2018 Karma Revero First Drive: Back to the Future in the Remastered Karma

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First off, don’t call it a Fisker. That company’s assets were bought by a Chinese company, and the new company is called Karma Automotive. The car Karma Automotive now builds is the Revero. Here’s a quick read to bring you up to speed.

There are already 10 luxury car makers that offer gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles; six offer versions that can be plugged in to help charge their batteries, such as the 2018 Karma Revero. But besides the stunning design, ultra-luxe boutique price tag, and ownership experience, what makes the Revero different? For one thing, it’s one of only two series-hybrid vehicles available that are effectively electric vehicles that also have range-extending internal combustion engines. By contrast, all other hybrid vehicles in the U.S. market, regardless of whether they can be plugged in to charge, are parallel hybrids.

Under some circumstances, certain parallel hybrids can run in pure EV mode, but parallel hybrids typically blend their electric motor’s and gasoline engine’s power for a combined output. There’s a mechanical link between the two power sources, usually within a complicated transmission or two. Not so in a series hybrid such as the Karma Revero. It is “filled” with both gasoline (only 9.5 gallons) and electricity, but it uses its gasoline solely to generate electricity, supplying juice to a battery pack and/or to power electric motors that in turn move the vehicle—just like a diesel locomotive. The only other car on the market right now that also does this is the BMW i3 EV with its optional range-extender engine. The Karma Revero’s progenitor—the pioneering, now defunct Fisker Karma—was the very first production automobile to offer this type of powertrain in 2012. We tested a prototype of that car in late 2011, and although much has changed, many of the fundamentals remain the same.

Under the Skin

Under the Revero’s impossibly long, low hood lies a GM-sourced 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine (a repurposed Pontiac Solstice GXP unit) that produces a maximum 235 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. The exhaust pipes dump out just behind the front wheels. The Revero’s battery pack runs down the centerline of the car in what would appear to be the car’s prop-shaft tunnel. The batteries’ capacity is 21.4 kilowatt-hours, of which 18.9 kW-hrs are usable. (For the sake of comparison, the Chevrolet Volt’s battery capacity is 18.4 kW-hrs). At the rear of the car are two AC permanent magnet synchronous traction motors that provide a combined 403 horsepower and a whopping 981 lb-ft of torque for propulsion.

Charging the lithium-ion batteries through the car’s onboard 6.6-kW charger at Level 1 (120 volts at 16 amps, like a typical household outlet) will take 10 hours. At Level 2 (240 volts at 32 amps), that time drops to 3 hours, 45 minutes. Using Level 3 (480 volts at 110 amps) and an off-board 40-kW DC/DC quick charging station similar to a Tesla Supercharger, reaching 80 percent of the battery’s capacity takes just 24 minutes. The Revero’s solar roof contributes an almost infinitesimal 0.2 kW to the car. With 9.5 gallons of gasoline and a fully charged battery, the EPA says the Revero will first travel 32 miles as an EV then an additional 188 on the gasoline generator for a total range of 220 miles. Karma reports slightly better EV and combined ranges during its own testing. For perspective, that BMW i3 with a range extender is rated by the EPA to have a 97-mile EV range and a total range of 180 miles. The Chevrolet Volt is rated by the EPA to have a 53-mile EV range and a total range of 420 miles.

Choices

There are three drive modes to choose from: Stealth (pure EV), Sustain (gasoline generator or “EV later” mode), and Sport (EV plus generator, or “gimme all you got”). The reason for being able to select modes is simple. Say you live in city center that has strict rules concerning or exorbitant taxes on running internal combustion engines. You’d use your Stealth mode in town then could switch to Sustain outside of town to maintain your batteries’ state of charge before returning to the city where you would switch back to Stealth. Or if you’re like me and have a 32-mile commute, you could get to work in EV mode, plug in there on a Level 2 charger, then return home, again in EV mode, without ever using gasoline.

What it’s like to drive

As with all EVs, the Karma Revero is eerily quiet in Stealth mode. Because there’s no powertrain noise to mask it, many EVs seem to have overly loud wind and tire noise as they go down the road. Karma knew this and took extra sound-attenuating measures to quiet the cabin. They did an excellent job with a sound barrier between the cabin and firewall so that even with the generator running, it remains a distant, somewhat discordant hum. Wind noise is extremely well managed with aerodynamics and a reasonably slippery 0.313 coefficient of drag. Even the massive 22-inch tires barely make a sound.

Acceleration is, as one would expect, very linear but nowhere near the launched-from-a-carrier feeling of the much more powerful, record-breakingTesla Model S P100D. When Motor Trend tested the mechanically identical 2012 Fisker Karma (at 5,408 pounds), it was able to run from 0 to 60 mph in 6.0 seconds (about the same as the last Lexus GS 350 F Sport we tested) in Sport mode and 7.1 seconds in Sustain mode, and we figure it will need about a second or two more to reach 60 mph in Stealth mode.

