by Ian Wright
We'd forgive anyone for saying they'd never heard of the 2021 Karma GS-6 or Karma Automotive. For now, Karma is a one-model automaker, but what an eye-catching model it is. For 2021, the Revero GT has been renamed the GS-6. While it retains its dramatic looks and extensive specification of the extended-range electric sedan, it now starts at $83,900 - nearly 50k cheaper than the Revero GT. Designed by automotive legend Henrik Fisker, the GS-6 boasts sharp exterior styling, a luxurious but cramped interior, and a claimed 80-mile electric range. Fisker supplements that with a turbocharged BMW three-cylinder range extender to boost the range to a claimed 360 miles, while two electric motors on the rear axles produce 536 horsepower and 550 lb-ft. Karma is targeting a share of the high-end EV segment, but it's not going to be an easy ride when established players already have the segment locked down with alternatives like the Porsche Taycan and Tesla Model S. Karma afforded us a few days to get acquainted with the GS-6 in Luxury specification to see if it has what it takes to play with the big dogs.
The GS-6 is an all-new luxury sedan, but technically not. It's a rebadged Revero at a much lower price with some much-needed interior upgrades, which should help the struggling Karma find new customers. The Revero retailed for $130,000, but the GS-6 range starts at $83,900, although the base variant is in limited supply, forcing buyers to step up to the pricier Luxury and Sport specifications.
The most significant change for 2021 is the switch to a BMW powertrain. Karma ditched the previous GM-sourced turbocharged four-cylinder in favor of a 1.5-liter turbocharged triple that acts as a range extender. The battery back has also been upgraded to a 28-kWh unit.
See trim levels and configurations:
1.5L Turbo Inline-3 Plug-in Hybrid
Single-ratio direct drive
1.5L Turbo Inline-3 Plug-in Hybrid
Single-ratio direct drive
1.5L Turbo Inline-3 Plug-in Hybrid
Single-ratio direct drive
The Karma GS-6 sedan is an achingly beautiful vehicle. It's the closest anyone has ever come to building a four-door supercar, at least from a design perspective. There's an excellent reason for this. The man responsible for the GS-6's exterior was the founder and principal designer of Fisker Automotive, Henrik Fisker. That's a name with serious clout in car design circles as the man who penned the BMW Z8, Aston Martin DB9, and the V8 Vantage. Look closely, and you'll see hints of all three in the GS6's design. Karma is quite proud of its use of sustainable materials. This year it is using wood from the California wildfires, for example.
Three trims are available, all differing slightly in design. The base GS-6 and GS-6L ride on 21-inch Cascade Midnight wheels with dark grey brake calipers while the GS-6S gets 22-inch Dune Twist Chrome wheels. Various caliper colors can also be selected. Our Luxury tester sported 22-inch alloys by HRE with yellow brake calipers and the Blackout Package, an option on the Luxury and standard on the Sport, that swaps out chrome window surround and detailing for blacked-out items. The bi-LED headlights are standard across all trims.
Buyers can also opt for a Carbon Fiber Package with a carbon front splitter, decklid spoiler, and rocker panels.
The GS-6 has an overall length of 199.4 inches, housing an impressive wheelbase of 124.4 inches. That means relatively short overhangs and most of the weight is contained between the front and rear wheels. It's 85.1 inches wide and just 52.4 inches tall. The latter figures are both a blessing and a curse. You see, the GS-6 is wider than a Ferrari 812 Superfast and a mere two inches higher from the ground, resulting in a supercar-like track and center of gravity. On the downside, you have to struggle to get into it. With a curb weight of 5,043 pounds, you notice the presence of a large battery pack.
Two new colors have been added to the palette for 2021 in Saguaro Green and Imperial Copper, meaning there are now 12 available colors. Coastal White is the standard hue, but everything else adds to the total price by at least $2,000. Those that cost that much include Borrego Black, Balboa Blue, Silver Fog, and the Pacifico Grey worn by our test unit. The $2,500 palette consists of Surf White and Bodega Bay Blue. For an extra $3,000, you can add Napa Red, Benito Blue, Horizon Orange, Imperial Copper, and Saguaro Green.
It's worth mentioning that Karma offers an impressive amount of customization to customers with seven different brake caliper color options. It doesn't offer Bentley-like levels of customization, but you do get to play around a bit more than you're usually allowed to at this price point.
