The original archnemesis of the Tesla Model S is back -- here's what it's like to drive

Hollis JohnsonOur 2018 Karma Revero test car.
  • The Fisker Karma was the original Model S rival.
  • But Fisker Automotive went bankrupt in 2013, leaving Tesla the victor of the electric-car space.
  • Now the car is making a comeback; this time it’s called the Karma Revero.

These days it’s the world versus Tesla. Audi, Porsche, Mercedes, Aston Martin, and just about every other major luxury automaker with a heartbeat is working on a future rival for Tesla’s Model S.

But that wasn’t always the case. Back in 2012, the Tesla Model S burst onto the scene as a four-door electric sedan with the performance, range, and luxury to actually compete against conventional premium sedans. But it wasn’t immediately crowned king of the hill because a rival was lurking in the wings. That rival, the stunningly beautiful Fisker Karma sedan, was the brainchild of the famed car designer Henrik Fisker. While Tesla CEO Elon Musk bet on an all-electric setup for the Model S, Fisker went with an in-car gasoline generator to relieve any potential range anxiety, or fear of running out of battery power.

The two cars vied for the hearts and wallets of the eco-friendly elite. And for a while, Fisker held its own. Leonardo DiCaprio had a Karma. In fact, the actor wasn’t just the company’s brand ambassador; he was an investor. “Fast and Furious” star Tyrese Gibson owned one as well. As did Justin Bieber, whose car was wrapped in chrome.

Yet a combination of Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, a parking lot with several hundred flooded-out Karmas, and a defunct battery supplier doomed the budding car company. By November 2013, Fisker Automotive was bankrupt, leaving the increasingly capable Model S as the victor.

Now the Karma is back. In 2014, Wanxiang America, the Illinois-based subsidiary of China’s Wanxiang Group, purchased the intellectual property and assets of the defunct Fisker Automotive for $US150 million. Soon afterward, Karma Automotive was created. In 2017, the company began customer deliveries of its first model: the resurrected sedan formerly known as the Fisker Karma.

Last summer, Business Insider spent a day with a 2018 Karma Revero test car clad in an eye-catching Corona Del Sol paint job. The 2018 Revero starts at $US130,000 and tops out at about $US140,000.


Here it is! The 2018 Karma Revero.

Hollis Johnson

It’s a mildly updated, rebranded edition of the Fisker Karma that went out of production in 2012.

Fisker Automotive

Unlike the Fisker, which was made by Valmet in Finland, the Revero is assembled at Karma’s factory in Moreno Valley, California.

Hollis Johnson

The stylish Karma is the brainchild of the famed car designer Henrik Fisker, whose other works include …


… the Aston Martin V8 Vantage and …

Aston Martin

… the BMW Z8.


For better or worse, one look at the Revero and you know immediately it was designed by a true artist. The sleek hood …

Hollis Johnson

… pronounced wheel arches, and low-slung silhouette make for a truly stunning automobile.

Hollis Johnson

Up front, the original Karma’s distinctive front end remains virtually unchanged.

Hollis Johnson

While the rear end received a couple of tweaks.

Hollis Johnson

Most noticeable are the missing “Fisker Karma EV” badges that once adorned the car.

Hollis Johnson

They have been replaced by a single stylised Karma badge.

Hollis Johnson

There’s also some trunk space!

Hollis Johnson

Step inside and you’ll see the biggest difference between the Karma and the Model S.

Hollis Johnson

While the Model S is a roomy family sedan with room for seven, the Revero is a four-door coupe.

Hollis Johnson

There is room for four, but only if the passengers are not too tall.

Hollis Johnson

Unfortunately, it’s one of the sacrifices you have to make for the captivating looks.

Hollis Johnson

However, Revero’s cabin is beautifully styled and luxuriously appointed.

Hollis Johnson

Lovely details abound.

Hollis Johnson

Like this attractively rendered digital instrument cluster.

Hollis Johnson

The triangular push-button shifter is unique. As is the exposed battery pack visible through a clear panel.

