First drive: Fisker Karma electric car in the Middle East
In a move that no one expected, the Fisker Karma just became the first plug-in electric car to officially go on sale in the Middle East. Mitsubishi briefly thought about making an entry here with the i-MiEV, while Chevrolet has a couple of Volts running around Dubai since last year for so-called tests that never seem to end. But the upstart brand Fisker managed to come to market first, with a launch event held in the UAE.
We were given a public preview of the car the night before, where Fisker’s founders themselves gave a presentation on how the car came to be. Intent on avoiding the business mistakes of other upstart brands, Fisker claims they’ve already managed to sell more sedans worldwide than Maserati this year, having built a couple of thousand cars already. That’s pretty impressive for a quirky Finnish-assembled four-door from an American company founded by a Danish car designer that is expected to sell maybe 100 cars a year in the Middle East at close to Dhs 500,000 a piece.
The car looks pretty big in person, and a serious head-turner for a sedan. Low-slung with huge 22-inch wheels, the Karma is powered by a a plug-in hybrid powertrain that uses a 20 kWh lithium-ion battery paired with a 2.0-litre turbo 4-cylinder engine with direct injection that powers a 175 kW generator rather than being attached to the rear wheels. Combined maximum power output is pegged at 403 hp, with a massive 1300 Nm of instant torque. It takes 6 hours plugged into a wall socket for a proper charge, although it also keeps recharging the battery every time the brakes are used, and there is that back-up petrol engine.
Slip inside and you’re greeted with a cosy sports-car cabin, with a low seating position. There is leather all over, with a high console passing through the middle of the cabin, which is apparently the battery pack. Space up front is fine, while we just about fit in the back too, but passengers taller than a sixer will definitely complain. The boot isn’t particularly big either.
There is a dearth of buttons on the dash, because literally everything in stuffed into a big touchscreen, with a few buttons on the steering wheel. There are no door handles, replaced by buttons marked “open” instead.
There are two driving modes, one called “stealth” for full electric mode, and the other called “sport” for what is really highway driving. The electric mode runs out of juice in 80 km, while the petrol-engined generator extends the range by 400 km more. While cruising around at city speeds, the quietly-moving car emits a low hum through bumper-mounted speakers to let pedestrians know it’s around. It’s the sound Fisker chose, although they could’ve made it sound like a V8 or even a duck.
On the highway, flooring it offers up strong acceleration in a single burst, as there is only one gear. The ride is firm, but still fairly compliant, especially considering the huge wheels. The steering has weight and even proper feedback from the road. The brakes are also strong, although the pedal is a bit stiff. Forward visibility isn’t an issue, although the rear window appears as just a slit from the driver’s seat.
We’ll be getting the car again later for a longer driving stint. But from our brief run, the Karma seems to be a perfectly fine daily-driver, if a bit impractical for tall people and luggage. It’s expensive, so potential owners will generally have access to a plug-point and a private garage, but plug-in electric cars will remain a limited premise in this region, not because of the low price of petrol, but because most of us live in apartments.
Night photo by Salma Sultana.