The Karma GS-6 is labeled as a plug-in hybrid, but that term is too broad to adequately explain how this car's powertrain works. Karma defines its own "propulsion system" as a 1.5-liter three-cylinder turbocharged plug-in series hybrid electric vehicle. There's a turbocharged 1.5-liter gasoline engine from the BMW i8 and Mini Cooper, but it doesn't actually drive the wheels. Instead, it acts as a generator, feeding the 28 kWh battery and, in turn, twin electric motors acting on the rear axle.
In theory, it should work brilliantly, maximising the efficiency of burning fossil fuel. But it has two significant drawbacks. First, it's a massively overcomplicated system that lacks some of the significant advantages of a pure EV. There's no frunk, for example, and the weight distribution isn't as great as it could be. And second, it can't claim to be the ultimate environmentally friendly solution since it still burns liquefied dinosaurs for power. An EV version of the GS6 is on its way soon, so this is a sort of interim solution.
As for performance figures, this rear-wheel-drive hybrid is claimed to nail the 0-60 mph sprint in 4.5 seconds in standard guise, but opt for the Performance Package on the Sport trim and this drops to 3.9 seconds thanks to stronger electric motors with more torque. Regardless of which, the top speed is electronically limited to 125 mph.
The GS-6 has a 1.5-liter gasoline three-cylinder engine under its hood with a turbo strapped on for good measure. It produces 228 hp, but none of that is sent to the wheels, and there is no gearbox attached to it. That's because the engine is a range extending generator that only kicks in when the GS-6 depletes its battery pack. What actually drives the GS-6 sedan are twin electric motors - one on each rear wheel - with specs of 536 hp and 550 lb-ft and then deploying this power through a single-ratio direct drive gearbox. Opt for the Performance Package and the motors get a bump in torque to 650 lb-ft. Because of this electric motor setup, the GS-6 drives like an EV, with instant torque on tap and a smooth surge when you want it.
There are three drive modes here, with Stealth being a dedicated EV-only option that drains the battery, while Sustain brings the three-pot to life to maintain charge. When the piston engine comes on, it's often easy not to notice, and the GS-6 continues to drive like a quiet, smooth, electric vehicle. Sport diverts power from both the battery and the generator directly to the motors to access the full outputs.
The GS-6 does have a launch control that's entertaining to try in Sport mode. This mode also triggers an active exhaust to make the most of the combustion engine and aid the sense of emotion only a combustion engine can provide. If the battery is over 90% charged, you can hold down the brake pedal, mash the accelerator into the floor and listen to the 1.5L turbocharged engine rise in revs. After takeoff, the engine noise is more entertaining than enthralling, though. There's only a certain amount of noise a three-cylinder turbo can make, and it doesn't exactly get the blood pounding. It's better, instead, to enjoy the smooth rush of the GS-6 as it takes off or pushes its way out of a corner with its instantly available power.
The first thing you notice as you pull away in the Karma GS-6 is an old-school view of the hood, giving that sporty feel of a roadster. It's also smooth and quiet pulling away, whether the engine is running to regenerate power or not. The ride is firm, but the suspension is beautifully damped, so it still has the smoothness we want from a luxury vehicle. The instantly available torque hides the GS-6's heft well, making it a relatively serene vehicle to drive at lower speeds and on freeways. There's no getting around the fact it's a big car, though, and we quickly learned to pick our parking spots and not to reverse into a single garage.
Where the Karma GS-6 delivers its biggest surprise and becomes an absolute delight is in picking up the pace and driving for pure pleasure. It eats up winding roads with surefooted agility that its size and weight suggest it shouldn't have. There's a ton of grip on offer, particularly with the massive 22-inch wheels and accompanying rubber on each corner of our tester. Also helping is the two-motor system at the rear that provides some slick torque vectoring and smooth, progressive braking through a well-tuned regenerative system. When regeneration switches over to friction, six-piston front and four-piston rear Brembo brake calipers clamp down on the discs to bring the 5,000-pound mass to a halt.
On longer trips, particularly if it involves going downhill, the intuitive regenerative braking system is particularly effective in reclaiming energy. Once you go over the electric-only range, the engine kicks in and starts drinking gasoline, but we found day-to-day, just forty or so minutes on a charger gave us a full battery to use.
It's no supercar, or even a sports car, but looking at the GS-6 as more of a grand tourer in a sense of the Lexus LC, it starts to make a lot of sense.
