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2020 Karma Revero GT first drive review: Third time's the charm

What was once the Fisker Karma is now the Revero GT, and it's a powerful plug-in sedan that's finally ready for prime time.

2020 Karma Revero GT
Long, wide and shapely -- the Revero GT is certainly a looker.
Karma Automotive

Karma Automotive is a five-year-old automaker, and its executives make no bones about defining it as a startup. The 2020 Revero GT you see here is Karma's first real attempt at a fully baked offering, yet nothing about this gasoline-electric luxury sedan feels like it's a first-effort, beta-test prototype from a company you've probably never heard of.

"We call it 'Version 2.0,'" Bob Kruse, Karma's chief technology officer, tells me at the company's headquarters in Irvine, California. Kruse joined Karma in 2017 and is largely responsible for making the Revero GT what it is today. The man certainly knows his stuff; during his tenure at General Motors, Kruse was picked by Bob Lutz to handle the original Chevrolet Volt project. He also spent time developing performance cars like the second-generation Cadillac CTS-V -- you know, the one that sprouted the wagon of automotive journalists' dreams.

Kruse certainly had his work cut out for him, as prior to launching the GT, the Revero has had a turbulent journey. The sedan was originally born out of Fisker Automotive, a company led by Danish designer Henrik Fisker. And it was, to put it nicely, a complete flop. Expensive and unrefined, though wrapped in some pretty sheetmetal, the original Karma never caught on, and about one year after its launch, Fisker Automotive filed for bankruptcy. The company's remains were purchased by China's Wanxiang Group in 2014, and Karma Automotive was formed from that debris.

Karma's first job was to take the old Fisker sedan and turn it into something. Enter the 2016 Revero, a hodge-podge of what was left from the Fisker days, or more accurately, a Frankensteined attempt at rebirthing a failed product. In the years since, Karma has been busy rethinking just about every part of the Revero, and today, only the GT's glass is shared with its predecessor. The Revero has the same general shape as the original, Fisker-designed car -- which definitely isn't a bad thing -- but you'll note the new version has a slightly more finessed overall finish. Its hips are wider, its body sides more curvaceous. The original Pringles Guy-esque mustache grille is gone, and while I don't really love the Revero's new front end, it does a lot to distinguish this car from its doomed forebear. It even has some gee-whiz features, like how the center high-mounted stoplight (CHMSL) serves a dual purpose as the battery's charging monitor.

The GT is a big car -- long, wide and weighing in at a hefty 5,050 pounds. Still, that's about 400 pounds less than the outgoing Revero, and lightweight options like the 22-inch, carbon-fiber wheels seen on this test car lighten the load even further. In fact, Kruse says that if you go for the 22s instead of the stock 21-inch rollers, the Revero GT shaves one-tenth of a second off its estimated 4.5-second 0-to-60-mph acceleration time, just because of how much lighter the wheels are.

That off-the-line quickness is thanks to a thoroughly revised powertrain. The Revero GT is technically an electric vehicle with an onboard generator, where the gasoline engine never actually drives the wheels, and instead supplies energy to a 28-kilowatt-hour, lithium-ion battery pack. But while the Fisker Karma was powered by a terribly coarse, General Motors-sourced I4 engine, the Revero GT uses the 1.5-liter I3 from the BMW i8. All told, the powertrain makes a total of 536 horsepower, delivered to the rear wheels through a pair of electric motors. Karma says the Revero GT can drive for about 80 miles on electric power alone, and the total cruising range with a full tank of fuel is about 360 miles, or roughly the distance from Los Angeles to San Francisco. If you plug into a 240-volt wall outlet -- or a Level 2 public charger -- you'll replenish the battery in about four hours.

The new sheetmetal adds width to the car's hips, making for one shapely rear end.

Karma Automotive

The Revero GT always starts in Stealth mode, where it acts like a normal EV until the battery runs out of juice and the generator fires up. Pull the left paddle behind the steering wheel and you can activate Sustain mode, which always launches the car under fully electric power, but activates the three-cylinder generator when you hit 25 mph. Sport mode quickens throttle response and adds some weight to the steering, and also unlocks the Revero's secret weapon: launch control.

To properly launch the car, hold the brake firmly with your left foot and floor the throttle with your right. A stoplight graphic will display in the digital gauge cluster, while the generator hums at full blast to put maximum thrust into the battery and, eventually, down to the motors at the rear axle. After several hard launches with three adults in the car, the best time I see is 4.8 seconds to 60 mph, but I bet I could do better on a flat surface and if I hadn't eaten so many cheeseburgers in my late 20s. And before you light me up in the comments, yes, I know a Tesla with Ludicrous Mode will do it quicker, but don't forget, that's a fully electric sedan, and Karma doesn't really think of it as a straight-up competitor.

