By on April 2, 2012

One of my Transportation Design teachers insisted that cars were just like restaurants: success depends on proportion, proportion, proportion!  And while the mere thought of his lectures makes me want to vomit in terror, the dude is right: cars need to be perfectly proportioned to prove a point. And my goodness, the Fisker Karma is just that. Put another way…

Pull up to any Cars and Coffee gathering in a Fisker and you only need to say this, “Karma’s a bitch, bitch.”

Why? Because you just won at Cars and Coffee, that’s why!


You know it when you see it:  a car designed around the vision of a single person.  In this case, the work of Mr. Henrik Fisker isn’t gonna leave anyone on the fence.  More to the point: inside and out, this is a far more honest luxury sedan than the nauseatingly badge-engineered Aston Martin Rapide, and looks even sleeker.

Yes, the grille looks like a mustache, but it’s a very dashing look for a proper gent.  The triangle theme on the lower valence is seen in the rear, and all cut lines flow from logical points: note how the hood lines accentuate the “hips” above the wheels, and how their turning point is the corner of each headlight. The only bummer is the black foam crash pads behind the bumper. You can’t see it from my camera phone, but they stick out like a sore thumb. Maybe those mustache grilles need a re-think.


The headlights also have a nice flow to them.  The black plastic “waves” are what Mazda should have done with their Nagare design language: left in a hard to find but easy to appreciate location.  And the LED’s elegant arrangement needs to be seen in person to really appreciate.  The only question: did Visteon cut Fisker a break on pricing to have their name so prominently presented on the bi-xenon headlamps?  One can hope.


Again: sorry for the lousy photos, but what you see from my phone is what I experienced.  And did I ever see some amazing proportions!  This is a classic luxury sedan with a long hood and short deck, a notion that’s been around since the day when custom coachbuilders still worked on cars with wood spoke wheels. When you think luxury, this is the proportioning that’s been mandatory since DAY ONE.   Detroit would be wise to remember that.

The only stick in the mud is the oversized wheels.  While I am sure everyone loves big-ass hoops for no reason, the Karma looks clownish with so much rim. The front wheels sit as high as the front door handles!  The Karma is dying for a staggered wheel setup like a C5 Corvette. And yes, this 5300lb cruiser would ride better with less metal and more rubber sidewall.


With the monster rims out of the equation, you can see the Karma’s real beauty. The greenhouse is just so right. Kudos to Fisker for keeping true to the original concept.  This is no small feat.


This is just stunning: every line just falls naturally into place, as if Mother Nature herself drew on the vellum.  While I’d like less rim, the 22’s make more sense back here.  And the oh-so-subtle door handles are a lost art: why can’t we have flush fitting door pulls again? Yes the Dodge Charger comes close…but no, it’s not close enough.


While the (metal) panel gaps are shockingly wide, the Karma is just so right.  As I said when I first introduced TTAC to the Karma concept car, Fisker really shoulda named it the “Karma” Sutra. This body has so much tumblehome and is so deliciously curvaceous in every contour. This is actually a production car? Someone had the balls to green light a design this daring?


Once again, note how much tumblehome there is in the greenhouse, relative to the edges of the fenders. Wow. Even the cutlines for the decklid provide the right amount of curvaceous flair and firm angles to the package.  And the triangles from the front are here on the back, in chrome.  My only beef is with the oh-so-delicate taillights. This is a wide and low machine, a little more heft to the taillights toward the center would add some gravitas to the package. But just a little more, because it is almost perfect.


You might already know what this design feature accomplishes, but that’s not the point.  When a designer needs to make a “feature” perform a certain duty, the gifted ones integrate it with the entire package.  And here is the rear’s “feature” mimicking the front triangle theme.  No doubt Fisker is a gifted designer, but kudos to him for seeing it through to production.  This car is literally a concept car made for the streets.

Once more: this looks like a concept car.  It could be vaporware. But it rides and drives…quite well I might add.  But that’s not the point.


While I will not give any driving (or interior design) impressions on Vellum Venom, anyone who ever experienced the low-slung appeal of the C4 Corvette understands what makes the Karma so appealing.  Both cars have similar hood bulges and fender flares from behind the wheel.  And while the low-slung position means you see plenty of hood in your sightlines, who cares? This car is straight up impressive: all the appeal of the C4, with none of the ingress-egress difficulty.



