From the February 2020 issue of Car and Driver.
New EV brands are sprouting faster than marijuana stores in Los Angeles. In the next few years, Aspark, Bollinger, Byton, Faraday, Lordstown, and probably a few others we can’t remember promise to do big things. Specifically, build actual cars that can be bought and driven. And while we’re learning and forgetting all these new names—thanks a lot, short-term memory loss—we’re grateful to be already familiar with at least one: Polestar.
Polestar, formerly Volvo’s performance subbrand, is now leading the move into electrified vehicles. Volvo’s owner, Chinese automaker Geely, is responsible for this, and the 1 is Polestar’s appropriately named first offering. Already, we also have the electric-only 2, a high-roof four-door hatchback with a 275-mile range. The two-door 1 is not an EV, but it established this offshoot as a builder of beautiful objects.
The 1’s design is based on the Volvo Concept Coupe from several years ago. Wide, relatively low, and graced with the right long-hood proportions that made coupes popular in the ’70s and ’80s, the 1 is elegant and draws long, envious stares without resorting to superfluous vents, creases, chrome, or flares. In the interest of weight reduction, the shapely bod is made entirely of carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic. Polestar claims that if it weren’t for the lightweight construction, its two-plus-two-seat coupe would weigh some 500 pounds more. Even so, the 1 is heavy. At 5184 pounds, it’s 744 pounds more than a fully optioned Kia Telluride.
Under that carbon-fiber body lies the steel structure of Volvo’s SPA platform with one major modification. To boost the strength of the structure, the 1 has a carbon-fiber support under the rear seats that ties together the floor and the trunk section. But the SPA pieces are not what give the 1 its weight.
The mass is largely due to the 34.0-kWh battery pack that runs down the spine of the car and between the rear wheels. Pop open the trunk and you’ll see what looks like a battery in a fish tank. It takes up much of the room back there, leaving only four cubic feet of storage space. But the lithium-ion pack provides an estimated 60 miles of electric range and motivates the two 114-hp electric motors that power the rear end. Turning the front wheels is Volvo’s ubiquitous supercharged and turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four. All by its lonesome, it makes 326 horsepower, but there’s also a 71-hp motor-generator connected to it to boost acceleration and wake the engine up when it shuts off at stoplights.
Together the whole combo provides all-wheel drive, makes 619 horsepower and 738 pound-feet of torque, and helps you appreciate the softness of the leather seats by shoving you into them hard. Pinning the go pedal to the carpet unleashes all the available power, leading to a 3.7-second run to 60. In Hybrid mode, the dominant power source is electricity and the Polestar is a rear-drive car. Run the battery low or floor the accelerator and the engine joins the party. The electric motors ensure that there’s instant thrust at the ready at all times, but the four-cylinder is also punchy and willing, provided it’s running.
Passing acceleration is stunning. The 30-to-50-mph time of 1.9 seconds feels close to instant. Switch from Hybrid to Power mode and the gas engine will hum along, anticipating action. But humming isn’t the same as singing, and a car that looks this good, offers this much performance, and costs this much money—$156,500 to be exact—deserves something more melodious than the gravelly voice of a 2.0-liter four-cylinder.
Faced with a mountain road like the ones hanging above Los Angeles, the Polestar displays the easy fluidity of a lighter car. Not much strength is required to turn the steering wheel, which gives the impression of fleetness and lightness. Wide Pirelli P Zero PZ4 summer tires work hard to provide grip despite the car’s heft, and the manually adjustable Öhlins dampers do their best to round off and minimize the jarring effects of rough impacts. We can’t imagine owners of a six-figure coupe clicking their own dampers in an attempt to fine-tune the ride, but the possibility is there.
Each 114-hp rear motor drives an individual wheel, which means differential thrust can be applied across the axle for a torque-vectoring effect to help the car rotate in corners. Maybe it’s the torque vectoring at play, or perhaps it’s the rear weight bias (thanks to the battery), but as you push the limit, the tail begins to make an appearance. Circling the skidpad with stability control in Sport mode had the Polestar in a controllable drift that brought back the buzz of being 17 years old in a snowy parking lot. At first, we thought the rear’s reactiveness was due to sand on the skidpad left behind by a windstorm, but the tail wag is still there on a canyon road with stability control fully engaged. It’s not nervous and it doesn’t amount to much because of that stability control, but the driver is left short of unconditional trust.
In a less frenzied state, the 1 does the two-door personal-luxury-car act as well as any Aston Martin, and it’s more comfortable than its direct competitors, the Acura NSX and BMW i8. We wish the glass roof came with a shade, though. While it might be fine under the Swedish sun, those of us who live below the 45th parallel will cook. The Polestar’s ride is calm, the seats soothing, and if it’s running solely on electric power, there isn’t much noise beyond the rush of the tires. The instrument panel, steering wheel, and infotainment system were pulled right out of a Volvo S60. Carbon-fiber trim and a unique gauge display are obvious differentiators, but the Volvo flavor remains strong throughout the cabin.
Carefully stitched leather wraps the interior, giving the 1 an Aston Martin–like ambiance. It feels as if you’re sitting in a wallet you can’t afford. The crystal shifter is a nice touch, too, but you’ll be touching it a lot because putting the car into reverse or drive requires you to move the lever twice in the appropriate direction. Knock it back once more while in drive and the 1 will send more juice to the battery when you lift off the accelerator. Unlike in a Tesla, you do have to regularly use the brake pedal even if you’ve remembered to pull back on the shifter to increase regeneration. Oversized Akebono brake hardware takes this heavy and fast car down from speed without a lick of drama. There is a detectable transition as the friction brakes take over from the regen, but it’s not enough to ruin your mood.
We can’t imagine buying a Polestar 1 to save fuel, but it’s certainly possible. You’ll just have to restrain yourself from tapping all the power and maintain the battery’s charge. In our hands, it returned 21 MPGe. If that doesn’t sound like it’s worth the hassle, you’re ignoring the 619 horsepower, which is something we definitely didn’t do. We dialed up all 619 horses at every opportunity.
Speaking of numbers, the 1 is sure to remain a rare sight. Only 500 are being made per year, about 150 of which will come stateside to a few Volvo dealers. Even the nailed-to-the-showroom-floor NSX and i8 will be more common than the 1. And if it’s a sports car you’re after, those two are more fun to drive and will outperform the Polestar, though they lack the 1’s comfort and ease of use. The hybrid Lexus LC500h matches the 1’s practicality and style and gives you a V-6 for about $50,000 less, but its small battery can’t run it as an EV for any meaningful distance. Despite the 1’s lofty price, Polestar shouldn’t have trouble finding 150 U.S. customers for this car. Of course, we’d want a few more cylinders for the money, but we realize that the 1 is a brand-building beauty. Judged as such, we’d say it’s a success.
This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io