Taking the Measure of the Polestar 1—a Gorgeous, Super-Fast Plug-In Hybrid

Yes, high-performance cars can be sustainable, especially if you take advantage of their extended battery range.

The Polestar 1 in one of the company’s salons, in San Jose, California.
The Polestar 1 in one of the company's salons, in San Jose, California.


“What exactly is that?” I got asked that question numerous times during the brief period I had custody of a $156,500 Polestar 1 plug-in hybrid (PHEV). And it’s not an easy answer. It’s not a Geely, and it’s not exactly a Volvo, either. But there’s no doubt it’s gorgeous, very fast and far friendlier to the environment than most supercars. 

Ensuring maximum exposure for the Polestar 1, I took it to two shows—the Green Wheels Expo put on by Sustainable Fairfield in Connecticut; and the Audrain Newport Concours in Newport, Rhode Island. People stopped in their tracks, unsure if it was a Maserati, a Ferrari, or maybe some new Tesla. 

Road & Track, which called Polestar 1 “the future of grand touring,” wrote, “If you think it looks lovely in pictures, wait until you see one on the road. The coupe turns heads everywhere it goes, pulling phones from pockets as if it has a special gravitational field. Its proportions are every bit as captivating as those of the best Aston Martins.”

It’s not a Volvo or a Geely, but instead is a car with a complex genesis. The Volvo Concept Coupe, with very similar styling, was first shown at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2013. It was even then a 395-horsepower PHEV and based on Volvo’s Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) platform. But it was a show car, albeit one everyone thought was very pretty. The stylist was Thomas Ingenlath, Volvo's head of design. 

It could have simply started life as a Volvo, but Chinese parent company Geely spun Polestar (originally a Swedish independent racing company) off as a brand for performance electrics. Having a high-profile supercar was deemed an advantage for the new brand. And that’s how the Volvo became Polestar 1, first shown at the Shanghai Auto Show in 2017. There’s now a more conventional $59,900 Polestar 2, a battery car that’s similar in layout to the Volvo XC40 Recharge. 

The Polestar 1 in line for Connecticut’s EV Parade.
The Polestar 1 in line for Connecticut’s EV Parade.

Jim Motavalli

Polestar 1 was always going to be exclusive, with just 1,500 built for the entire world. That’s 500 a year over three years. If that’s not rarefied enough, there’s a Special Edition (with matte gold paint, gold brake calipers, gold stitching, and a $5,000 higher price) limited to 25 globally. Production of all Polestar 1s will cease at the end of 2021. 

There is performance to match the go-faster looks. Like the show car, Polestar 1 has a turbo- and supercharged four-cylinder engine combined with three electric motors that give it all-wheel drive. The total output is 619 horsepower, with 783 pound-feet of torque. 

That performance is not theoretical. Zero to 60 takes 3.7 seconds. The Polestar 1 has 52 miles of all-electric range (Polestar claims 60, based on Euro testing), and it’s plenty fast in zero-emission mode (driven by the rear wheels). In line with the Lucid Air Dream Edition I recently drove in Arizona, it accelerates like the aforementioned Ferrari, but with none of the aural dramatics. Electric motors have full torque at zero rpm, which is why they win drag races. Sometimes they lose to gas cars on the top end, and the Polestar 1 is limited to 99 mph on batteries. 

The combination of 21-inch wheels shod with Pirelli P Zero tires and reassuring Akebono brakes kept the car on the road and stopped it in plenty of time. The body is mostly lightweight carbon fiber, but all the engineering and tech (including lots of Volvo safety gear) leads it to weigh in at a not-inconsiderable 5,165 pounds. It would weigh 500 pounds more if it weren’t for the carbon fiber. Still, it handles like a much lighter car—though as a driver you’re always conscious of how wide it is. 

The disadvantage of pretty supercars is that they’re cop magnets, so I was not tempted to “see what this baby could do.” At least it wasn’t red. But it’s not illegal to accelerate fast, and that was a rush every time in the Polestar 1. These cars are hand-built by Polestar at its low-volume factory in Chengdu, China, and that makes it one of the few American market vehicles produced there currently. And, no, Chinese manufacture is not a recipe for squeaks, rattles or badly fit panels. The car had none of those and achieved a high-quality feel with some parts from Volvo’s top-end models such as the S90 and V90. 

The controls, mostly on a large center screen, are fairly intuitive. I’d have liked a little more oomph out of the climate control system. There’s Bowers & Wilkins sound. The back seat is tiny and not really usable, and the trunk (while stylish, with a window into the battery compartment) holds only 4.4 cubic feet of cargo. It’s a weekend cruiser, encouraging two occupants to bring small suitcases. 

So here’s the bottom line: Buy the Polestar 1 and you will have to constantly field questions from an admiring public. By then, you’ll have the whole Volvo/Polestar/Geely story down, and can say, “There are only 1,500 of these in the world.” 

Is it sustainable? Yes, especially if you take full advantage of that 52 miles of EV range—very high for a PHEV. Several tire kickers at the Green Wheels Expo told me that they had range anxiety, and the Polestar 1’s 470 miles of total range was reassuring to them. 

The Polestar 1 has a 34-kilowatt-hour battery. It’s DC-fast-charge capable at 50 kilowatts (less than 35-minute charges), but at-home Level 2 will take four to eight hours. Ideally, owners will use electric power for most of their driving. But long-distance fast cruising—say, to Newport, Rhode Island for the concours d’elegance—is always available. In that way, it’s like a very fast, prettier Chevrolet Volt. 

The whole PHEV format is an interim technology. Yes, the 470 miles of total range is reassuring, but that Lucid Air has 520 miles on batteries alone. We’re going to see EV range get longer and longer, eliminating the need for a backup gas engine. 

The Polestar 1 is a limited-edition car and as such isn’t going to make much of a dent in global emissions. But as a way of convincing people that EVs are cool, it’s quite effective.