The Karma comes as standard with a claimed 80-mile all-electric range when fully charged, but the EPA-certified figure suggests 61 miles is readily available, and in reality, we feel like 40 miles is a more realistic expectation. This mode is called Stealth, and you can use it until the 28 kWh lithium-ion battery is depleted after which the gasoline engine kicks in. According to the EPA, the GS-6 with 21-inch wheels claims 70 MPGe on the combined cycle and 26 mpg once the battery is drained. The 22-inch wheels have a drastic effect on the claimed consumption figures, dropping down to 62 MPGe, and 22 mpg on the combined cycle and reducing the electric range to 54 miles. The onboard 6.6 kW charger means the battery can be fully charged in four hours from a household outlet, while a 45-kW Level II outlet will give you 90% charge in 34 mins. As for its gas tank, this measures 10.25 gallons and requires premium gasoline.
Karma did a great job of designing an interior for its potential customers. Almost every person interested in the GS-6 will be an early adopter, and they love a good euphemism. Instead of a touchscreen and an instrument cluster, the Karma has a "Human Machine Interface." The Human Machine Interface consists of a 10.2-inch touchscreen and a digital instrument cluster.
To be fair, there are several cool features, including over-the-air updates for the firmware. The touchscreen interface also comes with multiple pages with cool statistics and figures. You can record lap times, g-forces, battery function, and engine temperature. An Energy History page will show you historical data regarding energy usage. According to Karma, this will motivate owners to compete with themselves to achieve a higher score constantly. It's not as cool as the new drift scoring system on the BMW M3, but hey, some people get their kicks out of being efficient.
Quality levels are high, and we do applaud Karma for using sustainable materials. This year it will be using wood veneer salvaged from the California wildfires. It's slightly creepy since people died, but the overall response to this bit of news has been positive.
The GS-6 is technically a four-seater with a broad transmission tunnel running the full length of the cockpit to house the battery pack, but it's snug up front and cramped in the back. Head- and legroom up front measure 37.1 and 42.6 inches but in the rear, these figures drop to 35.7 and 32.9 inches, respectively. We'd go so far as to say the back is not much use outside of emergencies, although the seating is remarkably comfortable despite the cramped quarters. The rear seats also feature LATCH anchors for the fitment of child seats. The transmission tunnel is big and eats up the space between the occupants but provides decent storage and creates a snug cockpit feel we liked. However, getting in and out is a little awkward, and the center console intrudes enough that larger occupants will get irritated when they move to snap the seatbelt into place. Something we did like is the buttons inside the door to open them rather than a lever. At first, it felt gimmicky, but after a while, it started making total sense.
Black Palisades leather is standard on both Luxury and Sport models. A lighter Crystal Cove interior retails for $1,500. The rest of the combo leather options cost $3,800. Options include Rebel Lava (black and red), Rebel Reef (black and blue), and Rebel Ceramic, a black and white combo. When the standard GS-6 arrives, it'll sport gloss black trim, while the Lace Oak wood trim costs $1,900 on that and is standard on the Luxury. Carbon fiber trim goes for $2,200 but comes standard on the Sport. Burned Lace Oak and Olive Ash wood will also be available, albeit not on the base specification. The Rebel dual-color interiors are only available with the carbon fiber trim which can also be paired with the Crystal Cove leather, while the wood is only able to be paired with the Palisades and Crystal Cove upholstery.
The 6.4 cubic foot trunk is yet another example of why the Karma's powertrain setup is needlessly overcomplicated. Thanks to the now-famous skateboard design, EV manufacturers like Tesla and Porsche provide reasonable cargo capacity, in some cases with two main storage areas. The Karma, with its engine up front, the dual-motors and single-speed gearbox nestled between the rear axle, and a floor full of batteries, has no space left for cargo. This car has a longer wheelbase than a Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe, yet it has one of the smallest trunks in the USA.
Interior storage consists of dual cupholders up front, a storage compartment underneath the center armrest, and another center armrest in the rear with two additional cupholders.
Standard features include a fully digital instrument cluster, a multi-function steering wheel with touch buttons with haptic feedback. There are paddles behind the steering wheel, but they serve a different purpose since there is no gearbox. One paddle controls the severity of regenerative braking, while the other toggles between the driving modes. You also get six-way power-adjustable heated front seats with driver memory, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry, and push-button start. Every single feature in this car, including the side mirror adjustment and climate control, is operated via the center touchscreen interface. We're not big fans of this setup and much prefer physical buttons for the features used most often. There's a slew of driver assists too, including a surround-view camera, parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, and automatic wipers. Optional features include adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, and lane keep assist.
