2021 Karma GS-6 First Drive Review: A Stunning Hybrid Alternative For the Non-Conformists

Long, low, and swoopy, the Karma GS-6 looks like a sedanified Dodge Viper.

byKristen Lee| PUBLISHED Jun 8, 2021 12:00 PM
2021 Karma GS-6 First Drive Review: A Stunning Hybrid Alternative For the Non-Conformists

The first thing you must get used to when driving the 2021 Karma GS-6 is that absolutely no one will know what it is. They will think it's a Tesla. They will think it's a Jaguar. They will ask you about it. You'll explain it's a Karma, and as explanations go, it's not a particularly helpful one. They still won't know what you mean.

I can't really blame people, though. Karma isn't a household name. Living on the East Coast, I've seen exactly zero Karmas tooling around and I don't think I've ever encountered a single piece of Karma Automotive advertising. But the automaker's got big plans: it wants in on the EV pickup game, it has plans to launch an electric Tesla competitor, and it's aiming to sell more cars.

For now, however, the GS-6 is as real as any car you can buy and drive and it's here for a piece of that hybrid-car pie as we continually move toward a more electrified future. 

Kristen Lee

The good news is there aren't a ton of expensive, luxurious, sleek, and electrified sedans. The bad news is the ones that do exist are pretty damn great. In this regard, the Karma faces some tough competition. As always, the trick is seeing what it does better than the rest.

2021 Karma GS-6L: By the Numbers

  • Base price (as tested): $85,700 ($109,100)
  • Powertrain: 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder | 28-kWh battery | 1-speed transmission | rear-wheel drive
  • Horsepower: 536 
  • Torque: 550 lb-ft  
  • Curb weight: 5,043 pounds
  • Seating capacity: 4
  • Cargo volume: 6.4 cubic feet
  • Combined range: 328 miles (est.)
  • EPA fuel economy: 70 mpge combined city/highway | 26 mpg combined city/highway 
  • Charge speed: 6.25 hours @ 240V
  • Quick take: A luxury hybrid sedan that looks incredible but is a bit cramped inside.

A Sedanified Viper

The GS-6 is stunning to behold. Long, low, and swoopy, it almost has the proportions of a stretched and sedanified late-generation Dodge Viper.

As I explained in my earlier AMA post, the Karma Automotive's cars look like the ill-fated Fisker Karma because they still use Henrik Fisker's design. After Chinese parts supplier Wanxiang Group bought Fisker Automotive in a bankruptcy auction, it renamed the company to Karma Automotive and produced its first production hybrid car in 2016 called the Karma Revero. After that came the Revero GT, which was quite expensive. This past winter, Karma decided to lower the price point of its cars by launching the GS-6 line and promoted the Revero GT to a halo position.

Three cars make up the GS-6 line: the base GS-6 with a starting price of $85,700, the GS-6L (for Luxury) with a starting price of $95,700, and the GS-6S (for Sport) starting at $105,700. An all-electric version of the GS-6, the GSe-6, will launch later this year. As standard, the GS-6 and GS-6L come with 21-inch wheels and Brembo brakes. 

The cars are what Karma calls "extended-range electric vehicles." They are not plug-in hybrids and the onboard, BMW-sourced gasoline engine (a three-cylinder turbo affair, the same as what you got in the i8 and base Mini Cooper) does not power the wheels whatsoever. Rather, it powers the battery that drives the two motors, one for each rear wheel. There's a 28-kWh battery pack that can produced a claimed 80 miles of purely electric range. Combined with the gasoline engine, the GS-6 can put down a claimed 328 miles.

Piano Motif

The GS-6 is one of those cars that is giant on the outside and small on the inside. The trunk is shallow and oddly T-shaped, so flatter, boxy items work best here. And because the battery packs run along the center spline, there's a large central shaft that halves the interior. 

It makes sitting in the front seats—which are quite comfortable—a bit cramped and the rear seats downright claustrophobic. The rear seats themselves are contoured so they cup your back and ass pretty aggressively and there's a distinct feeling you're leaning against a big wheel arch because, well, you are. 

