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Auto review: Curvaceous Karma makes a sporty plug-in pitch

Henry Payne, The Detroit News on

Published in Automotive News

—Gas power. Want to go road tripping? Karma takes advantage of America’s vast gas station network to fill up on the road and get you to where you’re going without electric range anxiety (or long delays in parking lots). With its energy-dense, 116,090 BTUs per gallon, a gas pump can deliver you 25 miles in 5 seconds. Plug in to a 240-volt charger and it’ll take 2 hours to get 25 miles.

Karma is not the first luxury car to try this, of course. The Cadillac ELR plug-in (based on the Chevy Volt) debuted at the same time as Fisker and Tesla and bit the dust a few years later. It was overpriced at $80,000 compared with the larger, more luxurious startups.

And, like the Fisker Karma, its performance paled compared to peers.

That was enough to doom ELR, but not Karma. Like a siren in Greek mythology, Karma’s stunning looks continued to attract interest.

Penned by Aston Martin designer Fisker, the Karma is widely considered one of the prettiest cars conceived.

China’s Wanxiang rescued her from financial purgatory. Everyone adored her. Heck, even Bob Lutz and Gilbert Villarreal took some Karma chassis and stuffed them with Corvette V-8s.

 

The low-slung Fisker looks like a four-door Corvette. The long front hood arrives 10 minutes before the cabin, riding on muscular haunches. Like most super sports cars, it’s a pain-in-the neck (literally, I had to cock my 6-foot-5-inch neck every time I got out) to access, but once seated, you feel like the king of the road.

Below decks, Wanxiang has improved the secret sauce.

Massive electric motors propel the rear with 536 horsepower. Zero-60 mph goes by in 4.5 seconds. That’s not bad for a sled that weighs 5,034 pounds — but the real drawback is listening to the 3-cylinder engine bray like an angry mule. At least Karma makes the experience interesting with drag race-style Christmas tree lights in the digital instrument display that count down to launch.

It’s a big step from the former, $96,000 Fisker’s glacial, 5.9 second acceleration (which was slower than a Ford Fusion Sport). That was the result of a 402-horse drivetrain mated to a GM 4-banger (shades of the underpowered Caddy ELR), which Karma has swapped out for the more competent, 1.5-liter BMW turbo. Wainxiang first stuffed this 536-horse upgrade into its 2020 Karma Revero GT.

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