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Review: The $155,000 Polestar 1 is unlike any car on the road - and a collector's item waiting to happen

Kristen Lee   

Review: The $155,000 Polestar 1 is unlike any car on the road - and a collector's item waiting to happen
  • The Polestar 1 is a hybrid coupe from Geely, the Chinese parent company behind Lotus and Volvo.
  • It's a slick-looking thing that returned nearly 60 miles of electric-only driving in our testing.
  • But it's expensive and rare; the starting price is $155,000 and only 1,500 examples will be made.

It's not often a car will stop pedestrians in their tracks because they have no idea what it is, other than that its visage, wide and low, has grabbed their attention.

But the Polestar 1 makes a game of it.

I assume because you've clicked on this story that you have some inkling of what Polestar is. You're aware that it's a new, electrified luxury brand from Geely, the Chinese parent company that bankrolls Volvo and Lotus. You've perhaps heard of Polestar's second car, the 2, which is an all-electric sedan.

The $155,000 Polestar 1 is Polestar's first production car since its inception in 2017. It has two doors, two electric motors, and one gasoline engine. Production began last year at the automaker's Chengdu, China, plant.

Thus, the 1 is still quite new. Most people still haven't seen one before. But when they do, they won't forget it.

The exclusivity is a feature, not a bug

As a new brand, it's obvious that Polestar wanted to break from the ordinary with the 1. It's a slick, badge-free, plug-in hybrid coupe with the styling and proportions of a futuristic muscle car.

And it'll be exclusive. A Polestar spokesperson told us that production will be capped at just 1,500 examples, with a three-year production run and 500 cars available per year. Your odds of running across one in the wild are slim, and they always will be.

Positioned as a halo model, this is the aspirational Polestar with an aspirational price tag.

Details and safety ratings: Combined power

The 1's propulsion comes via a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder, supercharged and turbocharged engine that drives the front wheels, which makes a claimed 326 horsepower and 384 pound-feet of torque.

Two electric motors drive the rear wheels, producing a claimed 232 horsepower and 354 pound-feet of torque. Total system output is a claimed 619 horsepower and 738 pounds-feet of torque, and the 1 comes with an eight-speed automatic transmission.

The battery is a 384-volt lithium-ion battery that's positioned along the car's floor and over its rear axle.

Polestar estimates the 1 to sprint from 0 to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds and have a top speed of 155 mph. The estimated mileage comes to 21 mpg in the city, 31 mpg on the highway, 25 mpg combined, and 60 MPGe.

The 1 measures 15 feet long, 4.4 feet tall, 6.4 feet wide, and has 4.4 cubic feet of trunk space. If the cargo room sounds small, it's because it is.

And despite the extensive use of carbon fiber-reinforced polymer in most of the 1's main body parts, shaving off more than 500 (!) pounds, its curb weight still comes to a whopping 5,170 pounds (again: !).

As of this writing, the Polestar 1 has not been rated for crashworthiness by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

What stands out: Power and beauty

If it isn't the best-looking car available today, the Polestar 1 is mighty close. It's built on the same platform as Volvo's gorgeous S90 sedan and also shares a few of its design cues. The general profile silhouette and the shape of the Thor's hammer headlights and taillights are all carried over.

But besides that, the removal of the rear doors and the elongation of the front doors gives the car a stretched, instantly eye-catching look. With its low window line and broad, horizontal grille, the 1 is striking.

The 1's claimed 619 horsepower might be scary to read, but it's very tame in practice. Acceleration is never met by any sort of violence. It's not the same kick-in-the-head feel you'd get from a powerful combustion-engine car, nor is it that spooky, all-at-once warp drive you get from a high-power EV. Rather, it blends that elasticky-feel of electric acceleration with slight pauses in power from the engine's transmission.

Speed in the 1 turns you into a shark, moving powerfully through dark water: sleek, forceful, quiet, but low-slung, especially when in the performance-oriented Power mode. The 1 is anything but light and it moves like it, too. You know what a plane feels like when it's taking off? How you can feel both the mass and velocity combine into momentum? It's like that.

But the most remarkable part of the 1 was its all-electric driving capabilities. The gasoline engine will only kick in when you exceed 99 mph or when you floor the accelerator aggressively. Otherwise, you're free to go about your business in rear-wheel drive, EV-only mode.

Polestar estimates EV-only driving to return 60 miles. I managed 55.8 miles of emissions-free driving through Vermont's Green Mountain National Forest on a curvy, 50-mph road with few stops and slowdowns.

What falls short: Tiny trunk, anyone?

I'd planned on running off with the 1 for 10 days, so I packed like I was going away for 10 days. We brought our medium-sized bags and thought nothing of it - surely, the big grand-tourer would also have a spacious enough trunk to accommodate us.