The Karma GS-6's infotainment system is accessed through a 10.2-inch touchscreen and a digital instrument cluster. The system is developed in-house by Karma, and the user interface is beautifully stylish, although its low position in the center console means pulling your eyes away from the road more than we'd like. Almost everything is controlled through the touchscreen, which is an approach that always comes with frustration baked in. Some things you just want to press a button or turn a dial to control rather than have to call the function up on a screen. Karma has minimized that frustration, but it's still there.
There's no navigation system, either standard or optional. That is left to Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, which is fine by us as we've yet to find a manufacturer's navigation system as good as you can get on a smartphone. It lacks a vast array of app integrations, but typically those always feel like padding for the spec sheets and are largely unnecessary. We've seen some complaints about the circular capacitive thumb controls on the steering wheel to control functions like volume control and viewing information in the gauge cluster. However, it didn't take us long to get used to it, and we found we didn't wish for buttons there instead.
In addition to the aforementioned smartphone support, you get Bluetooth media streaming and hands-free calling, FM, HD, and internet radio support, and a 680-watt eight-speaker sound system.
Unfortunately, the Karma comes with a bad reputation. Back when it was Fisker Karma, there were some fire issues. That's one major flaw that's tough to put a spin on. The good news is that now the Fisker part of the name has been dropped, the GS-6 seems to be trouble-free. We're aware that it's technically an all-new model, but since it's essentially the same car as the Revero, we'll look at its history instead. For a startup company, Karma has managed to keep its vehicle remarkably recall-free. The last recalls were issued in 2018 for side curtain airbag issues, an incorrect driver's side exterior mirror, and some strength issues with the side impact protection. Since then, there have been no recalls and limited complaints.
Each GS-6 comes standard with a four-year/50,000-mile limited warranty and an eight-year/80,000-mile limited powertrain warranty. Roadside assistance is included for a period of four years or 50,000 miles.
As a low-volume product with a substantial price tag, neither the NHTSA nor the IIHS has had the opportunity to review the GS-6 or its Revero predecessor. The standard safety specification is exceptional, however.
On the traditional side, the GS-6 has eight airbags including dual front knee airbags and the usual array of active safety acronyms. The driver assistance systems are impressive. All models come as standard with blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, a surround-view camera, park distance control, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, rain-sensing wipers, and a tire-pressure monitoring system with auto-learning. You can optionally equip advanced cruise control, lane keep assist and support, and automatic emergency braking. Because Karma offers over-the-air updates, these driver assistance systems can be further enhanced, Tesla style, but there are currently no plans to offer a semi-autonomous driving suite in the same vein as Tesla's Autopilot.
The Karma GS-6 is certainly a good car, particularly for someone that wants an achingly handsome sports sedan that most people won't have seen before. Ideally, they would also typically drive under 80 miles a day for a commute and want a grand tourer for the weekends without the stress of range anxiety. If that's you, the GS-6 is a truly fantastic car. However, if you're going to have four people in your sedan regularly, the GS-6 is going to fall short on interior space. The truth is, the GS-6 occupies an odd niche. Sure it's stylish, but what else does it have going for it? Porsche and Tesla both have better dedicated EVs, and as a hybrid, the GS-6 isn't exactly stellar in its electric range, while being matched on performance by the likes of the Porsche Panamera E-Hybrid. It's impractical, cramped, and feels like an interim while we wait for the fully electric GS-6e to arrive.
However, the GS-6, and the Karma brand, are not meant to be as mainstream as those we've mentioned. The GS-6 is supposed to be a statement of individuality, of style, and of performance, and it lives up to these points. Is it an objectively brilliant car? Perhaps not, but it has character, and there are very few EVs or hybrids that can match the GS-6's sheer sense of style and occasion.
The price of the Karma GS-6 has come down remarkably compared to the Revero it replaces. In base form, it has an MSRP of $83,900 before options and a destination charge of $1,800. The Luxury model costs $93,900, increasing to $99,990 for the Sport. It's worth remembering that you'll still need to pay extra for items like interior trim, so expect a few grand on top of these prices as a realistic expectation.