Instead, Karma considers the Porsche Panamera 4 E-Hybrid to be its most accurate benchmark, as far as driving dynamics are concerned. And though you might consider that a lofty target, truth be told, the Revero GT isn't all that far off. The Karma has a lot more power than the Porsche, but it has a bit more weight to lug around, too. On a canyon road route east of Karma's Orange County HQ, the Revero GT exhibits shockingly good poise. I'll be honest -- I did not expect this car to drive as well as it does. The steering has a great weight to its action, with tangible feedback felt both through the helm and the chassis. Chucking the Revero into a corner reveals a refreshing lack of body roll, and sophisticated Sachs shocks keep the GT rolling smoothly on all surfaces. Karma says the dual electric motor setup will soon allow for rear-axle torque vectoring, which should improve the Revero's cornering capabilities even further. When this tech ready in early 2020, Kruse says the company will simply push it out to its customers via an over-the-air update.

Lightweight, 22-inch wheels don't ruin the supple ride quality, and actually shave a tenth of a second off the Revero's 0-to-60-mph time.

Karma Automotive

The Revero's throttle is super easy to modulate, though you have to remind yourself that the sound of the engine does not match the car's acceleration and deceleration characteristics. (Remember, the inline-three is just a generator.) In Sport mode, the engine has a surprisingly robust sound, though with only three cylinders, it can't match the hearty note of a V6 or a V8. Drive the Revero in Sustain, however, and the engine actively channels its exhaust to an outlet under the car by the passenger-side front door. You won't even know it's running most of the time. Really.

While the left paddle behind the steering wheel controls drive modes, the right one alters the Revero's braking characteristics. Specifically, it toggles between three levels of regenerative braking -- Level 1 offers little to no assist, like driving a normal, gas-only car, while Levels 2 and 3 channel incrementally more energy back into the battery. Level 3 isn't so strong that it allows for true one-pedal driving, but lifting off the throttle at 45 mph slows the car enough that you only need to hit the mechanical brakes just before arriving at an intersection. When that happens, the transition between regenerative and mechanical braking is completely seamless. And should you require serious stopping power, take comfort in the fact that the Revero GT comes standard with big, beefy Brembos.

Speaking of comfort, the Revero GT offers it in spades. The shapely front seats offer support in all the right places, and every surface is finished in soft leather, high-quality metal or glossy woodgrain. Overall fit and finish isn't quite Panamera-spec, but it's really, really close. The contrast stitching on the dashboard around the two central air vents looks far better than you'd expect for something from a startup car company. It's better than pretty much anything General Motors offers. Ditto Jaguar, or even Aston Martin.

A colorful infotainment system, digital gauge cluster and soft leather surfaces make the Revero GT feel as premium as any other bona fide luxury sedan.

Karma Automotive

The overall interior design is simple, with only a small number of controls on the center console. The geometric, electronic shifter is neatly designed and simple to use. Really, the only thing that takes some getting used to is having the window switches located next to the cup holders.

Karma Automotive designed its own proprietary infotainment software, and while it's not the most instantly intuitive system I've tested, it earns high praise for its vibrant color scheme and immediate response to inputs. Clicking and swiping and scrolling all has a natural action, and drivers can customize the look of the display. Karma's software is as feature-rich as anything else you'll find in the luxury space, with dedicated performance and efficiency pages buried in menus and sub-menus. Two USB ports allow drivers to connect their smartphones to the infotainment system, and hey, both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are built in -- which isn't something I can say about a Panamera. Smartphone connectivity extends to a Karma app, as well, giving customers the ability to precondition their cars, see the battery's state of charge and more, just like on other, mainstream EVs. Karma's app even integrates into your Amazon Alexa universe.

Karma plans to deliver its first Revero GTs later this year, priced from $135,000. That makes it quite a bit more dear than the aforementioned Porsche hybrid, but Karma hopes the exclusivity of this car will help seal the deal. With only 500 expected to roll off the company's new assembly line (read: not a tent) in Southern California next year, you certainly won't be seeing these everywhere. Of course, with only 23 dealerships currently online in the US, they aren't exactly readily available to most folks. That's set to change, though, as Karma plans to increase its dealer network by 50% in the near future, and eventually expand into Europe.

The Revero GT isn't Karma's moonshot, either. In fact, it's more of a stopgap; Karma is working on a brand-new electric vehicle platform that could theoretically underpin a whole range of potential products. Supercar? SUV? Neither of these are out of the question. If the Revero GT is only a preview of potential things to come, then I'd say Karma is already off to one hell of a start.

Karma Automotive