If Volvo (and parent company Geely) has their way, you’ll talk about the Polestar brand in the same way you do Tesla come 10 years from now. The car-making conglomerate’s new brand is as dedicated to pure electricity being the fuel of the future as Elon Musk’s NASDAQ-boosting brand, and taking the fight straight to them; the company’s forthcoming sedan is basically aimed straight at the Model 3, while the following model will be a sleek SUV with its sights set on the Model Y.
So, of course, this electric-only brand of tomorrow is launching with a plug-in hybrid — the same sort of joint gas/electric powertrain Chevrolet rolled into mass production 10 years ago in the Great Recession-era Volt.
Ah, but the Polestar 1 is not just any plug-in hybrid. It’s a sleek gran turismo with a gorgeous two-door carbon-fiber body, as much torque as a heavy-duty pickup truck and a price tag that sets it against some of the best luxury coupes on sale today. So to see if it deserves to be praised or forgotten, we took it for a day and a half of driving around New York and New Jersey. Here’s what we learned.
The Polestar 1 is an odd duck, but you wouldn’t know it to look at it
One glance at the Polestar 1 is enough to make its Volvo heritage apparent; indeed, it’s basically the spitting image of the Volvo Concept Coupe of 2013, just without the Austin Powers necklace in the middle of the grille. But while losing the logo would make most cars look like they escaped from a bank commercial, it actually helps the 1. The Polestar’s design is a true work of minimalist beauty, the sort of simple, clean automakers rarely turn out anymore. Muted shades — black, silver, gray and dark blue — are the only ones on offer, and they fit the car’s lines to a T. This is Scandinavian luxury done right.
If the surface seems every bit suited for a continent-crushing grand tourer, though, the power plant is a big surprise. That long hood that seems suited for a V12 or giant V8? Yeah, there’s a mere 2.0 liters and four cylinders of gas-burning engine below, the same inline-four that serves as the backbone of Volvo’s lineup. Like in Volvo’s top-tier models, it’s boosted by a turbocharger, a supercharger and electric motors. In the Polestar 1’s case, the gasoline engine (along with a small electric motor that adds a bit power but doesn’t work alone) sends energy to the front wheels alone, while two electric motors handle propulsion to the rear.
The result: a combined 600 horsepower and 738 pound-feet of torque. The latter is what feels the most prominent in everyday driving; the car zips forwards softly and instantaneously with an EV-like rush that presses you back in your seat. But the Polestar 1’s character changes even more than most hybrids based on what driving mode you’re in. You can leave it in EV-only mode (here dubbed “Pure”) more than most hybrids, as the 34-kWh battery provides enough range to cover 50-plus miles on electrons alone. The default is Hybrid, and it does what you’d think — toggling between powerplants as needs to balance thrust and economy. There’s another mode to lock it into AWD — a logical addition, given the brand’s Swedish roots — and finally, Power mode, which uncorks everything for maximum go.
The combined powertrain may sound hacked-together for a gran turismo, but the end result is a vehicle that seems perfectly suited for that task. The average daily commute can be knocked out on electric power alone, and it recharges fast enough — a 50-kW Level 3 charger gets it from 0 to 80 percent in less than an hour, while a Level 2 charger can fill it from empty in less than four — that you can top up every night with ease. Fuel economy on longer trips will likely be far better than any conventionally-powered GT, too — but the Polestar 1 still has the power to keep up when it’s time to hammer down.
The interior likely looks very familiar
If you’ve ever sat inside one of Volvo’s higher-end models, the Polestar 1’s interior should look plenty familiar. Indeed, the switchgear and infotainment setup are basically identical to what you’d find in the V90 or XC90, all the way down to the crystal shifter, booming stereo and impressive-but-slightly-laggy portrait-oriented touchscreen.(An advanced Alphabet-developed touchscreen system is coming to the Polestar 2 and subsequent models.)
The further back you go, however, the different it’ll look. Unlike any current Volvo, behind the comfortable thrones up front lie just two small seats, better suited to packages and small pets than humans. Walk back further to the trunk, and inside, you’ll see some of the Polestar’s thick orange electricals on product display, hidden behind transparent panels. It’s a nice little feature to remind you of your virtuous choice whenever you’re dropping cubic feet of Charmin into the back at Costco.
Even if you have the money, good luck getting one
The Polestar 1 lands at a well-equipped starting price of $155,000. (The only option: matte paint, at $5,000.) That effectively puts it right up against both other high-end hybrid speed machines like the Acura NSX and BMW i8 and conventionally-powered GTs like the Aston Martin DB11 V8 and the Mercedes-AMG S63.
Of course, you’re less likely to come across a 1 than you are any of those others, because this halo car is being sold in very exclusive numbers. Only 1,500 will be made over the course of three years, with the entire world — from China to Europe to Canada to the United States — sharing that pool of cars. So if it seems like the sort of car you want to park in your garage, we suggest booking your online reservation pronto. Once it formally hits the streets here later this year, it may be too late.
Price as Tested: $155,000
Drivetrain: Hybrid 2.0-liter turbocharged and supercharged inline-four and dual electric motors, eight-speed automatic, all-wheel-drive
Power: 600 hp, 738 lb-ft
Fuel Economy: Not yet rated
Seats: 2, with 2 spares in the back
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