Fisker's Karma 'plagued with flaws,' Consumer Reports says
DETROIT (Reuters) -- An influential consumer magazine said Fisker Automotive's Karma plug-in hybrid has a variety of flaws, from limited visibility to a poorly designed touch-screen system that amounts to an "ergonomic disaster."
The less-than-glowing report from Consumer Reports magazine is the latest blow for Fisker, which is looking to raise funds after being denied access to more than half of a $529 million government loan that was the cornerstone of its business plan.
Consumer Reports tested a $107,850 Karma -- the most expensive vehicle the magazine has tested -- and said it does not fare well against most other luxury vehicles, due partly to its cramped interior and overly complex controls system.
"Although we found its ride, handling and braking performance sound and it has first-class interior materials, the Karma's problems outweighed the good," 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," he added.
In a statement, Fisker noted that the magazine appreciated the Karma's ride, handling and braking and said it plans to improve the Karma's sound quality and touch-screen system.
"As the Karma is a concept car come to life, packaging and visibility will of course not be that of a minivan," Fisker said.
The Karma plug-in hybrid is an extended-range electric vehicle similar to General Motors' Chevrolet Volt. Once the battery is used fully, a "raspy" turbocharged GM-supplied engine kicks in, Consumer Reports said.
The Karma gets the equivalent of 66 miles per gallon on a full charge, but once running on the gas engine, the Karma gets an "unimpressive" 22 mpg, the magazine found.
"The 66 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) recorded during testing -- the highest of nearly any production car -- is a great endorsement for Fisker as pioneers of this new luxury segment," Fisker said.
Fisker has benefited from its styling and high-profile clientele, including actor Leonardo DiCaprio and pop singer Justin Bieber. In its statement, Fisker said it brought the Karma, "a pioneering vehicle," to market in record time.
But the vehicle has also faced a series of setbacks. Earlier this year, a Karma tested by Consumer Reports failed due to a problem with the battery made by A123 Systems, which prompted A123 to recall all the Fisker battery packs.
After the battery problem was fixed, Consumer Reports' engineers still experienced "disconcerting intermittent glitches related to the gauges, warning lights, power windows and radio," the magazine said.
In August, Fisker also recalled 2,400 Karma plug-in hybrids to repair a faulty cooling fan unit that was the cause of a vehicle fire in Woodside, Calif.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Energy denied Fisker access to more than half of a $529 million government loan awarded in 2009 due to delays in the Karma launch.
The company has been looking to raise $150 million in additional funds to tide it over until production of the Atlantic, Fisker's second hybrid model, Ray Lane, a Fisker director and a managing partner at venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, said in an interview in mid-August.
The company has already raised more than $1 billion in private financing from venture backers and others since its founding in 2007.
PRESS RELEASE: Consumer Reports Tests Find $100,000 Electric Fisker Karma Plagued With Flaws
Porsche Panamera easily outpoints Karma in face-off of luxury sports cars
YONKERS, NY — The plug-in extended range electric Fisker Karma can go gas free for 38 miles on a full charge, but Consumer Reports' engineers found it full of flaws: Compared with other luxury sedans, the Karma has tight confines and limited visibility, and a badly-designed touch-screen system makes the dash controls an ergonomic disaster.
Consumer Reports bought their $107,850 Karma, the most expensive car they have ever tested. But it doesn't compare well with other luxury cars. "Although we found its ride, handling and braking performance sound and it has first-class interior materials, the Karma's problems outweighed the good," said Jake Fisher, Director, Consumer Reports Auto Test Center. "Despite the car's huge dimensions, it's very cramped inside. The overcomplicated controls are frustrating and it's hard to see out. 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."
The Karma went head-to-head with another four-door, four-passenger luxury sports car with coupe-like styling—the Porsche Panamera. CR's testers found it handily upholds the Porsche pedigree, offering an exciting blend of performance and practicality.
