(Bloomberg) -- Here are some good things about the 2018 Karma Revero:
- It’s basically electric. That means the Revero mostly runs on battery power and occasionally uses a combustion engine to extend range, as opposed to switching between motors throughout.
- It looks, uh, distinct. Not beautiful—go look at a Rapide or a 911 or even a Model S and tell me this one looks equally stunning. I dare you. But, at the very least, the Karma Revero definitely looks like you spent a lot money on it.
- Oh, and you will spend a lot of money on it. Some people like doing that.
That’s about it. I drove a gray-green Revero up the Palisades Parkway this week in a cool mist that would have made a prettier car look like magic and feel like a dream from behind the wheel. Instead, this redux Fisker Karma put me in a bad mood.
The Zombie Returns
Let’s rewind. Now-defunct Fisker Automotive produced the Karma four-door sedan in 2012. It was the first production car in the U.S. to offer that particular series-hybrid powertrain. This was just as Tesla’s Model S came out, so it was a big deal. Justin Bieber owned one. They were supposed to be the conscientious cars for celebrities and stars.
But then they didn’t sell. There were some fires. The company declared bankruptcy in 2013 and Republican opponents dubbed Fisker the poster child for President Barack Obama’s “crony capitalism” after taxpayers lost $139 million. Meanwhile, founder Henrik Fisker started other projects. Wanxiang Group bought the leftover assets for $150 million in 2014 and renamed the company Karma Automotive, based in Southern California and populated with ex-Tesla and ex-Cadillac executives who have carte blanche, from what they tell me, to make something of it.
Which brings us to the 2018 Karma Revero they’re selling for $130,000. Karma is now unrelated to Fisker Automotive. Henrik himself is not involved. But the car is fundamentally the same as the original Karma, including both the design and the platform.
This is unfortunate.
The Reluctant Driver
The thing most audacious about the Karma Revero is how it drives. I mean audacious like Florence Foster Jenkins was audacious; I wondered if I was being pranked.
First, the details: The Karma Revero has two electric motors and a 21-kilowatt-hour battery that drive the rear wheels, plus a two-liter, four-cylinder turbocharged engine that extends the range of the car when the battery depletes. General Motors supplies the engine, though it doesn’t currently make it anymore, so when supplies dwindle, the Revero will need another supplier.
As for that range, the Revero will go 50 miles under electric-only power before it switches to gasoline—averaging 20 mpg at speed. These are not impressive numbers. The $33,200 Chevrolet Volt gets 53 miles per electric charge and 42 mpg under gasoline; the sub-$70,000 Tesla Model S gets more than 200 miles on pure electricity.
The Revero achieves 60 mph in 5.4 seconds under Sport mode, its fastest setting. Sustain mode, the slowest, sees 60 mph in 7.3 seconds. Top speed (again, in Sport mode only) is 125 mph. We all know the expensive, high-power Tesla Model S in P100D form can hit 60 mph way faster, in record-breaking sub-3-seconds time. But even the base Tesla Model S, which costs $68,500, can hit 60 mph in 5.5 seconds. The disparity here between price and speed doesn’t compute.
As for how the Revero feels to drive, well, have you ever crunched sand in your teeth? Accidentally skied over gravel? It feels like that. I sat in traffic with this thing and it might have looked like I was someone learning to drive stick; I actually thought the parking brake was still engaged when I first pushed the gas, it felt so heavy and stilted as I turned the wheel and tried to go.
I turned to the Karma minder/marketing lady in the back seat and asked, “How much does this car weigh?” Fifty-four hundred pounds was the reply, more than a 2017 Ford F-150 truck.
Yes, the car moves smoothly enough once you have it pointed in one direction at speed. It’s compliant as it accelerates, and visibility behind the wheel isn’t bad. But nowhere in the three drive modes and the three regenerative brake settings did I find a sweet spot of actual comfort, or excitement. I kept waiting for the jerky brakes to chill out, or the weird humming to die down, but they never did.
Early reviews had critics thrilled the car “worked.” That this is the base line for evaluating a vehicle in the modern age is terrible. Being happy with a car simply because it works? For $130,000—$140,000 with all of the options—I expect it to do a lot more than that.
