Funny, the Karma GS-6 doesn’t look 10 years old — and it doesn’t feel it either
If all sedans looked as sexy as the Karma GS-6, most of us would still be driving cars, not SUVs. But they don’t. That makes the GS-6’s very long, very low and very wide proportion an automotive thumb in the eye of suburban crossover conformity. And it’s glorious.
But there’s a catch.
When you’re paying close to, or more than, six figures for a car, you would expect the same features as competing cars in this class, and yet you don’t get them. The car doesn’t recognize the key fob in your pocket when it's nearby and automatically unlock. There’s no wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Nor is there wireless smartphone charging, rear USB ports or A/C vents, or an embedded navigation system.
And no, it won’t park itself nor drive itself.
That’s because, at its heart, this is a 10-year-old luxury car, one designed by Henrik Fisker as a "four-door Corvette," and originally sold in 2011 as the Fisker Karma. But trouble arose when Fisker’s battery supplier, A123, went belly-up. So did Fisker, after building 2,450 cars. It was scooped up by Chinese auto parts company The Wanxiang Group, which initially sold it as the Karma Revero.
Built in Moreno Valley, Calif., the same basic car returns as the Karma GS-6, boasting an updated driveline and a far lower price tag. Two 268-horsepower permanent-magnet electric motors power the rear wheels, thanks to a 28-kilowatt-hour battery pack and BMW's 228-horsepower turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder engine driving a range-extending generator. Known as a Series Plug-in Hybrid, much like the Chevrolet Volt, Cadillac ELR and BMW i8, the Fisker GS-6 generates 536 horsepower and 550 pound-feet of torque. Its range is 328 miles, going 61 miles in pure EV mode, which Karma calls “Stealth” mode. The updates provide 40% more energy than the original car’s 20.1 kwh, while the range-extending General Motors Ecotec 2.0-liter gas engine has been given the heave-ho.
And it’s the electric motors’ instant power that makes this car such a thrill to drive. Smooth, seamless, with 100% of the torque available from the moment you turn the GS-6 on, it proves to be fairly quick. But the BMW’s mill yowls unpredictably, and it doesn't coincide with an increase in speed, making for a disconnect that takes some getting used to.
Pushing it reveals the car’s rear-drive bias, with the tail coming around just when you order it. Body lean is absent most of the time, and the car’s grip is impressive and confidence-inspiring. The ride proves firm without being relentlessly punishing. Braking is very strong. The interior remains quiet, puncturing only by the engine at full roar, which sounds somewhat like a Ford Mustang with a blown muffler.
The menu includes the sort of driver-assistance systems you’d expect: adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, 360-degree surround view cameras, and parking distance monitoring. But when the blind spot monitor sounds, it mutes the audio system entirely — a true annoyance.
Recharging requires 40 minutes using a DC quick-charger, or six hours with a 240-volt Level 2 charger.
Climb inside and you’ll be greeted by a cabin that’s far superior to that of 10 years ago. The mix of leather, metal and carbon fiber trim is tastefully modern, well-assembled, and anchored by a 10.1-inch touchscreen that controls almost every system in the car. But it doesn’t handle some functions all that well, such as adjusting the power side mirrors. And some commands are hard to find, as they’re buried far too deep in sub-menus. Some shortcut buttons are located under the screen, but they’re not the ones you use most often. And both the instrument cluster and touchscreen backlight flickers. There’s nothing here that’s a deal breaker, just a reminder that the car is manufactured by a neophyte automaker.
Interestingly, the car’s paddle shifters function differently from most cars, which isn’t a surprise since the GS-6 uses a single-speed gearbox. The left paddle conveniently flips among drive modes, while the right side paddle adjusts the amount of regenerative braking being applied, although the car could benefit from more.
The car’s roominess is unchanged, with cozy seating for four separated by a console that runs the full length of the car. And accessing the rear seat accommodations is best left to the limber. And the shallow trunk will force you to pack lightly; it measures less than 7 cubic feet.
Yes, the Karma GS-6 has its idiosyncrasies; its design hasn’t been sanitized for your protection. It stands apart, garnering looks wherever it goes with a low sleek aura that defies convention. Still as radical a design statement now as it was in 2011. If it has its foibles, chalk it up to character, something so few cars now possess — even ones designed by Henrik Fisker. That makes the GS-6 one worth looking at if you’re shopping in this segment.
Just be sure NOT to call it a GL-6; that’s a Chinese-market Buick.
2021 Karma GS-6
Base price: $83,900
Propulsion: 1.5 liter, 3 -cylinder, turbocharged, plug-in series hybrid
Horsepower/Torque: 536/550 pound-feet
EPA fuel economy: 70MPGe/22 mpg combined
Range: 328 miles
Charge time: 6 hours
Length/Width/Height: 199.4/85.1/52.6 inches
Cargo capacity: 6.4 cubic feet