When we got to some twisting country roads, we could finally let loose the Sport mode and see what sort of premium-luxury grand tourer it was. The Revero’s electro-hydraulic steering effort is adjustable (between just right and way too heavy), and the ratio varies only a little, between 14.5:1 and 16.1:1. Due to the almost 50/50 weight distribution, the Revero is able to initiate and sustain crisp turns, but there’s definitely a sense of weight in the car. At its claimed 5,400 pounds, the Revero is just 121 pounds away from the 2017 Ford F-150 Platinum 4×4 EcoBoost pickup we last tested. Still we pushed on, and the front/rear control-arm suspension and beefy anti-roll bars do a good job of keeping the body motions in check. Tire specs (255/35R22 fronts, 285/35R22 rears), seat-of-the-test-driver-pants impressions, and previous figures suggest that the Revero will grip the road with 0.90 g in lateral acceleration. We prodded the throttle very hard in one corner and managed to access the car’s prodigious torque, causing the rear tires to howl and requiring a quick steering check to manage the mini slide. No doubt the limited-slip differential was put to good use. It’s also comforting to know the massive brakes are sourced from Brembo, and the regen feature has three levels of deceleration to choose from. There’s plenty of grip, control, and fun to be had even with the Revero’s road-hugging weight.

The Neighbors

At a $131,400 base price, the Karma Revero has some pretty high zoot luxury sedan neighbors. The four-door, four-seat $209,825 Aston Martin Rapide comes to mind because of its similar proportions, with a similar-sized trunk, similar weight distribution (thus similar handling characteristics), and drop-dead looks. Its V-12 engine, however, will leave the Revero for dead. Another is the Maserati Quattroporte. Starting at $105,200 with a twin-turbo V-6 cranking out 404 hp, it will also dust off the Revero while accommodating one more passenger with even greater interior space. Finally, the Porsche Panamera starts at $86,050 with a twin-turbo V-6 and tops out at $185,450 with a twin-turbo V-8 hybrid. Somewhere in the middle, you’ll find a Panamera that’ll line up on price—and there are a few more hybrid versions among the 15 variants. However, any Panamera will drive circles around the Karma. We could go on, include a BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and so on, but this is a very tough crowd to compete with in terms of price and performance.

The Goods

Where the Karma Revero does compete with these world powers is inside. The Revero’s interior is impeccably tailored, trimmed, and well appointed. There are six interior collections (with names such as Coronado and Crystal Cove; the name of the black/red of our test car was the Palisades Sport), leather is from the highly regarded Bridge of Weir in Scotland, the quick-acting 10.2-inch touchscreen-only infotainment system has what seems like 10 times the processing power and is what Cadillac had hoped the ill-fated CUE system would be. Its graphics look like they came from Star Trek. The 12.3-inch-wide multiconfigurable driver display is equally impressive, but it falls just short of Audi’s benchmark virtual cockpit in terms of sophistication and capability. The Karma Revero is one of three truly connected cars available in the world (Tesla and Rimac being the others) and uses Certicom (owned by BlackBerry) cryptography as an added security layer within QNX-secured two-way data transmission. It can make software updates over the air. The Revero has an eight-speaker audio system with Bluetooth connectivity and three USB charging ports (two 2-amp, one 1-amp). On the safety front, the Karma has eight airbags and a lane departure warning (not keeping) system. Finally, in order to be sold in the United States, the Karma Revero has met Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard defined by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. NHTSA has not crash tested a Revero. 

Well suited to its customers

As we said in the beginning, if things go where they appear to be headed—where internal combustion engines become EV range extenders—then the Karma Revero has a leg up on the competition. For now, however, Karma is happily poised and ready to supply a third or fourth car to an ultra-luxe buyer looking to complement his or her collection of fine automobiles. It’s the kind of car that makes a statement when it arrives at the Ritz-Carlton valet or country club parking lot. Our drive was based out of such a club in swanky Laguna Beach, and judging from the unsolicited response and fielding dozens of questions, Karma knows its customer. I believe I personally sold at least two Reveros in as many hours. It’s an intriguing, alluring, and unique luxury grand tourer that just might take us back to the future.

2018 Karma Revero
BASE PRICE $131,400
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, dual-rear electric motors, RWD, 4-pass, 4-door sedan
ENGINES 2.0L/235-hp/258-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4 plus 403-hp/981-lb-ft rear electric motors; 403 hp/981 lb-ft comb
TRANSMISSION 1-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT 5,400 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 124.4 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 196.8 x 76.0 (est) x 52.4 in
0-60 MPH (MT EST) 6.0 sec (Sport – charge deplete);
7.1 sec (Sustain- charge sustain);
7.9 sec (Stealth – EV mode)
EPA FUEL ECON, COMB 19 mpg (charge-sustain mode);
51 MPGe (charge-deplete mode)
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, COMB 177 kW-hrs/100 miles (charge-sustain);
66 kW-hrs/100 miles (charge-deplete)
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 1.02 lb/mile (charge-sustain mode);
0.38 lb/mile (charge-deplete mode);
0.00 lb/mile (EV mode)
ON SALE IN U.S. Now

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