A few years back, Volvo branched its performance tuning arm, Polestar, into an independent, premium electric performance brand. In 2020, Polestar led off with the Polestar 1 — a 619-horsepower plug-in hybrid sports coupe. It's a very limited run; Polestar is only building 1,500 of them globally. It's jaw-droppingly expensive, starting at $155,000 — nearly $20,000 more than a Porsche 911 Carrera GTS. And it still looks like a Volvo — a sexy Volvo, sure, but still very much a Volvo.
The Polestar 1 is a car rife with contradictions. Is it the car of the future? Is it the outmoded car of a plug-in hybrid future that never materialized? Did it make the intended statement about Polestar's intent? Was it a non-entity? Will it be rare and collectible? Or will it be remembered as rare and weird?
Polestar offered us one last 48-hour turn behind the wheel in a Polestar 1 before it leaves production in a bid to find out.
Driving a Polestar 1 makes you a de facto brand ambassador
When you drive the Polestar 1, friends, family members and (in my case) guys doing sewer maintenance in the street all have the same question — a variation of "what the heck is that?" It's not because the Polestar 1 is particularly striking, although some may say it is; it's because the general (non-obsessively automotive media-reading public) doesn't know what Polestar is.
There are no Polestar dealerships (in the traditional sense). The logo isn't familiar. Most people probably haven't seen a Polestar in the wild, much less the super-rare Polestar 1. And unless you want to be awkward and abrupt with a Polestar 1 in the driveway, it's now your responsibility to educate them.
The Polestar 1 doesn't look like a $155,000 car in person
The Polestar 1 is sleek and elegant. I'm supposed to love it. But it's subtle — and when you pay $155,000-plus for a sports car, you don't want chic Scandinavian minimalism; you want it to look like a $155,000-plus sports car. I asked my wife to walk outside and tell me how expensive she thought the Polestar 1 was when it arrived. She came back into the house and told me, "$45,000."
I found myself doing the last thing you want to do when driving a $155,000-plus sports car: dropping the Polestar 1's purchase price into conversations to prime other people to muster the appropriate level of excitement.
This first Polestar is still very much a Volvo
The Polestar 1's raison d'être is to set the tone for the Polestar brand and establish an independent identity from Volvo. A 600-plus-hp sports coupe isn't something Volvo would traditionally build, after all.
But the Polestar 1 remains very, very Volvo-y. It runs on the same Volvo Scalable Product Architecture that underpins virtually every Volvo. The interior was cobbled together from the Volvo parts bin. And like today's high-performance Polestar versions of Volvo cars, there's a lot is going on under the hood.
The gas engine is a turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-liter inline-four (a variant of the four-pot found in every Volvo vehicle). That engine, supplemented with an integrated electric motor that also works as a starter-generator, drives the front of the car. Separate dual electric motors drive the rear wheels. The total output comes to 619 hp and 738 lb-ft.
That sounds absolutely monstrous, no?
Sort of. The Polestar 1 can be pretty rapid. You get high-performance Pirelli tires and big Akebono brakes. It's more of a grand tourer than a track performer — it's 400 pounds heavier than a Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro — though the stiff suspension will remind you of the latter. The suspension is adjustable, though you have to do it manually. (And who wants to do that, really?)
The Polestar 1 is vert versatile. You can drive as a front-wheel-drive (gas-powered) or rear-wheel-drive (electric) car. You can lock in all-wheel drive. You can use an efficient Hybrid mode, or throw it in Power mode to deploy maximum performance — which is not how you're going to drive it most of the time. The result, though: the Polestar 1 performs, but it can be hard — even over a 110-mile test route — to settle in and find a driving setup that feels natural and engaging.
That said, the Polestar 1 — by pricey grand tourer standards — is efficient. I swapped modes during my 110-mile ride and drove on a mix of road types; draining nearly the entire battery, I averaged around 38 mpg for the trip.
Will the Polestar 1 be a collectible piece of automotive history?
Polestar calls the Polestar 1 a "collector's item" and treats it like one. My test car's side panels featured a Polestar 1 decal with a little explainer, as though it were already on display in a museum. That effect is compounded by a glass display case showing off the electric plugs in the (quite tiny) trunk. And it will have rarity — and by some measures, good looks on its side.
One could argue the Polestar 1 — with 619 hp and 50-plus miles of EV-only range — is a great achievement. But to what end? PHEVs have their strong points, but their only future is as stopgaps for high-performance cars like the BMW M5 while we wait for battery tech to improve. Will the Polestar 1 feel like a classic car or dated dead-end tech?
One could argue the Polestar 1 testifies to what Volvo and Polestar haven't achieved yet on the EV front. The Polestar 1 launched concurrently with the Porsche Taycan, which is better, cheaper, all-electric and throws in two extra doors. I drove a 1,000-hp Hummer that's more than a second quicker than the Polestar 1 from 0-60 mph earlier this year.
But despite its contradictions, the Polestar 1 achieved its mission
The Polestar 1 got people — at least in the automotive world — talking. You could see an alternate reality where Polestar didn't push out a limited-run halo sports coupe, and the brand instead proceeds to market with its affordable normcore all-electric liftback Polestar 2, which definitely could have been a Volvo. In that world, it's not so clear why Polestar exists.
The Polestar 1 primed us to expect more from the brand. It's at least indirectly the reason many car enthusiasts will be excited about the upcoming Polestar 3 crossover launch. And the success of that more conventional market play may determine how posterity treats the Polestar 1.
2021 Polestar 1
Powertrain: Turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-liter inline-four hybrid; 8-speed automatic; all-wheel drive.
Torque: 738 lb-ft
EPA Rated EV Range: 52 miles