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First Drive: Karma Revero

Electric déjà vu.

by on Oct.24, 2016

The Fisker Karma is back and ready to roll again, albeit renamed the Karma Revero.

The look is familiar – though the hand-painted logo is clearly new, and it gives you a hint this isn’t the original Fisker Karma.

First of all, it’s now called the Karma Revero, and it’s the work of the Chinese-owned, California-based company that took over the assets of Fisker Automotive when that start-up went bankrupt four years ago.

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Fisker, you may recall, was named for Henrik Fisker, the Danish designer perhaps best known for penning the luscious Aston Martin DB9. Like Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk, Fisker had hoped to challenge the established automotive order, in this case with a family of plug-in hybrids. But just about everything that could go wrong did go wrong and Fisker Automotive went bust barely a year after the first Karma rolled into showrooms.

Now, that sports sedan is rising from the ashes. And perhaps the biggest surprise is just how fresh Henrik Fisker’s design still looks. Beyond the hand-painted badges, the overall shape of the Revero is much the same as the original Karma. But there have been a few changes to the exterior, including a revised front fascia and tweaks to the original “moustache” grille, as well as new wheels and eight new paint colors.

The subtle changes include a modified grille.

There’s also a new solar roof capable of producing enough power each day to travel another 1.5 miles in electric mode, notes Karma’s Chief Revenue Officer Jim Taylor.

Inside, there’s a much improved, now high-definition gauge cluster and a new touchscreen. There will be onboard 4G LTE WiFi, and Apple CarPlay, though not on Day One. Indeed, Taylor says Karma is looking to make a few other modifications, including removing a clear glass cover on a portion of the center console to create a storage bin, while also enlarging the miniscule cupholders.

You can also opt for new carbon fiber accents, as well as the reclaimed wood trim offered on the original Fisker Karma.

In other words, the reborn Karma-cum-Revero is a work in progress. And we were eager to see how it drives compared to the original four door.

When it first came out, the four-seater generated some decidedly mixed reviews: highly praised for its design, but faulted for the weaknesses of the 260-horsepower turbo-four gasoline engine it borrowed from the first-generation Chevrolet Volt.

The new Karma logos are individually hand-painted and numbered by an artist in Hawaii.

(Honda Clarity FCV to get 366 miles per tank of hydrogen. Click Here for the latest.)

Slipping into the Revero brought on a sense of déjà vu, despite the subtle interior changes. We also had a moment of disorientation trying to set the exterior mirrors. For reasons even revenue chief Taylor hasn’t figured out, the little control bad was wired upside down, requiring one to press down to get the mirror to go up, and left to go right.

Working past that subtle glitch, everything else felt as right as the original. Tapping the Start button, the car came to life – silently – and we slipped narrow garage door at Karma’s new offices in the Detroit suburb of Troy.

A steady rain did little to dampen our enthusiasm, especially as we reached a long stretch of tarmac that allowed us to punch the throttle pedal to the floor.

Compared to the original car, the Revero’s lithium-ion batteries now have a 21.4 kilowatt-hour capacity, one kWh more than before. That boosts EV-mode range to 50 miles. It also helps Revero shave a full second off the old Karma’s 0 to 60 launch, now a solid, if not world-class 5.4 seconds in Sport Mode.

Unfortunately, gas mileage is expected to remain the same. In normal hybrid mode, expect 20 City, 21 Highway and 20 Combined once EPA certification is completed.

And yes, gas mileage. While Fisker Automotive launched about the same time as Tesla, it chose to focus on plug-in hybrids. That long, sensuous hood conceals a modest 2.0-liter inline-four engine shared with the original Chevy Volt.

The new Revero still uses the 260-hp turbo engine borrowed from the Chevrolet Volt.

The car can be operated in several separate modes:

  • Stealth Mode is a fancy way of saying the power comes entirely from the lithium-ion battery pack. Launch times take a bit longer 6.9 seconds here;
  • Sport Mode fires up the gas engine to deliver an extra performance kick;
  • When the batteries are depleted, meanwhile, the Revero operates like a conventional hybrid vehicle; and
  • You can intentionally save the power in your battery by switching to a hold mode that lets you go back to Stealth Mode later.

That could prove important in years ahead as a number of cities around the world, such as Paris and Rome, are seriously considering banning all but zero-emission vehicles.

Among the most notable improvements made to the Karma Revero, the buzzy little I-4 engine has been muted. Even in Sport Mode, your foot on the floor, the car now has a much more pleasing sound than the original Fisker Karma.

That and the other, subtle changes are welcome, but are they enough? Taylor notes that still more updates are in the works. The Revero has a number of new safety features, such as Lane Departure Warning, not found on the original Karma. But there’s no Forward Collision Warning, or Emergency Automatic Braking – yet.

That Volt gas engine, meanwhile, is expected to be replaced by a more sophisticated “range-extender” powertrain sourced from BMW. For now, however, Taylor sidesteps any discussion of when these additional updates will occur. For now, the focus is simply to get back into production.

Ironically, where the American-owned Fisker Automotive built the original Karma in Finland, Chinese-owned Revero is setting up its factory near Riverside, California. The goal is to start rolling out retail models by the end of this year or early 2017.

The hope is to sell a couple thousand a year. And, as with the original Fisker, the new company wants to soon move into the mainstream with a lower-cost model. Whether Karma will revive the equally compelling design that was going to be the Fisker Atlantic has not yet been revealed.

But with the deep pockets of parent Wanxiang Group, Karma is determined not to meet the same fate as Fisker Automotive. It now has offices in both suburban Los Angeles and Detroit, and employment has jumped to 700, with as many as 300 more employees set to be hired by early next year.

(Faraday Future will reveal its first production battery-car at 2017 CES. Click Here for the full story.)

Whether there is room for another niche automotive brand remains to be seen. The market is getting crowded. There’s not only Karma and Tesla, but two other Chinese-backed start-ups, LeEco and Faraday Future. And Henrik Fisker recently announced his own interest in getting back in the game with an all-new electric vehicle company.

The good news for Karma is that its design is still an eye-catcher. And it’s delivered some welcome improvements to the original Karma that should enhance the car’s appeal. It’s lining up dealers across the country and should be ready to deliver its first cars to customers early next year.

(Henrik Fisker offers a tease of his all-new electric vehicle. Click Here to check it out.)

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