2020 Polestar 1 Review: Polestar’s First Car Is a Triumph

The verdict: Truly special for reasons beyond its rarity, the Polestar 1 fills the role of a halo car with effortless style and grace.

Versus the competition: In this price range, all the other cars offer more sheer speed than the Polestar 1, but the coupe’s refined minimalism and electric performance give it some distinction.

I drive a lot of different cars every year. Big cars, small cars, fancy cars, affordable cars — if you buy it, we’ll drive and evaluate it. And that’s one of the best parts of this job. But to say we look forward to all that metal (or, in this case, carbon fiber) equally would be a stretch. There are dates that get circled on the calendar for all of us, and for me, there was one car that had 50 circles drawn around it: the 2020 Polestar 1.

If the Polestar name isn’t familiar to you, that makes a lot of sense: It hasn’t marketed anything before. Formerly the performance division of Volvo, Polestar has been spun off into its own brand, with a focus on electrified performance. All its cars will be fully electric with the exception of its very first: the aptly named Polestar 1, a plug-in hybrid.

We’ll start by taking a quick peek at some of the Polestar 1’s numbers, because they are truly bonkers:

  • 500: Polestar plans to make 1,500 vehicles over the next three years, so there are fewer than 500 of these in the world right now given it’s the first year of production.
  • 619: Total horsepower output from the gas engine and a pair of electric motors that drive the rear wheels. Its 737 pounds-feet of torque isn’t too shabby, either.
  • $156,500: The car’s starting price (including destination charge), though ordering one also requires a $2,500 deposit (it’ll go toward the purchase price).
  • 6: The number of times I was approached by strangers interested in the car (not including the times I was honked at on the freeway or photographed at stoplights, or the pedestrian who crossed the street in front of me, doubled back, then gave me a thumbs-up).

The Polestar 1’s price puts it in elite company, including an impressive array of sports cars: variants of the Porsche 911, Audi R8 and Mercedes-AMG GT. But the real competition comes from a pair of expensive hybrid performance cars: the Acura NSX and BMW i8. The NSX takes more of a performance slant, the i8 a more futuristic one (see its sci-fi styling), but the Polestar 1 bests them both on electric performance and refinement.

Volvo, But Not

The Polestar has a lot of Volvo in it, as is to be expected. It sits on Volvo’s scalable product architecture, the same platform on which you’ll find Volvo’s 60 and 90 series vehicles. Its powertrain is similar to Volvo’s T8 setup, combining a turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with electric motors and a battery pack. On the inside, the resemblance is even more apparent. The multimedia and instrument panel screens, styling and even seats are familiar, just with Polestar logos and carbon-fiber accents.

Despite the shared parts, though, there’s a lot that has changed — especially under the skin. The battery and electric motors have been significantly beefed up, and an engine crankshaft-integrated starter-generator joins the party, producing another 71 hp and 119 pounds-feet of torque to give the Polestar 1 those gaudy power figures.

Though the underlying platform is Volvo, it gets a serious upgrade in the form of a carbon-fiber “dragonfly” cross-member that makes the whole thing more rigid. The body panels are also made out of the light (and expensive) carbon fiber — everything from the sides, hood, front fenders, doors and trunk. The roof is not made of carbon fiber because it’s a giant panoramic glass roof, which even on a hot day kept much of the heat out of the cabin, thankfully. 

According to Polestar, the extensive use of carbon fiber in the body saves 506 pounds and makes the top of the car lighter, moving the center of gravity downward. Lowering a car’s center of gravity usually improves handling and balance, which are two of the Polestar’s strong points.

Lots of Power, Lots of Weight

The powertrain’s roots may be in Volvo, but it’s been amped up to another level. Volvo’s T8 Polestar Engineered models (such as the V60) produce 415 hp and 494 pounds-feet of torque, but the Polestar 1 blows those figures away: 619 hp and 737 pounds-feet of torque. Its larger battery lengthens the plug-in hybrid’s electric-only range to 60 miles, up from 22 miles on the Polestar Engineered vehicles (more on this later).

That’s a lot of power, but it has to move a lot of weight. The Polestar 1 tips the scales at 5,170 pounds even with all that weight-saving carbon fiber — that’s SUV territory. Volvo’s own XC90 three-row SUV with the T8 powertrain is actually lighter, at 5,068 pounds. All that heft affects how the Polestar 1 accelerates; its 0-60 mph time is 4.2 seconds, Polestar says. That’s not slow, but it’s definitely not quick, especially compared with the serious speed merchants in this group. The Acura NSX hits 60 in 3.0 seconds, and the new C8 Corvette does it in 2.9 seconds, though I should note the Polestar 1 handily beats the i8’s 4.6-second time. (All times are manufacturer estimates.) 

Even if you consider 4.2 seconds to 60 mph a drawback, the Polestar 1 is very rewarding to drive for two reasons: accelerator response and balance. What the car lacks in pure acceleration, it makes up for via the instantaneousness with which it responds to your foot. There’s really no substitute for the instant torque you get from electric motors. After that burst, it blends wonderfully with the power coming from the gas engine at the front wheels for a seamless experience. The Polestar’s most aggressive drive mode, Power, cranks up the dial and makes the coupe feel more athletic than its acceleration figure suggests.

