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Fisker Karma car is designed to get you hot... not the planet

A month ago, I’d sent some of my most green and playful friends an invitation to do a 20-minute test drive of the Fisker Karma, an electic-gas hybrid luxury vehicle. The car was, to quote from their promo lit/silly car porn, "designed to get you hot, not the planet." 

Several were interested. The design of the car was indeed enticing. The Black Onyx color I’d chosen brought out my strongest Catgirl fantasies – but was it a Batmobile that my bright green husband could love, too? I was encouraged by a review in Car and Driver, which called it “gorgeous... stunning... and sexy ... with a heap of sustainability” (if you want lots of technical data, their review is very helpful).

But the most important technical component to me was that it goes 30-plus miles (the representatives said to expect nearly twice that) on electric power alone, and that’s especially useful in mainly-hydro-powered B.C., vs. our old Georgia home, where primarily coal is burned and nuclear waste is created to make power.

There are many other useful and charming green features to the Karma: it can plug into a standard socket, it has a nice roof solar panel to cool the car (though there are better places for photovoltaic cells), there’s a lot of handsome sustainable trim, and the sales reps was able to talk “green” with some facility.

Mainly, I went to the test drive because I thought it was one of the coolest production cars I’d ever seen. It was also a chance to drive a Batmobile with my 14-year-old son, and write about it with him (his perspective follows mine).

Driving the Karma

The test drive was great. One couldn’t help but stand and admire the Karma's lights and curves for a while. You tap solenoids to open the door, and descend into a tight cockpit, filled with automotive displays of great beauty.

The handling is breathtaking: the car feels solid, and accxelerates in a way that makes it hard to remember that it’s in the same (hybrid) family of cars as my Prius. The pre-production bugs/odd features that revealed themselves with our short drive were small (squeaky window on closing, a steam-punked blinker-indicator-signal that sounded like our 1967 Dodge Coronet Station Wagon), and are expected to be addressed shortly.

It’s hard to find fault with the car if your philosophies and bank account simultaneously encompass spending more than $100,000 for a car and caring about the planet (at least for the first 30-or-so miles you drive at a time), and your aesthetics lean toward those of the super-hero.

A "steroid-fueled lefty midlife crisis"?

But even aesthetically, the car is a little shy for me -- I really want a convertible, and that’s going to be at least another year for Fisker (if it comes out at all), and likely an even-heftier price-tag. Worse yet, it’s really hard to achieve our Prius’ hybrid-eco-virtuousness with the Karma, getting a dismal 20mpg for gas after the first electric 30-or-so miles. Randall, my psychiatrist-husband, thought the car seemed like a steroid-fueled lefty mid-life crisis.

Frankly, it was especially hard for me to overcome the fact that the Tesla Model S is waiting in the wings. The Model S is $55,000, all electric with a 160 mile driving range (and you can add 200 more miles to that range for $10k/100 miles), and a gorgeous glass convertible roof. It holds seven people inside, and easily fits all the skiis, poles, and boots I want in the huge front trunk. Remember, there’s no internal combustion engine – so there’s room. 

Like the Karma, the Model S also can either plug into a regular socket, or can fully charge from dedicated sources in less than one hour. While the Model S (as in Sedan) is not as alluring as the Karma (nor as the beautiful Tesla Roadster, which is being phased out), it’s got a much-less-ostentatious price tag (and look), it’s emissions free, it’s a convertible with a glass roof, it can carry my son Ridge, his buddies, and all their stuff, I think I’ll never have buyers’ remorse, its rightness would often put a smile on my face when I saw it, and it could be ready for delivery in six months.

Here’s my son Ridge’s perspective on the Karma.

A teen's perspective on the new eco-car

One striking comparison to our Prius was that acceleration in Karma was a really visceral experience – while it could become tiresome over time, it was satisfying for our test drive. 

And though it may not look like the ultimate sports car to me from the outside, the interior of the Karma was full-on, with a futuristic-looking console that monitors functions from the radio and climate to fuel consumption, and seats that make you feel like you’re flying an F1. 

One other striking difference from the Prius was how inefficiently the heavy Karma processes fuel. Their 20 mpg is worse than many SUVs.

More cars to come
I hate to be so stingy with my conclusions about the comely Karma. Fisker has made an alluring vehicle that has some ecovirtues, and three cheers for another company willing to invest in these critical electric and hybrid technologies, and to do so in a way that answers some of the requests of an early-adopter market.

But the Karma also plays so strongly to the same overconsumptive, domineering, selfish myths that created and still perpetuate the need for more ecovirtue that I couldn't ever see myself seriously consider buying it.

Ridge, my husband, and some other family gear-heads and I hope to test-drive a Tesla Model S in the Bay Area in January, and we’ll let you know what we think of that, too. 

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