There are currently three models in the GS-6 range, dubbed 'personas': Standard, Luxury, and Sport. A fully electric model will follow later in 2021. All three models are powered by the same plug-in hybrid system, consisting of a 28 kWh battery pack and two rear-mounted electric motors. Under the hood, there's a 1.5L turbo-triple gas engine, not connected to the drivetrain. It exists purely as a generator for the battery. The combined power output is 536 hp and 550 lb-ft of torque, but with the Performance Pack specification, another 100 lb-ft is made available.
The standard specification is similar across the three trims. From the base model, you get 21-inch alloy wheels, only two paint options, chrome exterior trim, and LED headlights. Inside, the heated seats are power-adjustable, the driver gets a memory function, and there's dual-zone climate control. A 10.2-inch touchscreen handles infotainment and all other controls, with an eight-speaker sound system. Safety and convenience are bolstered further by lane departure warning, forward collision warning, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, park sensors, a surround-view camera, and rain-sensing wipers.
The Luxury adds greater levels of customization with more paint and interior options and standard Lace Oak wood inserts.
In addition to extra torque, Sport models come with bigger 22-inch alloy wheels. The Blackout Package is also standard on this model, as is the full carbon fiber trim package and interior carbon fiber. Finally, the Sport gets standard cross-drilled brake discs, which are an optional extra on the standard Luxury model.
There are no packages available for the GS-6. The previously optional Winter Package, which comes with a heated steering wheel, and heated front and rear seats, is now standard. Karma does offer a wide variety of paint options for the exterior and the brake calipers. The Internet Radio Package is now also standard on both models. The only real options are a Carbon Fiber Package for the exterior, which is standard on the Sport, while cross-drilled brakes cost $1,200 on the Luxury but are also standard on the Sport. One package does exist to improve safety, with the $3,500 Driver Assistance Package adding adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, and automatic emergency braking.
With just three trims available and only two of those on offer at the time of this review, it's an easy decision to make based on whether you plan to drive the GS-6 hard or mainly enjoy it as a luxury car. Saying that, the Sport version errs on the side of overkill with its 22-inch wheels and cross-drilled brake discs as standard, although the extra potency from the electric motors is fun. We would opt for the Luxury trim as a few tenths of a second to 60 mph isn't a deal-breaker. In either spec, it's a fast car, but it's not performance numbers that make the GS-6 a great car, and an extra mile or two on the battery can save visits to the gas station over time.
The Porsche is a more traditional plug-in hybrid, and you can see the difference when looking at the claimed gas mileage. According to the EPA, the 4 E-Hybrid can do 51 MPGe and 23 mpg, respectively. Its electric range is a mere 14 miles, while the Karma will give you at least 3 times the latter figure. Since beauty is in the eye of the beholder, we'll leave that for you to decide. In every other way, the Porsche is ahead. It's more practical, has more available features, the performance is on par, and it's objectively the better car. This is purely the result of decades of car-building experience versus one decade of car manufacturing. The Porsche has a usable trunk, more space on the inside, and one of the most magnetic badges in the industry. The 4 E-Hybrid costs about as much as the GS-6 Sport and has the added benefit of all-wheel drive. Sadly, we're not early adopters, so we know we'd rather spend our money on the Panamera.
To be blunt, the Porsche mentioned above is also an in-betweener until the inevitable electric takeover. The Taycan is the future and what a future it is. Both of these machines are fast sedans, but while the Taycan is down on power compared to the Karma, it's capable of keeping up and even beating it in a straight line, and when it gets twisty, the lighter Taycan is more agile. The Taycan can also be ordered with both RWD and AWD, while the Karma only drives its rear wheels. The claimed range of the Taycan is a maximum of 227 miles on the 4S, which seems way down on the GS-6's claims, but with charging infrastructure growing and battery advancements happening at a rapid rate, it will take no more than five years for EVs to render cars like the GS-6 meaningless. We've already seen it happen. BMW's i3 was a good car when it was launched, but other pure EVs at the same price soon surpassed it.
More than anything, the Taycan feels adequately developed. Everything about it screams billion-dollar budget - from the seating position to the ergonomic layout of the interior. The 4S costs more or less the same as the Karma GS-6 Sport, but it just seems to be a more complete machine. Karma has chosen to play in a tough league, and unfortunately, this time out it comes off second best.
The most popular competitors of 2021 Karma GS-6: