2021 Karma GS-6 First Drive Review | Seriously attractive deal

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The car we know today as the 2021 Karma GS-6 has an odd history and a couple of name changes. We first knew it as the flawed but beautiful Fisker Karma. In 2014, Karma Automotive formed to take over the model and evolved it into a very impressive series plug-in hybrid called the Revero GT. Now it gets another name change, as the Revero GT will become the name for a far more powerful flagship electric car. But outside the name change, not much differentiates the GS-6 from the older Revero. Well, except for one thing: it's now cheaper. And all of that is fantastic, because the car is still one of the coolest things on the street and drives superbly. If you can overlook some of its flaws, it's one of the best, most fun green cars available today.

Part of the appeal is that undulating sheetmetal and low stature. It sits only about as high as my Miata, and the driving position feels that way, too. Despite being extremely similar to the nearly decade old Fisker, it hasn't lost any of its power to grab attention, all of it positive. My next-door neighbor said it should be illegal for a four-door to look so good. And when I was out taking photos for this story, a random man out for a walk stopped to ask me all about it. Teslas and Mustang Mach-Es may have the publicity to generate attention, but the Karma does it entirely on the basis that it's unquestionably drop-dead gorgeous.

The swoopy body does require some sacrifice, though. Front occupants will have reasonable space, but visibility is comparable to a Camaro (i.e. not great). And although it may be a four-door, in practice, it's closer to a 2+2 coupe. There are only two seats in the back thanks to a huge center tunnel, and leg room is very tight. Adults can fit, but just barely. That's disappointing if you're comparing the Karma to, say, a BMW 8 Series Gran Coupe, but on the flipside, it's a lot better than an actual two-door 8 Series Coupe. Cargo space is also quite small at just 6.4 cubic feet, and there's no front trunk since the gas engine fits up there. Then again, if you treat it more like a traditional coupe, you've got back seats that will happily accept more cargo should the need arise.

2021 Karma GS-6
2021 Karma GS-6

The interior is still very clearly based on the original Fisker version, but it has aged well. It's fairly simple, has a low dash, and it has various high-quality details that make it enjoyable. The cluster of crystal-like buttons for gear selection is stylish, and nearly every surface is covered in soft leather or faux suede. Other surfaces featured carbon fiber in my tester, but various wood trim can be selected, too.

The interior has been significantly upgraded in the technology department, which has helped it age gracefully. Both the instrument cluster and the center stack are dominated by screens that are very high-resolution, bright and clear. They use unique and stylish geometric graphics, too, that look like nothing in any other production car. The center touchscreen is very responsive and fast. It makes the car genuinely feel up-to-date and modern. But again, with great form comes reduced function. The center touchscreen requires flipping through a decent number of menus to find things, and a lack of redundant physical buttons can be annoying at times.

The biggest interface issue is with the touch-sensitive buttons on the steering wheel. They're multi-function, and selecting different menus can change what certain buttons will do. This can lead to accidental changes in radio station or volume, what's displayed on the screen and accidental setting changes. They're not terribly responsive, either. The use of dimples for button position reference is welcome, as are the haptic rumbles, but really, these buttons could use a rethink.

2021 Karma GS-6
2021 Karma GS-6

With a pretty body but a hit-and-miss interior, the Karma needs to be great to drive to be an appealing machine, and it absolutely delivers. It's powered by dual electric motors powering all four wheels. They make 536 horsepower and 550 pound-feet, enough to propel the roughly two-and-a-half-ton sedan to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds when in Sport mode. That mode causes the turbocharged 1.5-liter BMW three-cylinder to kick on to ensure there's enough power to run the electric motors. For reference, that acceleration is quicker than the base Porsche Taycan or the base Porsche Panamera. And it certainly feels that quick, but with a clear electric power delivery. So it has lots of initial thrust from the instant torque, and it tapers off a bit as speeds rise. It is extremely smooth due to the lack of multiple transmission speeds, and the throttle response is nicely smoothed, so it doesn't feel jumpy nor does it violently take off. It's also great to have lots of power in electric mode, as opposed to some other plug-in hybrids like the aforementioned Panamera that has very little electric horsepower.

There are three drive modes to pick from. Stealth is electric-only, even when going full throttle. In this mode, if you keep your foot planted, the power drops off quite a bit more than in the other two modes. That's because in the other two modes, the gas engine spins up to provide additional electricity generation. Sustain will keep the engine off as much as possible and focus on efficient use of the engine. Sport, as we've touched on, will bring the engine in sooner for maximum performance, and it will keep it on more often.

Most of the time, the Karma won't really use the gas engine, or at the very least passengers probably won't notice it. Thanks to its 28-kWh battery, it has an electric range of 80 miles, which should suffice for most daily use. But when you do run out of electricity, the BMW engine is amazingly well-isolated. If you don't have the tachometer on display, you'll be hard pressed to know it's running, even at idle. It's thoroughly impressive, and it helps maintain the smooth, quick and electric character of the car. Unfortunately, the GS-6 isn't particularly efficient when running solely on the gas engine once the battery has been depleted. It gets 26 miles per gallon combined on 21-inch wheels, and 22 mpg combined on 22-inch wheels. That'll top the Panamera hybrids, but you'll want to maximize your electric range for green driving and try to save the engine usage for when you need to cover really long distances. To do that, you'll be glad for the Karma's standard DC fast charging. Maximum charging is 45-kW, which Karma says will get you to 90% charge in 34 minutes.

2021 Karma GS-6
2021 Karma GS-6

Though the engine is darn quiet most of the time, if you're demanding maximum power that all changes. Karma decided to use an adaptive exhaust that makes the engine noisy when driving hard. It's a misguided idea, as you end up with a droning engine that acts as though it's running through a CVT. It actually makes you want to avoid using every horsepower available. Maybe it's secretly a way to encourage greener driving? Thankfully, most of the time you won't encounter this, and usually not for long.

While the powertrain is wonderful 90% of the time, the chassis is wonderful for the full 100%. The GS-6 doesn't have any fancy chassis or suspension adjustment, and it doesn't need it. It has a brilliant balance between ride and handling. It corners flat, feels neutral and has a lot of grip. It's super stable, too. The steering, which is somewhat light, even has some feedback. And yet, it feels surprisingly soft and comfortable over bumps. The chassis is very stiff, and you don't hear any creaks, squeaks or rattles. And speaking of noises, or the lack of them, it's very quiet with no road, wind or tire noise to fill the mostly engine-less void.

The final note to cover on the GS-6 is its price. Although destination charges haven't been revealed, the price before then starts at $83,900, though the highest trim will start above $100,000. That's still about $50,000 less than the Revero GT's base price last year, and it's basically the same car. Not only that, it's almost the same price as a base Taycan or Tesla Model S, and about $4,000 less than a base Panamera. It's also less than a BMW 8 Series Gran Coupe or a Mercedes-AMG GT sedan. Karma will even have a full-electric model called the GSe-6 that's cheaper at $79,900 before destination and launches later this year. These prices are before government EV tax incentives are applied.

Put simply, it's hard to get a more amazing combination of looks, comfort and driving enjoyment than what you get in the Karma GS-6, doubly so at this price point. There are some small compromises, and buyers worried about practicality might want to shop instead for a big, boxy crossover. For everyone else, the GS-6's quirks are a small price to pay considering the rest of the impressive package.

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