I will also note here while I had no problems with headroom in the GS-6, my six-foot friend's head touched the ceiling when he leaned forward, even though he'd lowered the seat as far down as it would go.

All that being said, interior quality is quite impressive. I thought the Rebel Ceramic leather (a $3,800 option) and the carbon fiber trim (a $2,200 option) in the GS-6L Karma loaned me were especially attractive, though I could already see scuffs on the white leather. But the black-and-white motif patterened fashionably on the seats. 

The things you pull and push on have some heft and the doors shut with a nice, rich thud. The infotainment screen is large and easy to read (though I cannot un-see the wide-eyed, wide-mouthed surprise face with a black mustache when the screen is off). 

Unfortunately, it is through this touchscreen that you must adjust the car's wing mirrors. I suppose adjusting wing mirrors isn't something you do that often so you don't have to deal with this a lot, but it felt like Karma's designers reinvented something that didn't need reinventing in the first place. The point here, I suspect, was to create a minimalist door handle design: The GS-6's door only has one button on it and it's the unlatch. The mirror adjustments and window buttons were moved to the center console, next to the cupholders. 

Rubber-Band Slingshot

The GS-6 comes with three driving modes, which you can toggle through with the left-hand paddle. The right-hand paddle controls the three different regen modes, getting more aggressive as you cycle through. Three drive modes—Stealth, Sustain, and Sport—control the car's on-road behavior.

Because it is rear-wheel-drive, the GS-6 does not have the neck-snapping acceleration of an all-wheel-drive EV. Rather, flooring it feels like you've just been launched from the world's biggest slingshot; there's a rubbery aspect to the way it flings itself forward. It is certainly not slow but you can definitely feel it battling its own inertia when you poke it a bit. But the weight is low, so it's quite planted over its wheels through the corners, the well-weighted steering doing a nice job of articulating the road to your fingers.

Surprisingly, the ride quality is on the sportier side, which meant it didn't soak up bumps and cracks like a sponge and instead expressed them through the seat. Don't get me wrong, it's not over-achieving sports-car levels of harshness, but you'll definitely be aware of the road's imperfections in the GS-6. I didn't mind it, though. Paired with the tighter steering, a rumblier suspension made me feel like the car was more awake and alert. Never a bad thing.

For longer highway trips, you'd be rewarded for using its adaptive cruise control, which did a great job of maintaining a good follow distance behind other cars and keeping us situated in our lane. The adaptive cruise control is loated by your right thumb and the buttons have slightly raised touchpoints, so after you memorize the layout, you don't even need to look when activating the system, which was convenient.

Owing to its largely electric powertrain, the GS-6 is pretty quiet in most cases—except when you put it in Sport mode. When you do that, you get a vrum of three-cylinder vibrato, though I couldn't tell if the noise was coming from the exhaust or from the speakers near my left leg. Regardless, it was neat to have the silent car suddenly make an internal combustion noise.

I found the GS-6 a bit hard to see out of even though I'd moved the seat as high as it would go. There's a lot of slopey hood to see over and rear visiblity isn't all that great. You'll rely pretty heavily on your mirrors and the car's blind-spot assist here. 

Finally: Charging. In the weekend I spent with the Karma, I put a little over 300 miles on it. I needed to fill up the tank once and charged it overnight once. At 8:30 in the evening, I plugged the car into a wall outlet in my parents' garage while it was at 12 percent battery. I don't know what voltage their outlet is, but I can tell you it powers a refrigerator. By the next day at 12:30 p.m., the battery was at 73 percent. 

From what I could tell, the GS-6's real-world range was about 300 or so miles, which for me included plenty of highway driving and some city driving. It's a fine amount of range since you can always fill it up at a gas station, but if you came here looking for stuff like the Porsche Panamera 4 E-Hybrid's 462 claimed miles of total system range, then look elsewhere.

