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Fisker Karma gets a thumbs down from Consumer Reports

Consumer Reports says the Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid suffers from significant reliability problems and doesn't compare well to other luxury sports cars.

September 26, 2012|By Jerry Hirsch, Los Angeles Times
(Jonathan Nackstrand / AFP…)

Consumer Reports panned the high-technology Fisker Karma after testing the $107,850 luxury plug-in hybrid.

The magazine said the sleek-looking, speedy car suffered from significant reliability problems and doesn't compare well to other luxury sports cars such as the Porsche Panamera.

The Fisker runs on electricity for about 38 miles and then a small gasoline engine kicks in and extends the range. Only a few thousand have been sold, but the car has already attracted attention for its styling. Celebrities Leonardo DiCaprio and Justin Bieber drive Karmas.

"Despite the car's huge dimensions, it's very cramped inside. The overcomplicated controls are frustrating, and it's hard to see out," said Jake Fisher, director of Consumer Reports Auto Test Center. "When it's running, the gasoline engine has an unrefined roar. And the Karma's heavy weight affects agility and performance, as the Karma lacks the oomph you expect."

Fisher said he found the Karma's ride, handling and braking performance "sound" and noted the car has first-class interior materials but concluded "the Karma's problems outweighed the good."

The review said that the Karma's "badly designed touch-screen system makes the dash controls an ergonomic disaster."

The car purchased by the magazine for its test also suffered from other problems.

It died on the magazine's test track, and the battery pack had to be replaced. After that, Consumer Reports said, its engineers have continued to "encounter disconcerting intermittent glitches related to the gauges, warning lights, power windows and radio."

Fisker Automotive Inc., which is based in Anaheim and assembles the vehicle in Finland, defended the Karma.

"Since its launch in December 2011 the award-winning Fisker Karma has defined a new automotive segment of luxury electric vehicles," the company said in a statement.

It noted that the vehicle has won praise from other publications. Automobile magazine named the Karma its Design of the Year, and Time magazine listed the vehicle as one of its 50 Best Inventions, Fisker said.

The automaker shrugged off criticism of the Karma's interior space and visibility.

"As the Karma is a concept car come to life, packaging and visibility will of course not be that of a minivan," the company said.

Fisker said it is working to improve responsiveness and functionality of the Karma's touch-screen controls.

The auto company has struggled recently with stalled model development, missed deadlines and employee layoffs.

It recalled the Karma this year after it found that a small cooling fan inside the vehicle had caused a fire in a Karma in a Woodside, Calif., parking lot. No one was hurt in the incident. A second Karma was consumed in a fire in Texas, but Fisker has not determined the cause of that fire.

The automaker also has had management turmoil and in August named its third chief executive in a year. It hired Tony Posawatz, who helped lead development of Chevrolet's Volt plug-in hybrid for six years, serving as vehicle line director before retiring from General Motors Co. in July.

Posawatz succeeded Tom LaSorda, a former Chrysler executive who in February took over the chief executive role from company co-founder Henrik Fisker.

The company also is working to plug holes from the $529-million government loan that was partially withheld this year after the company lagged on Karma development.

jerry.hirsch@latimes.com

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