November 29, 2021

350lachine

Automotive pure lust

2021 Karma GS-6 Fixes the Fisker Karma

If only Henrik’s version had been this good. That thought popped into your author’s head on a drive from Los Angeles to Palm Springs in a 2021 Karma GS-6 plug-in hybrid. Roughly halfway into the 107-mile trip, the 24.6-kWh lithium-ion battery pack had given all it could, at which point the BMW-sourced turbocharged 1.5-liter inline-three under the hood fired up to keep power flowing to the pair of electric motors out back. At highway speeds, the transition to gasoline power snuck up on us. It took about 10 miles for us to notice, despite the gauge cluster alerting us that the range-extending engine was now in use.

Karma Correction in Just 10 Years

With the introduction of the GS-6, it finally appears that someone got the Fisker Karma right. Car designer Henrik Fisker is no longer involved nor is the company that bore his name. Fisker’s company made about 2000 or so Fisker Karma plug-in hybrids about a decade ago. Once the model name, Karma is now the brand that sells the heavily updated Fisker creation. That name change is one of many changes made by Chinese auto-parts supplier Wanxiang after it scooped up the smoldering remains of Fisker Automotive and decided to reintroduce the lusty luxury car under a new name, Revero, in 2017.

Steve SilerCar and Driver

Karma’s early Reveros weren’t much different than Fisker’s version and suffered from many of the problems of the original. Like the Fisker version, the Revero had impractical packaging, a smallish interior, outlandish pricing, and fit and finish in need of some TLC. Worst of all, it neither worked as an extended-range electric car nor a sports sedan. With a driver and a passenger aboard, the original Karma’s weight surpassed 5500 pounds, and that prevented its twin, 402-hp electric powertrain on the rear axle from propelling it to 60 mph any quicker than a modern Toyota Camry V-6. We couldn’t get more than 24 to 28 miles of electric driving from its battery before its 260-hp turbocharged four-banger kicked on to extend the range, bleating like an angry goat while sucking down fuel like a mid-size SUV.

Steve SilerCar and Driver

Karma introduced the Revero with a detuned version of General Motors’s turbo four and a slightly larger battery pack, but that wasn’t enough to improve the car’s range, performance, and weight problems. Then came the 2020 Revero GT with mildly restyled front and rear fascias, improved aerodynamics, and new rear-axle motors producing a combined 536 horsepower, 134 more ponies than before. Out went the GM engine, and in went a BMW i8’s turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder as the range extender. Karma then installed a more energy-dense 24.6-kWh lithium-ion battery pack. Thus equipped and a claimed 357 pounds trimmer, the new Revero (according to Karma) could now hit 60 mph in 4.5 seconds and travel 71 miles on a single charge. Armed now with stats to match the styling, Revero GT seemed more interesting, although with a price remaining well into six-figure territory, we weren’t sure it was more compelling.

Priced Aligned, Product Refined

In fall 2020, Karma unveiled the visually—and mechanically—identical GS-6 models that, starting at $85,700, are more than $60K less than the least expensive 2021 Revero GT. Even in its pricier Luxury and Sport trim levels, which start at $95,700 and $105,700, respectively, the GS-6 seems like a relative bargain. An electric-only GSe-6 model will start at $81,700. Stir in applicable local and federal incentives and the deal gets even sweeter, especially when one considers that the GS-6, like the Revero and the Fisker Karma before it, remains mostly hand-built, even after Karma relocated the production facility from Finland to Moreno Valley, California.

Steve SilerCar and Driver

That’s nice, you say, but what about all the numerous design and packaging problems that helped doom the Karma a decade ago? Well, not everything has been fixed. The weird 10-year-old push-button shifter remains, for example, but the hideous original steering wheel and uncomfortable seats have been replaced with better stuff. Cabin space remains snug, and it continues to be hard to get into, especially in back. The inches-off-the-ground seating position feels lower than ever, which may turn off folks who may have become acclimated to driving trucks and crossovers. Once you’re in, the seating position and the view out the windshield will make owners of a C6 or C7 Corvette feel right at home.

Nearly everything inside the Luxury-trim car we drove was swathed in buttery black, expertly sewn Bridge of Weir leather. Carbon-fiber accents dress things up, and there’s almost no exposed plastic. The dashboard design lacks the Tomorrowland feel of a Tesla or a Lucid, let alone the upcoming Mercedes-Benz EQS, but it’s not embarrassingly outdated. The GS-6’s digital gauge cluster and infotainment-system controls are highly configurable. Information-obsessed drivers can call up several dozen different gauges and displays monitoring everything from energy flow to g-forces to various trip-computer readouts.

Steve SilerCar and Driver

Fun, Fast, and … Flatulent?

If the battery is at least 90 percent charged, the GS-6 offers a launch mode, which is engaged when the car is in Sport mode via the leftmost steering-wheel paddle, then mashing both pedals while stopped. The BMW three-cylinder revs to about 4000 rpm and a countdown indicator appears on the dashboard. Once ready, simply release the brake and the car catapults forward like a ball bearing out of a slingshot, mashing you into the seatback while the engine emits a flatulent, high-pitched wail until you release the accelerator. It’s fun, if not terribly pleasant to hear. Furthermore, it’s repeatable again and again “as long as you’ve got enough fuel and tires,” said Karma’s training technical and sales training manager, John Albinson. And we did, many times.

We’d like to strap our own test equipment to the GS-6 soon, but until then, we can summarily state that Fisker’s, er, Karma’s sedan is the best it’s ever been. But Tesla’s EV success has shifted the market away from plug-in hybrids like the GS-6 and toward EVs. Still, for buyers looking for a plug-in hybrid with concept-car looks, the Karma remains an iconoclast’s choice. It took a decade to get it right, but if Henrik’s car had been this well sorted from the start, things might have turned out very differently for his company.

Specifications

Specifications

2021 Karma GS-6

VEHICLE TYPE

mid- and rear-motor, front engine-driven generator, rear-wheel-drive, 4-passenger, 4-door sedan

BASE PRICE

$85,700

MOTORS

2 permanent-magnet synchronous AC motors, 536 hp, 550 lb-ft (combined)

BATTERY

Lithium-ion, 24.6 kWh

GENERATOR

turbocharged and intercooled DOHC 12-valve 1.5-liter inline-3, 170 kW

TRANSMISSION

direct drive

DIMENSIONS

Wheelbase: 124.4 in

Length: 199.4 in

Width: 78.1 in

Height: 52.4 in

Passenger volume: 96 ft3

Trunk volume: 6 ft3

Curb weight (C/D est): 5350 lb

PERFORMANCE (C/D EST)

60 mph: 4.4–4.5 sec

100 mph: 13.4–13.5 sec

1/4 mile: 13.6–13.7 sec

Top speed: 125 mph

EPA FUEL ECONOMY 

Combined/city/highway: 22–26/22–27/21–25 mpg

Combined gasoline+electricity: 62–70 MPGe

EV range: 54–61 miles

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