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November 22, 2010

For a few years now, the Fisker Karma luxury plug-in hybrid sedan has been a great idea and nothing more. However, look closely at the latest version and there are several small changes that could indicate the Karma is more than just another soon-to-be-forgotten concept.

It may not seem like a big deal, but the Karma on display at the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show was the first one to be built at a factory. Previous versions were largely hand-made prototypes. The more prominent placement of front and rear cup holders certainly doesn’t make the Karma sexier, but it’s exactly the kind of thing a real car should have. Fisker also ditched the large center console-mounted gear selector/hand rest and opted for a simpler, cleaner-looking push-button drive selector instead.

For the most part, the Karma looks like the prototype from two years ago with the same long hood, exaggerated rear wheel arches, 22-inch wheels and squinty taillights. However, there are two notable exterior differences. A small “ES” badge has been added at the rear, indicating one of three different trim levels: Eco-base, Eco-Sport and Eco-Chic. Also, the car now has a middle body pillar, commonly called a B-pillar. It lessens the prototype’s dramatic side glass treatment, but its addition helps the Karma meet crash protection requirements.

Virtually every cool feature from the prototype has made it to the production version. Outside, there’s the solar panel roof and inside, the tactile feedback touchscreen that controls certain vehicle systems, navigation, audio sources, phone, and climate control. Production Karmas will still get recyclable interior materials, the choice of animal-free interiors and the use of salvaged wood for accents. Even the leather used in the Eco-sport model is created by a low-impact process where energy for the treatment facility is generated on-site using by-products that are usually discarded.

The Fisker Karma can run on plug-in electricity for about 50 miles, then the 2.0-liter, turbocharged gasoline engine kicks in and starts producing more electricity. This engine doesn’t drive the wheels, but acts as an onboard power source that produces more electricity once the battery’s plug-in range is used up. Total output is 403 horsepower with a top speed of 125 mph and total driving range is 300 miles.

Cars currently being built at the Valmet factory in Finland are pre-production models primarily for testing and service technician training. Regular production will begin in March 2011 and customers who have pre-ordered a car should be able to take delivery shortly after that. There’s no official word on the exact price, but company officials say it will start in the $90,000 range.


author photoBRIAN MOODY has been an automotive writer and presenter for more than 10 years. He has contributed to such media outlets as CNBC, Fox Business, the Today show, Speed TV, and KTLA in Los Angeles. He currently covers the automotive industry and reviews new cars for the nationally syndicated Car Concerns radio show.

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