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2023 Fisker Ocean First Drive Review: Drives Nice, a Few Issues

Jun 05, 2024

It's not often you can say you've driven or can buy the very first car from a brand-new automaker. But today's proliferation of EV startups makes the event far more possible for far more people. The latest is the 2023 Fisker Ocean—an all-electric midsize SUV from Henrik Fisker's new company, Fisker Inc.

Versus Fisker's original company, the name of the game is largely the same: He and his firm are still hellbent on sustainability, but this time they're coming out of the blocks with a completely different car. While one could argue the ill-fated Fisker Karma plug-in sedan was ahead of its time, today's Fisker Ocean arrives in a market primed for it to succeed.

After this initial experience, the Ocean seems to be a solid product with sound driving dynamics—a nice job for a first-iteration product from a startup. There are a few bugs that still need to be worked out, but the overall execution is impressive. But why should someone choose this SUV from a relatively unknown automaker over one from industry stalwarts like Tesla, Ford, and Hyundai?

MotorTrend international bureau chief Angus MacKenzie wrote on the Ocean's origin and basics in his prototype drive published last year; we encourage you to read it to get up to speed with the Ocean's history up to this point. In person, the final production Ocean looks very much like an offshoot of the Range Rover Sport's family tree, and this ain't no bad thing. It's blocky and chunky in all the right places and stands out against a backdrop of European hatchbacks and econoboxes. Dimensionally, it's about the size of the Ford Mustang Mach-E, Tesla Model Y, or Hyundai Ioniq 5, give or take a couple of inches.

The cabin is a study in sustainable materials. No animal hides are used to upholster the seats. Instead, recycled carpeting, plastic bottles, and other polymers are used to create the interior materials. Surfaces are minimally painted to reduce potential impact to the environment. What isn't recycled plastic or faux leather is covered with Alcantara synthetic microsuede.

Fisker put us in the Ocean Extreme trim, which is the model's top option. In terms of range, the Ocean Extreme's 113.0-kWh nickel-manganese-cobalt "Hyper Range" battery pack will deliver 360 miles of EPA-estimated range. (Lower-trim versions of the car will use longer-lasting lithium-iron-phosphate batteries.) The Extreme's dual-motor setup makes 468 hp and 514 lb-ft of torque, but in Boost Mode, the car will momentarily make more power: 564 hp and 543 lb-ft. It's a feature similar to that found in the Genesis Electrified GV70.

There's a catch, though: Currently, Fisker limits Boost Mode to 500 lifetime activations per car. It can increase that number if a customer wants more, but for now, the company is feeling things out and seeing how frequently people really do the neck-snapping EV-acceleration party trick in real life. The extra power puts more wear on the driving components, Fisker reasons, so there's no reason to have the car do maximum power at all times if a driver only needs it infrequently.

Anyone who pays attention to EVs from startups will be familiar with tales of quality and production issues, as they've cropped up at varying times at Tesla, Rivian, and Lucid. It seems like Fisker smartly circumvented the worst of it by outsourcing all assembly to Magna Steyr, the Austrian-based contract car manufacturer that also builds the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen. Not only does that mean Fisker didn't have to establish its own factories, employees, and know-how, but also that its cars are built by people who very much understand how to do it well.

The result is an SUV with good fit and finish that feels solid in operation. All the seats are comfortable and supportive, and even though there's a lot of visible plastic in the interior, it still feels like a quality place to be thanks to upscale detailing such as special striping and design motifs on the dash and seats. The Foxconn-made 17.1-inch rotating screen—it motors from landscape to portrait, which is really cool—is clear and easy to read, even with the worst of the sun's glare. There's a row of physical buttons underneath it for climate and radio controls. Bless. The rear seats offer good leg- and headroom, and the trunk is spacious with a flat load floor.

Behind the wheel, the Ocean has the strong off-the-line hustle expected of an EV. Its low center of gravity makes it feel firmly planted on the road, and it drives much smaller than it is. The steel-sprung suspension doesn't offer the same pillowy ride an air suspension would have, but the ride is still quite comfortable. In its most aggressive setting, the regenerative braking is powerful enough for one-pedal driving and seamlessly blends the switch between the friction regen brakes. There is also good weight to the steering, but we didn't find it particularly communicative. Keep in mind, though: It's a family car, not a sports car.

