Car Review: The Karma GS-6 Is Huge, But Oh So Beautiful
“People will take your picture,” the PR-guy said to me on the phone before they delivered the Karma GS-6 for me to take a quick two-day test in. Of course, I didn’t believe him... Of course, he was right.
By Brian Kennedy
Mon, Aug 23, 2021 01:00 PM PST
Photos By Gabriela Moya
On the first night I had the Karma, it happened. I was in a neighborhood with no shortage of Teslas and other expensive rides. I was waiting at a light, and a window rolled down opposite me and out came a cell phone grabbing an image. I’ll put it down to a combination of the handsomeness of the car and its uniqueness. Karma doesn’t build very many units, so as electric cars go, you don’t bump into one every day.
Speaking of the looks, my photographer didn’t recognize the car on the street when I parked it to embark for a test drive, and immediately said, “I thought it was a Ferrari” when I identified it before we left for our photo location work. This charming deception comes because while there are four doors, the design is so clever that the GS-6 looks like a swoopy two-door.
One drawback of the swoopiness, however, is oddball-shaped rear doors, which have what can best be called “protruding rear bits” which get in the way of entry/exit. Once you’re inside, though, there’s plenty of room to sit comfortably in the rear seat.
What you can’t see from behind a lens is how big this car is. More on that in a minute. First, let’s talk about how it drives, which can be summarized like this: When you’re in EV mode, the Karma conducts itself like a rocket ship.
All Electric. All The Time. Always EV.
To be clear, you’re actually never NOT in EV mode, because when the battery’s 38-mile range runs out and the gas engine comes on, it’s not to drive the wheels, but to act as a generator which charges the battery - which is always what gives the Karma its motive force. Hence the tagline on the Karma website, which otherwise could appear redundant: “All electric. All the time. Always EV.”
Three Modes of Regenerative Braking
To maximize its charge, the car grabs regenerative power when you’re braking or when you take your foot off the “gas” and activate one of the three regen-modes. You set which of the modes you want to use - three progressively more forceful modes - using a paddle shifter on the back right side of the steering wheel. This took a while to master, though it’s an interesting way to be interactive with the car in your driving around town. But is the driver behind you going to know how fast you’re slowing with no brake lights on? I didn’t have anyone follow me in the car, so I don’t know if there’s a warning. What I can say is that the third-tier deceleration was quite strong, like applying medium pedal pressure in other cars. It’s fine once you get used to it, though. [Editor's Note: We assume that the Karma, like most EVs, will turn on the brake lights when the deceleration is hard enough to warrant it].
When you’re in EV mode, the Karma conducts itself like a rocket ship.
That said, driving on the gas engine is nowhere near as nice an experience as when the battery is on full juice. The car doesn’t feel as fast, and the engine is not terribly quiet. Acceleration is not as direct-feeling or linear as in the no-gas-engine mode. This may - most probably - be a matter of perception on my part, but nonetheless, I was most happy when the car was running solo on battery.
Driving The Karma GS-6 In Sustain Mode
In order to see what would happen when the battery-only power ran out, I drove the car down to zero miles left in “Stealth” mode and noted that “Sustain” mode came on. The range was still shown as zero. My house does not have a plug-in that would be safe (no extension cords allowed), so I kept driving on gas-to-battery regen mode.
So as a daily-use car, even though you CAN go a few hundred miles on the battery alone and then on the battery powered by gas, you’re not going to have as much fun doing it on gas. The BMW-sourced engine is buzzy and feels like it’s underpowering the battery (again, semantics due to how the tech works to propel the car—the short version is, drive this thing on pure battery alone and you’ll be much more convinced of its refined nature.)
Back to the PR guy: He told me that the concept Karma was going for was a car that could be a trophy piece, driven to the country club to be admired. In that case, under 40 miles of range makes good sense. And it should also be noted that the price of that original model used to be about double what it now costs, which is in the $80K region. The company made the change for marketing purposes, to reposition the car against what richies with electric-vehicle tastes are actually buying. You already know what brand I’m referring to.
The Karma GS-6 Is Huge
What only a select audience will likely enjoy is the GS-6’s exterior hugeness. The car has 22-inch wheels, and it is so long you’ll never get it into many parking garage parking spaces. Perhaps that’s OK if you’re the CEO and get the prime spot near the door, then valet it at the restaurant for lunch (good luck, valet). But normal people who go to friends’ apartments or park their own car at hockey games are just not going to be able to maneuver this monster very well. Note, however, that it sits on comparable dimensions to the Porsche Panamera, according to the company.
I’m not sure why the car has to be this big, though it obviously must have an adequate platform for its battery cargo. Did no one think about the daily use hassles such a huge wheelbase and grand dimensions would pose? The car, for all its size, is also rather difficult to climb down into, the driving position being sporty-low.
Moving to the interior, things are ultra-refined with the only complaint being the fact that some switchgears, like the interior door latches, are just too small for no good reason (that I could see). The rear window is also small, but that’s a matter of styling and is a nitpick that one could make about almost any modern car, where styling pinches down rearward visibility.
Almost 40 Gauges To Choose From
There’s a user-configurable gauge package, and you can choose - this is not a typo - from upwards of 40 gauges to display. Many of them offer information irrelevant to 99% of drivers (HVAC Pressure, anyone?), but what the heck—if you like toys, you get them here.
Like most hybrids, the GS-6 has multiple driving modes - notably Stealth, Sustain, and Sport - and various monitors for keeping an eye on how the power is being generated and expended. The feel of these gauges, which work with sweeping, curving graphics, is more yoga than robot, with the latter being the style most often seen in hybrids - at least those which I’ve had the most experience with. When I say “yoga,” I mean it as a compliment. You monitor your progress, power reserve, and other mechanical functions with gently undulating graphics that seem upscale. However, having driven a bunch of gas-electric cars, I find now that I don’t bother with the complicated displays. Just tell me what my MPG is, or give me an idea of what range I’ve got, thank you.
Summary And Verdict
In sum, this is probably the most handsome of the current crop of independent-brand cars. Some drivers will probably be shocked at its size and will not likely enjoy the job of pointing it in the right direction in confined spaces. However, as noted, the actual dimensions are - supposedly - on par with other large luxury sedans...
Should You Buy A Karma GS-6?
So should you buy one? You’d be getting something with outstanding styling and obvious refinement. You’d be getting something that not everybody in your bridge club will have. You’ll be keeping Elon Musk from taking over even more of the world. You’ll be supporting California-based engineers and production workers.
But look at the whole Karma range first. This car is gaining a brother, a pure EV with a slightly lower price - the GSe-6 - which might better suit if you have a 50-or-so mile round-trip commute and charging facilities at one or both ends.
Drive the Karma. Drive the Panamerica, and try a Lucid. Then see whether you like what Karma has put together for the money. If you’ve got this kind of cash, beauty should matter - and in that case, the Karma is going to come out on top.
Check out our video review of the Karma GS-6!
About The Author
Brian Kennedy always wanted a ’66 Mustang. 10 years ago, he bought one – and he’s been restoring it ever since. Brian extended his passion for cars by covering events for magazines like Grassroots Motorsports, Sportscar, and Victory Lane – e.g., events in Cart, Pro Rally, Formula Atlantic, the SCCA Runoffs, Trans Am, SVRA, VSCDA, and VARA. He’s also profiled a number of cars and interviewed a number of personalities – among them: Gene Felton (IMSA), Hurley Haywood, Jerry Seinfeld, and Nigel Olsson.