Hollis Johnson

The integrated door switch is a cool touch.

Hollis Johnson

The rear-seat center console is an interesting touch. It also makes the already tight rear cabin feel more claustrophobic.

Hollis Johnson

One major improvement is the new infotainment system. Unlike the unit found on the Fisker, this one seems to actually work. In fact, it didn’t fail once during our time with the car.

Hollis Johnson

Karma built this system in-house using BlackBerry’s QNX platform as a basis.

Hollis Johnson

Overall, I found the system to be responsive, intuitively organised, and attractively rendered.

Hollis Johnson

The navigation system is functional.

Hollis Johnson

As part of the update, Karma modified the sedan’s drivetrain and power-generation systems.

Hollis Johnson

This includes a reworked 20.8-kWh lithium-ion battery pack with greater reliability.

Hollis Johnson

In addition, the solar roof has doubled in capacity and will now be able to help charge the main battery pack.

Hollis Johnson

Unlike the Tesla, the Karma isn’t a pure electric vehicle. Rather, it’s a range-extended plug-in series hybrid. I know that’s a lot to unpack, but here’s what it means.

Hollis Johnson

In most instances, the Revero runs on electric power from the battery pack. On its own, the pack delivers 50 miles of electric range. Power can be replenished by plugging it into a charger or …

Hollis Johnson

… by firing up the 2.0-litre, 235-horsepower, turbocharged Ecotec inline-four-cylinder engine sourced from General Motors. The engine doesn’t actually provide direct drive to the wheels. Instead, it’s used purely as a power generator.

Hollis Johnson

Together with a fully charged battery pack, the Karma can deliver up to 300 miles of range.

Hollis Johnson

So what is powering the Revero? How about a pair of electric motors generating an impressive 403 horsepower and a mind-blowing 981 foot-pounds of torque to rear wheels!!

Hollis Johnson

According to Karma, the 5,400-pound Revero can hit 60 mph in 5.4 seconds and reach a top speed of 125 mph. It can also do the quarter mile in 14.5 seconds at 93 mph.

Hollis Johnson

Here are my impressions of the Karma Revero.

Hollis Johnson

The Karma Revero today is what the Fisker Karma was five years ago. It’s beautiful, rich with character, not very practical, and imperfect. Behind the wheel, the Revero feels every bit of its 5,400-pound curb weight. While its 403 horsepower and 981 foot-pounds of torque should deliver head-snapping acceleration, it doesn’t. The drivetrain and traction-control systems dull the power delivery. It’s certainly capable of going quick, but it doesn’t seem to want to. Believe it or not, there’s lag in an electric car, something that I’ve never encountered before.

Karma characterises the Revero as a charmingly relaxed grand tourer and not as a speed demon to rival the comparably priced Model S P100D. But I’ve driven enough 400-horsepower GT cars to know that it should have more pep in its step. On a positive note, the Revero’s hydraulic steering is communicative and well-weighted. In addition, with fuel-economy ratings of just 19 miles a gallon and 51 miles per gallon equivalent, it doesn’t really deliver on its eco-friendly image either.

The interior of the Revero, while cramped, was full of personality. It felt cosy and well-designed. Unlike the Model S and its cool technocratic aesthetic, the Karma feels like a true luxury car. Its occupants are surrounded by rich leather, unpolished wood, carefully crafted switches, and charming design details. In fact, the wood accents in the cabin come from sustainable reclaimed logs. (Our test car had the carbon-fibre accents instead of wood.) It makes you feel special the way a car for this price point should.

In spite the charming interior, the Revero is a sedan that isn’t very practical and an electric vehicle that’s not all that efficient. But it’s a vehicle that can’t really be judged by traditional criteria. The Revero has to be taken into context. For Karma Automotive, the Revero is not meant to be a moneymaker. Nor is it meant to sell in large numbers. Rather, it’s a starting point for a fledgling carmaker. It’s a niche product designed to help build awareness for the brand and put it in a position to release more mainstream models.

In that regard, well done, Karma. You have my attention. Now I need you to build a better car.

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