Almost Doesn’t Count
It better be good inside, too. In 2012, Consumer Reports said the Fisker Karma had “unfortunately routine problems” with a cramped interior and substandard performance, among other things. Which, no kidding. But the new Karma engineers spent more than two years attacking that car’s problems with the goal of eliminating each one.
They did not meet this goal.
Aside from the lackluster driving personality discussed above, the Karma Revero is just plain weird inside, with a triangular faux-crystal gear selector and un-ergonomic divot buttons for Park, Reverse, Neutral, and Drive. The oddly shaped inserts in the dashboard and doors, which look like Pyrex containers, had me literally thinking there must be some Scientology connection here. They served no purpose (I asked) and looked like something you’d expect to find in the bathroom of your berth on the Freewinds.
A moderately sized screen on the dashboard has some clever graphics that showed the flow of energy in the car, a mildly entertaining touch, but this is the BlackBerry—not iPhone—of cars. Literally. (The company uses Certicom, which is owned by BlackBerry, for the security of its connectivity and data systems.)
As for the back seat, I found myself asking James Taylor, the head of the company, if he had enough space when he jumped in for part of the test drive. What could he say but yes? But I wouldn’t have wanted to be the one wedged into a back seat split up the middle by a console that runs the length of the interior.
It’s not like the leather was any good, either. The Revero is apparently trimmed in Bridge of Weir leather, a company with longtime connections to some of our favorite automakers. And it’s Scottish, by gum! I love the Scots. But the brown and black upholstery in the Revero felt like a faux-leather suitcase from the 1970s.
Elsewhere: The door handles inside and out are impractical and poorly designed. The famous solar roof, while updated, offers only enough extra power on the sunniest days to gain 1.5 miles of driving. The front grille looks like a bad mustache—like a longer, blunt male version of the pink ones on the front of a Lyft.
From some angles the car is almost good-looking, like a dress shirt whose sleeves are almost long enough. Henrik Fisker is a genius creator and a very charismatic man; he designed the landmark Aston Martin DB9. This is no DB9.
Where Does It Belong?
Multiple times yesterday, to multiple Karma employees, I asked: “Who will buy this car?”
“We have some good prospects from people who loved Fisker,” (30 percent of Fisker owners have come back to the brand, they report) and “It will be people who want to stand out,” they said. (I’ll give them the latter.)
“The customers who buy this are OK being noticed,” Taylor told me. “We have a lot of interest from current Tesla owners. For a lot of them, it’s ‘My car isn’t interesting anymore,’ ” he said.
OK. At any rate, Karma has eight dealers in the U.S. and two in Canada processing a total of 100 orders for the car, so far. It has licensing in China to manufacture cars there in the distant future, after this first generation runs its course and if things go very well. But when asked when Gen 2 might appear, Taylor said he didn’t know.
Multiple times, to several Karma employees, I asked: “Who would you say are this car’s closest competitors?” I got everything from Tesla to not-Tesla; the Maserati Quattroporte; the Aston Martin Rapid; a “Lamborghini.” Barring the Quattroporte, those all outperform the Revero in every way, and the Quattroporte is $30,000 cheaper.
But I can see how this is a difficult question. Taylor said the Karma “is not set up to go to the airport and pick up a bunch of luggage,” but on the other hand, it’s “not meant to be a rocket ship” or even, amusingly, “to replace your Maserati.” What are we talking about again?
“This is not meant to be a testosterone car,” Taylor said. “If you want a zero-to-60-mph car, go get that one.”
So if it’s not a practical daily driver and it’s not a sporty scream machine, then what is it? “It’s like the GT touring cars,” he said. “This is a third or fourth car that you take up the highway on a drive. You’re not going anywhere, you’re just driving.”
No. That’s like having a restaurant you opened to serve people who aren’t hungry, and the worst thing about the joint is the food.
I went into this test thinking the Revero could be an exciting new car, something radically different from the Fisker Karma and a new entry into the smartly evolving hybrid category. Turns out I was just spinning my wheels.