One note of caution: There’s a noticeable difference in the car’s performance depending on battery level. With the battery above half full, it feels robust. As the charge level dips, you lose some edge. I took the Polestar out on two similar twisty roads with a lot of elevation changes, once with the battery near empty and once with it topped off at a quick charger, and the difference was night and day. If you plan to take the Polestar out for fun, make sure the battery is topped off before you head out.

Going on Tour

I was also impressed by the car’s balance and ride quality. Polestar opted for a non-adaptive suspension in this car, and the less technologically advanced approach pays off. The car has adjustable Ohlins shock absorbers, much like the Volvo Polestar Engineered models, with gold knobs atop the strut towers under the hood and in the trunk that you can turn to change suspension firmness. With firmness dialed all the way up, the front of the car stiffens noticeably and turn-in feels much sharper. The downside is that it makes ride quality worse — not bad, but probably not ideal for day-to-day driving. The suspension does a good job handling the car’s weight, as well; body roll is well controlled (the low center of gravity helps with that) and the Polestar stays neutral on corner exits, allowing you to use that instant electric torque confidently to shoot out of corners. The setup of the electric motors aids this process: Each motor is responsible for driving one wheel, giving the car real torque vectoring. You can put your foot down without worrying about wheel hop or the back end getting squiggly as you accelerate.

The end result is a car that’s very satisfying to drive, whether on a curvy road or in a straight line on the highway. In normal driving, the Polestar is positively docile both in its all electric (Pure) and normal (Hybrid) drive modes. If pressed, I’d say the Polestar 1 falls more on the side of a grand tourer than an out-and-out sports car, but it still offers lots of driving satisfaction for those who want to take it out and push it. 

There is one shortcoming in the Polestar 1: the brakes. Its regenerative braking blend is smooth, but what’s missing is braking power when you really need to get on the pedal approaching a corner. Even if you jam hard on the brakes they don’t grab like you’d expect, so be prepared to brake early or carry less speed.

Electric Slide

I put the Polestar 1’s electric range to the test, filling the battery up to 70 miles of electric range at a quick-charging station, then embarking on a 49.3-mile highway trip to return the car, staying in the Pure (all-electric) drive mode. It was a warm day (pushing past 80 degrees) and I had the climate control set on auto with the air conditioning running. At the end of my trip, the screen said I had 18 miles of range left — 3 miles fewer than the starting range would suggest but close enough to say I have confidence in the 70-mile figure.

In Pure mode, the Polestar 1 drives pretty normally. I didn’t baby the accelerator or bump the regenerative braking up for the trip (two things that would stretch the range). I just got in, put it in Pure and drove away. It still felt reasonably quick; the 232 hp the rear electric motors produce is enough to move the car easily. Given 70 miles is enough to cover daily commutes for most folks, it qualifies as an electric daily driver.

Polestar provided only one charging time estimate: under one hour with a 50-kilowatt DC quick charger. That matched my experience: about 45 minutes to go from nearly empty to a full 70 miles of range (side note: Two people approached me to chat about the car as it charged). I don’t have an outlet in my apartment garage to charge at home, so I wasn’t able to test how long it would take on a Level 1 or 2 charger.

More From Cars.com:

  • Primed to Be Among the First Polestar 1 Owners?
  • Polestar 2 Arrives to Challenge Tesla Model 3
  • How Far Can a 2020 Volvo XC90 T8 Plug-In Hybrid Go on Electricity Alone?
  • Has the 2020 Volvo V60 T8 Polestar Fixed What Plagued Other Polestars?

What Else Do You Get?

The Polestar 1 comes fully loaded with basically all of the features you can get in a Volvo, including the same safety and multimedia technology. There is, however, one feature that’s curiously absent: ventilated front seats, which I wanted on that warm day. The only available option is a matte paint job in any of the Polestar’s five available colors, which adds $5,000 to the price tag.

Pop the trunk lid open and you’ll see a very cool window that shows off some of the car’s electrical connections, but there’s not much cargo space — just 4.4 cubic feet. The real place to store larger items will be the backseat, which is similar in size to the one in a Ford Mustang. It’s possible to fit an adult back there if the front passenger slides forward, but I wouldn’t recommend doing so.

Truly Special

Polestar’s access to Volvo’s parts bin surely helped it build its first car, but the end result is a  coupe that serves as a worthy halo car for the fledgling brand. There’s something about the way its characteristics unite, from the car’s look and instant power to its impeccable balance, it’s just really satisfying to drive. And I didn’t mind the stares; they just meant Polestar made the right styling choice with its visually appealing minimalism.

The driving experience is also unique. For all the high-tech wizardry going on with the powertrain, the Polestar 1’s old school non-adaptive suspension really shines. It feels rock solid in corners, yet its ride is supple enough to be comfortable on long trips and during daily driving. Polestar’s second car is coming in 2020, but it will be very different: The Polestar 2 will be an all-electric hatchback meant to challenge the Tesla Model 3, and Polestar will sell many, many more of them. The 2 will likely be a more important car to the company. But to me, the Polestar 1 will always be, well, the one.

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