats designed to look like extensions of the console.
Designed in California and built in Finland by Valmet Automotive, a manufacturer with a great reputation, the Fisker's exceptional build quality is highlighted by the thick, saddle-stitch seams on the all-leather dashboard.
Power comes from two electric motors attached to the rear wheels, combining to generate a staggering 959 lb-ft of torque. The power delivery is immediate, accelerating the car from 0100km/h in roughly 6.4 seconds, and doing it with just the quiet whirr of the motors.
On pure electric power, the Karma has a range of 80km, but with a turbocharged 2.0L engine supplementing the generator, it can travel up to 483km. Note, however, that the gas engine never propels the car on its own.
With balanced steering, direct road feedback, and excellent overall handling for its size, the Karma is a joy to drive. It corners extremely well and with minimal body roll, while proving surprisingly comfortable and sporty at the same time.
The strange thing about driving the Karma is that you feel like you're flying - actually more like hovering just above ground because it's so smooth. However, you get used to it quickly, and once you do it's hard to go back to a traditional vehicle-everything else feels outdated.
Of course, with any concept-like car, there are bound to be a few formover-function flaws. In the Karma's case the all-electronic touch screen is gorgeous but not always easy to use.
The giant, 10.2" touchscreen is bigger than an iPad, it's placed at the bottom of the dashboard. You can't find the right controls without looking, and you can't look without taking your eyes completely off the road.
Where seating is concerned, front passengers will find a reasonable amount of space, and all four seats are exceptionally comfortable. Cabin space isn't quite as good in the rear, which is a bit of a surprise considering that the Karma's long wheelbase and small trunk.
When it's time to charge up the battery, the Karma takes about six hours with a special 220V outlet installed in your garage, or 14 hours from a standard 120V outlet.
Features The Karma retails for US $102,000 in three trim levels-EcoStandard, EcoSport, and EcoChic-and will be sold in Canada through luxury-auto dealers in Calgary, Toronto, and Vancouver.
Standard equipment includes ABS, electronic stability control, traction control, cruise control, dual-zone air conditioning, power-adjustable front seats, Xenon headlamps, keyless ignition with pushbutton start, Bluetooth, six-speaker CD/MP3 audio system, and front/knee/ side/side-curtain airbags.
Additional features, available on higher trims, include upgraded eight-speaker audio, GPS navigation, rear-view camera, and leather and EcoSuede interiors.
On a straight calculation of fuel capacity (35.7L) and total range (483km), the Karma's fuel consumption can be estimated at 7.4L/100km. As such, it's not the most efficient car on the road, but delivers a wonderful blend of power, speed, beauty, and efficiency that no other vehicle can match.
Cutting-edge everything; amazing design; no-compromise performance and efficiency.
Minor usability issues; surprisingly minimal inte-rior and storage space.
THE BOTTOM LINE
A different way of seeing the automobile.
. Audi A8
The $99,700 A8 features a 4.2L V8 with 372-hp and 328 lb-ft of torque, and reaches 100km/h in 5.7 seconds. Alternatively, there's an available 6.3L W12 with 500-hp and 463 lb-ft of torque, or an upcoming turbocharged 3.0L V6 for greater fuel efficiency.
The A8 is about as traditional as a sedan gets, but benefits from Audi's exceptional technology and topnotch attention to detail.
. Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG
A CLS 550 with a turbocharged 4.6L V8 generating 402-hp and 443 lb-ft of torque goes for $84,500, but the real competition to the Panamera is the $109,900 CLS63 AMG, sporting a turbocharged 5.5L V8 with 518hp and 516 lb-ft of torque.
Equipped with Mercedes-Benz's cutting-edge AMG SPEEDSHIFT MCT sevenspeed transmission, the stunning CLS63 AMG takes a scant 4.4 seconds to go from 0-100 km/h, and looks just fantastic while doing it.
. Porsche Panamera Selling for $108,700, the Panamera S Hybrid is undoubtedly the best comparison for the Karma, equipped with a 3.0L V6 and electric motor that produce peak output of 380-hp and 580 lb-ft of torque. It gets from 0-100km/h in 6.0 seconds.
With four doors and a rear hatch, the Panamera evokes a wide range of reactions. It's not necessarily beautiful, but is clearly a Porsche and really stands out from the crowd.