First Drive: Karma Revero charged with style and luxury

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Credit: Mark Phelan Detroit Free Press
Credit: Mark Phelan Detroit Free Press

As California electric-car maker Karma begins showcasing its elegant Revero sedan to dealers and customers, a morning drive showed the $130,000 car to be fully sorted out and ready for prime time.

Karma spent the last two and a half years resuscitating the bankrupt Fisker electric carmaker, bringing its manufacturing to the U.S. from Finland and updating the sleek car’s underpinnings.

The body, a sleek long-wheelbase vision styled by veteran luxury car designer Henrik Fisker when the company bore his name, is virtually unchanged from the 2,000 Fisker cars it sold before bankruptcy. The Revero seats four.

Pretty much everything you can’t see — the battery, electronics and infotainment hardware — is new,” company chief revenue and marketing officer Jim Taylor told me Thursday in Karma’s Troy engineering office.

Credit: Mark Phelan Detroit Free Press
Credit: Mark Phelan Detroit Free Press

The result is a projected 50-mile range on a battery charge — up about 50% from the pre-bankruptcy Fisker — and another 200-odd miles when a 2.0L gasoline engine turns on to generate more electricity. The four-cylinder engine comes from General Motors, where Taylor had a long career that culminated in running Cadillac. A123 makes the lithium-ion battery in Romulus. Karma and A123 are both owned by Wanxiang Group, a large Chinese auto supplier.

The Revero has three driving modes: Stealth, for all-battery driving; Sustain, to engage the engine before the battery is drained, and Sport, which uses both sources for maximum power. It accelerates to 60 m.p.h. in 5.4 seconds in Sport mode and 6.9 in Stealth. The top speed is around 128 m.p.h.

The Revero’s design is futuristically low-slung and sleek, but it’s not a sports car. Weighing in around 5,300 pounds despite an aluminum-intensive body, the Revero falls more in the tradition of beautiful and elegant touring cars. The cabin comes in five color schemes. The seats, dash and doors are wrapped in leather. Accent trim choices are a modern carbon fiber or a pair of lovely salvaged woods: one from Lake Michigan driftwood, the other left over from California wildfires.

Credit: Mark Phelan Detroit Free Press
Credit: Mark Phelan Detroit Free Press

Luxury car buyers love that kind of unique touch, which becomes part of the story they tell about their cars. Karma’s striking circular badge also falls into that category. Each one is hand-painted on an aluminum disc, then signed and numbered by a painter in Hawaii.

The controls are simple and modern, including a 10.1-inch touch screen for navigation, phone, audio and climate. Karma developed the system itself, with an emphasis on simplicity and big, convenient touch points.

A 4G wireless connection will allow Karma to update software and features without visiting a dealership.

“Our owners will have several different cars they enjoy driving,” Taylor said. “They want controls that are easy to learn and use.” Apple CarPlay works with the system now. Karma hopes Android Auto will be ready soon.

The Revero certainly is easy to drive, accelerating smoothly and quietly. Noisemakers generate a sound like something from a science fiction movie — Taylor compares it to Tron — to alert pedestrians to its approach.

The roof is a large solar panel that augments the battery. On a sunny day, Taylor says it will add 3-5 miles to the car’s battery range.

The front seat is roomy and comfortable. The car’s dramatic design creates small rear doors and limited access. A center console running the length of the cabin provides a big arm rest and cup holders for front and rear passengers.

Taylor is touring the country, bringing the seven test cars Karma has built dealers for customer receptions and demos. There will be dealers in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Scottsdale, Fort Worth, Atlanta, West Palm Beach, Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. A few more locations will be provide service.

The factory in Moreno Valley, near Riverside, Calif., should begin building cars to sell late this year or early in 2017.

Karma’s grown from 22 people when Taylor joined the company to 700 now, with a target of 1,000 by January. Employees range from veterans of GM and Fisker to Amazon, BMW and Harley-Davidson.

Karma is essentially designed and built in California and engineered in Detroit. Karma hopes to eventually build a few thousand cars a year for sale around the world. The company will dedicate its Troy engineering office in a ceremony with local officials Monday.

Article and Images by Mark Phelan mmphelan@freepress.com Courtesy Detroit Free Press

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