Here’s another important design term to learn, so you can impress people with your mad skills: dash-to-axle ratio.  The Karma is balanced at a proper ratio.  Perhaps there will be a day when more automakers will get back to something “proper”.  And perhaps Lincoln will make the 1977 Continental Mark V all over again. Yeah right.

Oh, and that exhaust pipe for the 2.0L Turbo mill is pretty cool too. Mercedes SLR aside, when was the last time you saw an exhaust pipe between the front wheel and the firewall?  It’s been way too long, son…that’s what’s up.



Interesting note: the front passenger door handle has a conventional lock cylinder, but the driver’s door has nothing.  While I appreciate the need for minimalism where a driver really needs it, there’s something not right about this.  The driver always has the key, and he deserves a lock to go with it.


So what’s left to say?  Fisker needed to prove itself to rich people.  They also needed a vehicle that could capitalize on our need for alternative propulsion.  My goodness, did they ever do both.  Combining nearly 100 years of luxury coachbuilding elements, modern production capabilities and impressive attention to detail in every corner, the Fisker Karma is the reason why mammal skin is sacrificed in order to make vellum: it actually made production!

If you agree, do yourself a solid and seek one of these in person.  Your eyeballs will not regret it.

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20 Comments on “Vellum Venom: 2012 Fisker Karma...”

  • avatar

    It is a lovely car, and I saw it a weekend ago at the Palm Beach International Boat Show. The Boat Show is such a center of gravity in Palm Beach that it has its own little auto show, where Aston Martin, Land Rover, Fisker and other super-expensive cars are presented. I even saw a Tesla Roadster last year, but no sign of it this time, presumably because they are no longer making them.

    Curiously enough, they let us open the door and step into the Aston Martins and Land Rovers, but not the Fisker. It would have been nice to get a feel for the interior, which was barely visible through the tinted windows.

    I have to admit, I am not convinced by the plug-in hybrid model. The Fisker reviews I have read say the engine feels coarse, and the weight of the batteries plus engine makes the fuel economy a bit dubious. I think I’d rather have a Tesla Model S. The 300 mile range of the top model would take me anywhere I need to go in South Florida, and I prefer flying for longer trips, so it could work – and it’s actually cheaper than the Fisker.


  • avatar

    Plato noted long ago that it is through proper proportion that distinct and disparate elements are made one. Great piece, Sajeev.

  • avatar

    I love the look of this car. My wife wants one in a seriously bad way. I loved the interior and the large center console where the batteries live was actually quite nice. It was just the right level for my arm to rest comfortably.

  • avatar

    This design only got greenlit because the guy who designed it also happened to be in charge of the company. Conventional wisdom is that there’s a very limited market for huge sedans with cramped interiors. Which is what happens when you combine an extreme dash-to-axle with a low coupe-like roofline.

    Mercedes ran against this wisdom with the CLS, but already with the second generation car is heading in a more conventional direction–larger, roomier, less swoopy.

    Only bit of the critique I must beg to differ on is the ease of getting in and out of the car. Perhaps it’s better than a C4 Corvette, but that’s a pretty low bar.

    Okay, a second point, though more a tweak than a disagreement: I get more of a C3 vibe from the Karma. The C4 took the C3 and watered down the curves while enlarging the interior. The Karma does neither.

    The Atlantic concept proves it’s possible to combine a similar exterior theme with more practical packaging.

  • avatar

    Dude, you just about lost me with “..this is a far more honest luxury sedan than the nauseatingly badge-engineered Aston Martin Rapide.” Seriously, are you high? Have you spent any time at all with a Rapide?

    While I love the design of the Fisker Karma, it’s not quite right. The Duesenberg length of the front clip is not proportionate with the athletic style rearward of the A-pillar. By maybe only two or three inches, but visually it matters. The triangular theme in the back could have been executed differently so that they serve some purpose other than being just shiny plastic… things. Then there’s the door handle notches, which look dated and very un-concept. All designers hate door handles and try to stylize or hide them. It’s like they ran out of time, and some C-level person just got frustrated, pushed the designer out of the way and scribbled these crude things in at the last minute. Who uses a conventional lock anyway, and why wasn’t the lock cylinder integrated into the assembly better? This is an afterthought, no doubt.