Let's shout out two of the Ocean's cooler features. The first is the California mode. With it, you can drop all the windows with one push of a button, but we're not just talking the side windows. California mode also lowers the small quarter windows between the C- and D-pillars as well as the rear hatch window, plus it opens the large sunroof. It's rad.

Second is the car's solar roof. Under ideal conditions, Fisker says, it'll return about 1,500 miles of range a year. Even if it doesn't do exactly that, it looks cool and is a fun talking point.

There are a couple of ergonomic nits to pick, such as the inside door handle being too unintuitively high and how the "taco tray"—a little foldable table that deploys from the center console—can't easily unfold on the driver's side if you have water bottles in the cupholder. There's also no glove box; instead, the passenger gets their own taco tray with storage moving to underseat drawers. Also, owing to the SUV's raked profile, rearward visibility isn't the best, but there is a digital rearview mirror to rely on. And Fisker has repeated the mistake of asking occupants to move the air vents via the touchscreen rather than the tried and true method of, you know, moving the vent with your hands. It's annoying in the Rivian R1T, and it's annoying here, too. As with the other companies that have done this, including Porsche, it's a solution to a problem precisely no one was having.

In our prototype drive, we noted the car's brake pedal travel was too long, and that's still the case. There is a noticeable amount of dead space at the top of the stroke before any braking happens, which makes decelerating during more spirited driving difficult to predict.

We also experienced some electronic glitches Fisker says may have been isolated to our specific vehicle. Isolated or widespread, we assume the problems are well on their way to being ironed out. One involved our test car randomly refusing to move despite it being shifted into Drive, as well as an electronic parking brake that would only sporadically automatically disengage, which it is programmed to do when drive is selected. The California mode button also ceased working for a good 20 minutes; later, all the windows dropped by themselves without anyone touching the button at all.

Although this isn't a glitch, we think it may be a mistake: The Ocean will not offer Apple CarPlay at launch. Company reps insist this is due to data privacy concerns and that Fisker's own UI prioritizes a superior user experience. They pointed to General Motors' recent decision to ditch CarPlay and Android Auto as justification. However, these in-car smartphone mirroring apps are major purchase considerations for the majority of buyers, and they just work. Case in point: While using the Ocean's built-in nav system, we missed our highway exit. The nav wanted to reroute us back onto the highway and would have put us in a bumper-to-bumper backup. Instead, we simply pulled up Google Maps, took the next exit, and reached our destination with minimal delay via local roads.

The Ocean—and by extension Fisker—is facing an uphill battle when it comes to mindshare. Bluntly, Tesla, Ford, and Hyundai are household names. Fisker isn't. In terms of driving dynamics, the Ocean isn't altogether too different from its competitors, with the company banking on its SUV's cool features and upscale interior to set it apart. You get to be an early Fisker adopter, so there's that aspect, too.

Further than that, though, the Ocean does offer more range than other midsize electric SUVs in its class and will be sold via a direct sales model. The Ocean Extreme comes to a starting MSRP of about $70,000—which isn't cheap cheap—but Fisker has promised a base Ocean Sport model that will start at just under $40,000. If and when that version hits the streets—Fisker isn't the first startup to launch with an expensive version of its product and then promise a much cheaper one—it very well could be a game changer for the company and its market segment.

As for the issues we experienced on our daylong test drive?

"It used to be [when] you finished the car, you sold the car," Henrik Fisker told MotorTrend. "The big change in new cars today is I think the car will never be finished. You will keep improving it and updating it for the lifetime of the car." For now, the Ocean feels not like the product of an unsteady, inexperienced company but rather a solid foundation on which to build its reputation.

The Ocean: What Is It?How It DrivesWhat Wasn't as GreatWhat Sets the Ocean Apart2023 Fisker Ocean Extreme SpecificationsBase PriceLayoutMotorTransmissionCurb WeightWheelbaseL x W x H0-60 MPHEPA City/HWY/Comb Fuel ECONEPA Range, CombOn Sale