Also tested in Consumer Reports' November issue: The Ford Escape Titanium and Escape SE small SUVs, the Infiniti JX, and a face-off between the Acura ILX and Buick Verano compact upscale sedans. With its redesign, the Escape has jumped into the top tier of small SUVs, competing well with the Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4, and Honda CR-V. With better gas mileage and a more spacious interior, the ILX edged out the Verano in CR's tests. A plush, quiet and roomy interior helps place the new JX among the serious players in the luxury SUV category.
Of the cars tested, only the ILX and the JX are recommended. The Escape is too new for CR to have enough reliability data, the Karma scored too low to be recommended, the Verano has been unreliable in its first year, and CR lacks enough reliability data to recommend the Panamera.
The full report and road test results are available on http://www.ConsumerReports.org on September 25th and in the November issue of Consumer Reports on newsstands October 2nd. Updated daily, ConsumerReports.org is the go-to Website for the latest auto reviews, product news, blogs on breaking news and car buying information. Check out CR's ongoing Twitter feed at @CRCars.
The Fisker Karma is similar in concept to the Chevrolet Volt, as both are extended-range electric vehicles. On a full charge, the Fisker delivers the equivalent of 66 mpg overall (1.96 miles per kilowatt-hour). Once the battery is depleted, a raspy GM-supplied turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine kicks in to generate electricity for longer trips. Fuel economy when running only on premium gasoline is an unimpressive 22 mpg.
Although Consumer Reports lacks reliability data for the Karma from its annual subscriber survey, their Karma test car proved to be particularly trouble-prone. It had a rough start in CR's testing when it suddenly became disabled on the organization's test track. Fisker replaced the battery pack in CR's test car, and later offered replacements for all 2012 Karmas. But CR's engineers have continued to encounter disconcerting intermittent glitches related to the gauges, warning lights, power windows and radio.
Although the Panamera, Porsche's first four-door car, was warily received by some sports-car purists when it was introduced in 2009, CR's testers found that the Panamera S they tested offers an exciting blend of performance and practicality. The Porsche Panamera delivers quick acceleration and excellent handling. The cabin is quiet and nicely finished. A hatchback and folding rear seats offer versatility.
Both the Acura ILX and Buick Verano offer a upscale interior and premium features without the typically high luxury-car sticker price and fuel demands. The ILX is based on the Honda Civic but is a considerably better car overall. Handling is responsive but falls short of being sporty, partly from vague steering feel. Notable road noise is an annoyance. Both the ILX and Verano have nicely-finished interiors, but they each fall short of true luxury. At over $30,000 as tested, the ILX costs a lot for what you get.
The Buick Verano is based on the Chevrolet Cruze. Its library-quiet cabin is easily the car's high point. Like the Acura, handling is responsive but isn't sporty, with overly-light steering. The interior is snug, with a tight back seat, and the center dashboard is cluttered.
The new Ford Escape is solid, sophisticated, and fun to drive. It delivers agile handling and a taut yet impressively supple, composed ride. Its cabin is one of the quietest in its class. Both EcoBoost turbocharged four-cylinder engines are fuel-efficient. As in other Fords, the optional MyFord Touch controls prove frustrating.
The Infiniti JX fills a hole in Infiniti's line-up, finally giving the luxury maker a three-row family SUV. But it doesn't provide the typical sporty Infiniti driving experience. Vague, slow steering contributes to a lumbering feeling in corners. Only small amounts of wind, road and engine noise enter the hushed cabin. The spacious, well-finished, and user-friendly interior is a high point.
Consumer Reports is the world's largest independent product-testing organization. Using its more than 50 labs, auto test center, and survey research center, the nonprofit rates thousands of products and services annually. Founded in 1936, Consumer Reports has over 8 million subscribers to its magazine, website and other publications. Its advocacy division, Consumers Union, works for health reform, food and product safety, financial reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace.Contact Automotive News