    I’m not saying it’s a bad looking car. But it appears to be the result of a startup. Overall, the car is awesome. But the details indicate that this is round-one. I hope that Fisker is hugely successful and sells thousands of them so that there will be a round 2 and 3.

    • 0 avatar

      Dude…apparently you didn’t click the hyperlink. I have driven both of these cars.

      And if you don’t see the badge engineering in Aston’s sedan, especially compared to their previous Lagonda, well, maybe I need to get high.

      • 0 avatar

        Comparing the Karma with the Lagonda is an interesting idea. That was a pretty radical clean sheet car with a lot of cutting edge complexity when it came out as well. Aston wasn’t a major builder at the time, either, with access to all of Ford’s parts and knowledge.

      • 0 avatar

        I don’t see the Rapide as badge engineering – it may be too closely tied to the DB9 from which it borrows its platform, but it is not a restyle/slight re-do of another make’s chassis a la VW Routan and many others. I don’t think a company can badge-engineer its own products. Maybe you have a different meaning of “badge engineering”?

  • avatar

    I like everything about this car, except the front. Fisker just carried too much of the BMW Z8 over to this design.

  • avatar

    Agreed. What a beautiful design.

    Saw my first one last week on the way in to work. Unoccupied, on the side of the interstate, hazard lights flashing.

  • avatar

    Good article.

    The fake pipes are probably the coolest thing about it and I don’t like it overall.

    Agree about the taillights.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    What they really should do is lose the stinking batteries and build a straight 8 to power the car.

    • 0 avatar

      Fisker exists to fleece the Department of Energy, so hybrid, electric, or other alternative energy drivetrains are mandatory. Do you really think they could make money for the prices their cars sell for?

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    I haven’t been in a straight 8 since my great-grandmother traded her 46 Buick in on a 54 Olds.

  • avatar

    “When a designer needs to make a “feature” perform a certain duty, the gifted ones integrate it with the entire package.”

    The greenhouse of a large luxury car should provide a spacious cabin for the passengers. The Fisker’s does not.

    The wheels and tires of any car should provide it with performance uncompromised by styling. The Fisker’s do not.

    The packaging of the Fisker provides neither room nor performance nor efficiency. Maybe it looks nice to people who don’t care about function, but so do lots of students’ sketches that don’t point towards anything useful. This is just the realization of such a sketch.

  • avatar

    I’m not sure there have been too many cars produced with the exhaust outlet in front of the driver, other than the McMerc SLR, for good reason!

  • avatar

    @Sajeev: “Here’s another important design term to learn, so you can impress people with your mad skills: dash-to-axle ratio. The Karma is balanced at a proper ratio. Perhaps there will be a day…”

    Here’s a term to learn, he sez, and then goes on to… NOT explain it. Wassup widdat, Sanjeev? You kidding with us, Steve?

    • 0 avatar

      Fine, apparently nobody can google. It’s the space between the cowl (below the A-pillar) and the centerline of the front axle. Why they call this distance a ratio, I do not know. Maybe I forgot all that valuable training in design school.

      • 0 avatar

        Sure, Rajiv, of course I could have googled that. I didn’t, because I thought I’d figured it out anyway. (Well, close enough for government work.)

        I’d guess it’s probably called a ratio because what really matters is the relationship — as you have said on, IIRC, more than one occasion: “Proportions, proportions, proportions!” — between this distance and the wheelbase: (front axle-to-)dashboard-distance / (front axle-to-rear-)axle-distance = “dash to axle ratio”, is my guess. For example, this “dash distance” on the Karma is probably about a meter; say, three feet, in mediaeval units. That’s long for a sedan — but on a Peterbilt wheelbase, it’s nothing.

        Your sentence just struck me as funny; usually when people go “You need ta learn about XYZ, son!”, they then proceed to instill that education, but you just. (See what I did there?) As you yourself have noticed, you don’t even have to claim people need to learn something; just using relatively obscure terms and abbreviations in a text intended to be read by a layman audience is sufficient. Though admittedly, I totally know that this predates those incidents in more recent venoms.

        Just found it funny anyway. Not at all intended to be mean, just pointing out the funneh for others — including yourself! — to enjoy in case they’d missed it. No hard feelings, I hope?

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