Eco-warrior pipe dream gets real

Ryan Borroff
LEONARDO DiCaprio has one. In fact, diCaprio has the first production Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid sports car ever built. And he paid for it.

That one of the world’s biggest film stars is driving the world’s most eco-friendly sports car is perhaps not so surprising. But the man that built it is car designer Henrik Fisker – author of the BMW Z8 and Aston Martin Vantage sports cars – who also happened to raise a billion dollars or so in investment for the company that bears his name, Fisker Automotive. That’s the big news, right there. Almost nobody who tries to start their own series production car company succeeds. This is because it is even more difficult to do than it is expensive and it’s fantastically expensive.

Fisker Automotive will build 300 of its luxurious Karma electric sports cars every week when production is fully underway. For now I’m driving one of the first models ever built on road (and track) in Milan. If Leo has his then this is number two of three. It’s one of the most interesting cars I’ve driven.

It certainly looks the part. The Karma is a very luxurious four-door sports car indeed. Long, wide and low, the Karma is athletic and elegant. Its length – at almost five metres – is dictated by the lithium-ion battery pack which gives the car its long spine. Then there are those 22-inch alloy wheels. No car in history has gone to production with 22-inch wheels and the effect is stunning.

Inside the Fisker Karma knocks most other luxury brands sideways. It’s more sumptuous than any competitor at its £80k price. Leather, wood and Alcantara suede combine with the most advanced touchscreen in-car control system I’ve seen. The combination of materials, up-to-the-minute tech, futuristic controls and highly individual and contemporary styling adds up to a cabin that is utterly unique.

On the road, around the streets of Milan, the car is impressive. You have the option to drive the car in Stealth or Sport mode. In Stealth mode the car can travel using electric only for up to 50 miles. Here the Karma’s twin electric motors – which produce 403bhp – drive the rear wheels. This is where the Karma is at its best: accelerating in Stealth mode is smooth, as there are no gears, and is really exciting. You’re driving in near silence, the only noise is a sound effect broadcast through rear bumper speakers (they look like chrome exhaust pipes); a sound which Fisker calls “Tron”. With so little road and wind noise the experience is about as stress-free as driving will ever get.

By switching into Sport mode – via a paddle behind the steering wheel – the Karma’s 2-litre, four-cylinder, turbo-charged range-extending petrol engine kicks in to charge the batteries, increase acceleration and enhance the vehicle’s range, by up to 250 additional miles. Here is the only compromise. You need to adapt the manner in which you drive to get the best out of the Karma because under heavy acceleration it makes a quite disagreeable noise as the petrol engine cuts in to charge the batteries. Best to accelerate up to speed in Stealth mode before motorway cruising, then the engine will charge the batteries in the background.

Fisker Automotive claims acceleration of 7.9 seconds in Stealth (electric-only) mode and just 5.9 seconds in Sport mode. Top speed is electronically limited to 125mph and 118mpg (combined) with CO2 emissions of 83g/km is possible. Of course if you only ever use the car for commuting in Stealth mode and charge the electric motor at home or work – which takes five-and-a-half-hours – then these figures are effectively zero. Just the price of electricity to pay.

For now the Fisker Karma will only be available in left-hand-drive versions but it’s a small compromise for such an innovative car. If you in any way care about the environment but also love motoring then this could be the car for you.


PRICE: £80,000
0-62MPH: 5.9secs
TOP SPEED: 125mph
CO2 G/KM: 83g/km