Your Questions About the Karma GS-6, Answered

Last month, I put out a call for questions that you, my dear readers, might have about the Karma GS-6. It's important to us to get you the answers you're looking for, so you can expect responses to our AMAs to appear in subsequent reviews moving forward. 

Kristen Lee

Q: "Exhaust still come into the car when windows down since pipes originally were right behind the front wheels?" — 4cyl

Yes, the exhaust pipes are still located behind the front wheels—you can see their silver tips in the pictures—but I did not experience any exhaust fumes coming into the cabin with the windows down!

Q: "Build quality? Being from a smaller niche company does it have better or worse build quality than the major manufacturers. It's a beautiful car, would you take this over a Taycan??" — Phillip Morgan

The build quality is decent! Things felt substantive and satisfyingly tactile. I really did not like how the door panel didn't have any buttons or controls on it, but that being said, the buttons and controls were nice to the touch. The car doesn't feel cheaply made.

I agree it's a beautiful car. And, yes, I'd take a Taycan over it.

Q: "Interior space was a problem for the original Karma due to its powertrain. How large is the interior?" — wtrmlnjuc

Not large. We couldn't fit a case of wine in the trunk and wound up having to use the rear footwell. The rear seats are also contoured in such a way that it wouldn't be ideal to store something rigid like a box or suitcase there (because you'd have such a problem trying to stuff it in the tiny trunk). 

You can fit rear passengers there for short trips, but after sitting back there myself, it's not a place I'd want to occupy for a multi-hour trip.

Kristen Lee

Q: "What's dealer support like and is there much of a network? If you drove across the US and needed something done, is it even possible in some place like New Mexico or Nebraska." — TwistedThumb

I don't know, but I talked to a Karma spokesperson who does.

They said, "We have 24 dealerships in the US and a couple in Canada. We also have, I believe, six or seven dealers in Europe. All dealers have a dedicate sales and service department. Our roadside service here is though Allstate, so if someone is on a road trip and aren’t close to a dealership, that is who they would use. A lot of items can also be handled by OTA (over the air) remote updates if it is software-related."

It does not look like there are any Karma dealerships in New Mexico or Nebraska, unfortunately. Here's a map of all the U.S.-based dealerships at the time of this writing!


Q: "Does it blend?" — Lets Go

Absolutely not! Everyone will stare at you and a few people will ask you to roll down your window so they can talk to you about it.

Q: "How does it road-trip with a depleted battery and just the range-extender running? Can you, say, drive from LA to Big Bear just on engine-power alone?"— Greyvagabond

In my testing, even with the battery depleted, you can still drive it. It was hard for me to tell how far just the engine would take me, but I imagine, yes, you can get from LA to Big Bear on just the engine alone. It uses gas so there's really no risk of getting stuck anywhere.

For the Weirdo Non-Conformists

To everyone who clicked on this review just to dive into the comments and yell about how the Porsche Panamera hybrids, Porsche Taycan, Tesla Model S, and Polestar 1 are objectively better cars, I have nothing to say to you. You're right. 

The Karma is like a fun house—big on the outside and little on the inside. Its range isn't great. It's kind of expensive. There probably isn't a dealership near you. Its system for making power and propulsion doesn't make a whole lot of sense. 

But the Karma GS-6 has one thing the rest do not: Novelty. And for a particular buyer, that's more than enough.

The GS-6 is a stunning design-forward vehicle for weirdos and non-conformists who know better cars exist but ignore them all for the sake of being a little different. The Karma sees the market—where cars are pitted more and more ferociously against each other based on on-paper performance—and turns its nose up at it. It is too avant-garde for the petty squabbles of the mainstream market. Those are not the buyers it appeals to.

I respect the hell out of that. It's so easy to get sucked up into range estimates and battery stats. Forget that noise! What's wrong with having some cash and just wanting a cool car that makes you feel cool while you're driving it? That's the niche the Karma GS-6 fulfills. It's a small niche. But it's there.

Kristen Lee

Got a tip? Email me at kristen@thedrive.com