Reader, we thought wrong. We thought so wrong.

It was almost like a scene from a movie. I opened the trunk for the first time and felt my eyes pop in shock at the shoebox of space I had to work with. Just as this happened, someone walked around from the other side of the car after admiring it. They said they'd just watched a review of it on YouTube but learned that "the trunk's really tiny, isn't it?"

You don't say!

It's not like the back seats can fold down, either. So what did we do? We stuffed as much as we could into the trunk and piled the rest of our things in the back seats and on the floor. It worked.

I use "back seats" liberally here, because there isn't much headroom or legroom. In a pinch, they work, but I wouldn't want to put anyone there for an extended amount of time. Anyone I liked, anyway.

The 1 also comes with Pilot Assist, Volvo's advanced semi-autonomous feature that includes adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist. Pilot Assist was great on long stretches of highway.

I turned it on, set the following distance for as far as it would go, and kept my hands lightly on the wheel as the car followed the road's curves and kept to my desired speed. It definitely cut down on driving fatigue.

It wasn't a perfect system, though. Sometimes the car would inexplicably hang out in one extreme side of the lane. Other times, when the system couldn't "see" the road's lane markers anymore, it would deactivate the lane-keeping function without much warning. The green lane-keeping light would turn off - that was your only hint. I would have appreciated some kind of auditory cue.

On this front, I preferred Tesla's Autopilot, General Motors' Super Cruise, and Mercedes-Benz's Drive Pilot over Pilot Assist.

Strangely, the 1's suspension didn't ride as softly as one would expect from a grand-tourer. Ride quality was on the harder side, with no setting to soften it. It seemed at odds with the otherwise smooth transmission, engine, motors, and brakes.

I have one complaint and it's about money

And here we arrive at my biggest gripe about the Polestar 1. It is very expensive.

The starting price is $155,000, which includes all options. Matte exterior paint is an extra $5,000.

Other luxury grand-tourers in that price range include the Porsche 911, Mercedes-AMG GT, BMW M8, Aston Martin Vantage, and Audi R8. Among hybrids, it competes against the BMW i8, which isn't being made anymore, and the Acura NSX.

But! The Polestar 1's hybrid powertrain certainly gives it an edge over gasoline engine-only cars. It's more powerful than the i8 and far more practical than the NSX, which has no back seats and a minuscule rear trunk. (Hilariously, though, the NSX's trunk is the same size as the 1's.)

And the Polestar 1 is being made in very limited numbers. For some, the exclusivity could be the only thing that matters.

Our impressions: A future classic

After completely draining the battery, charging the 1 took the better part of 24 hours while plugged into a garage wall outlet (I have no idea what the voltage was). Combined with the EV-only driving, I put 472 miles on the car before I stopped to fill it up. Per my own calculations, I was getting 37 mpg.

I have real trouble getting over the price, though. There's no denying the Polestar 1's exquisite looks and notable range returns, but I can't get over how it commands Aston Martin money. That's especially true when the interior, beautiful as it is, doesn't offer the Android operating system natively - as the all-electric Polestar 2 does - and appears to have been lifted straight out of a Volvo, which costs a mere fraction of the 1.

The driving experience, too, isn't transcendent the way the Porsche Taycan EV's was. Don't get me wrong, it was very nice and the combined power makes you feel like a tacit force, but the curb weight does not make the car feel particularly agile. It is happiest sitting at speed, quietly, on a highway, or sweeping along a wide back road in a brisk but not breakneck pace.

But I can also easily see this 1 becoming a future classic. It's already got the looks and exclusivity.

Plug-in hybrids are that weird stop-gap right on our road to cutting out the reliance on fossil fuels altogether. Cars such as the Toyota RAV4 Prime and the Polestar 1 offer more range than most current EVs and they're largely more powerful than their solely combustion-engine counterparts. Until the EV revolution fully takes hold, plug-in hybrids are our long-distance and efficiency solution.

But when the EV revolution finally does happen, I bet we'll look back on cool hybrids like the Polestar 1 with the same sort of nostalgia that people look back on vintage analog cars now.

The 1 is a very specific response to a very specific transitional stage of today's automotive market. Had it come 10 years earlier, maybe people would have dismissed it as just another Prius.

But advancements in manufacturing and battery technology have given us a contemporary plug-in hybrid that is not only mighty and fast, but will also age gracefully in the coming decades. It's met with a buying populace that's only becoming more and more willing to embrace electrified cars.

The Polestar 1 is here - now - to enjoy this very propitious moment in automotive history. When it goes, it likely will not return again.


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