Driven! 2020 Polestar 1 Plug-In Hybrid Supercar

  • Jeff Sabatini has written for many publications over his 20 years in automotive journalism, including Car and Driver, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Sports Car Market magazine. His lifetime car churn includes 30 vehicles: eight GM cars, five Ford products, four Toyotas, three BMWs, two Jeeps, two Chrysler minivans, a Miata, a Mercedes, a Porsche, a Saab, a Subaru, and a Volkswagen.

can be reached at jeffsab@gmail.com
  • Jeff Sabatini has written for many publications over his 20 years in automotive journalism, including Car and Driver, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Sports Car Market magazine. His lifetime car churn includes 30 vehicles: eight GM cars, five Ford products, four Toyotas, three BMWs, two Jeeps, two Chrysler minivans, a Miata, a Mercedes, a Porsche, a Saab, a Subaru, and a Volkswagen.

can be reached at jeffsab@gmail.com
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Among the car brands least likely to introduce a limited-production, 600-horsepower supercar, conservative and safety-focused Volvo would have to be at the top of the list. Except that, technically, the Polestar 1 isn’t a Volvo. And by some supercar metrics the Polestar 1 comes up short. But to best understand this incredible plug-in hybrid, calling it a Volvo supercar is as good a place to start as any.

  • Polestar is a new performance electrified vehicle brand launched by Volvo and Geely, the Chinese company that owns Volvo.
  • The company has a long association with Volvo, as both a race team and the brand’s performance tuning division.
  • The Polestar 1 is the company’s halo car, its first product since Volvo announced in 2017 that Polestar was being re-imagined.
  • On sale in early 2020, the Polestar 1 will cost $156,500. Global production will be limited to 1,500 cars over three years, with 150 allotted to the U.S. annually.

Polestar 1
The Polestar 1 is “2+2” coupe, and though it’s sexy, nobody is going to mistake it for, say, a Ferrari. (Photo: Polestar)

Everything but the kitchen sink

The Polestar 1 is an especially complex plug-in hybrid. Its basic layout follows Volvo’s XC90 T8 PHEV, but amplified for performance rather than efficiency.

The super coupe uses a version of Volvo’s ubiquitous 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine under its hood, tuned to make 326 hp by virtue of both a turbocharger and supercharger. The gasoline engine drives the front wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission, which incorporates the first of three electric motors, a combined starter-generator rated at 71 hp.

At the rear of the car are two electric motors, one for each wheel, making a combined 232 hp. As they operate independently, this enables the Polestar 1 to do real torque vectoring on its rear axle, spinning the outside wheel just a little bit faster than the one on the inside, helping the car corner sharply. These motors can also regenerate electricity to recharge the battery.

That battery is configured in two packs and rated at 34 kWh. One sits in the center of the car, where the driveshaft would run if the Polestar 1 had one. The second pack is mounted in the bulkhead between the tiny rear seat and the trunk.
Polestar 1 battery
Polestar’s designers incorporated a see-through panel in the trunk to expose the battery pack’s high voltage cabling, so owners could show off their vehicle’s electric technology. (Photo: Polestar)

Jack of all trades

All of this hardware allows the Polestar 1 to do some neat things. Its default mode is to operate as a hybrid, using as much battery power as possible to maximize efficiency. Or you can switch it to all-wheel-drive mode and have a full-time four-wheeler. The Polestar 1 can also operate as an EV, which Polestar calls “Pure” mode, using just its rear electric motors until it runs out of juice and reverts to Hybrid mode.

The Polestar 1 has yet to receive its EPA certification, but European testing showed it capable of 112 km of all-electric range (about 70 miles). Therefore, we estimate its final EPA electric range to be more like 55-60 miles, as the EPA test methodology always produces lower numbers.

Of course the main attraction is Power mode, which unleashes all 619 combined hp, mileage be damned.

Polestar 1
With two independent electric motors at the rear, the Polestar 1 can overdrive its outside wheel, improving its cornering abilities. (Photo: Polestar)

Behind the wheel

“Unleash” may be too strong a word, because for all its aspirations to supercar status, the Polestar 1 is not all that exciting to drive. Although it accelerates with the relentlessness you would expect of an electrified powertrain and the four-cylinder gas engine puts out a high-strung roar and rumble, the car is not so quick. Blame its complicated and heavy powertrain, which contributes to a bloated curb weight of 5,170 pounds. That’s more than the Volvo XC90 T8 PHEV, which is a three-row SUV.

The weight affects not just acceleration, but also the Polestar 1’s ride and handling. While the rear motors do their torque-vectoring trick well, the suspension in its default setting (it is electronically adjustable) is too stiff and the car has a tendency to bounce rather than settle.

Polestar says the Polestar 1 will do 0-60 mph in 4.2 seconds, which is the same as a BMW M240i xDrive or just a tenth slower than a Toyota Supra. This is nothing to sneer at, for sure, except that those conventional sports coupes cost just a third of the Polestar’s price.

More importantly, the Polestar 1 is well off the pace of the burgeoning class of performance electric vehicles. A Tesla Model S Performance officially does 0-60 in 2.4 seconds, while a Porsche Taycan Turbo S is at 2.6. Tesla’s Model 3 Performance, which starts at just over $50,000, does 0-60 in 3.2 seconds, and the least expensive Porsche Taycan model, the $103,800 4S, takes just 3.8 seconds.

Driving the Polestar 1 in Pure mode makes the situation worse, not better. Without the extra power provided by its gas engine the car’s power-to-weight ratio craters to 22 pounds per horsepower, or about the same as a Toyota Corolla.

Polestar 1 interior
Save for the “Swedish Gold” seat belts, the Polestar 1 interior is identical to what you can find in a Volvo station wagon. (Photo: Polestar)

Volvo for the win

If the Polestar 1 isn’t the performance car it wants to be, it is still a very nice Volvo. It is handsome and its design hangs together. The interior and infotainment system come straight out of the corporate parts bin, which is to say this is as nice as the cockpit in any other mass-produced car.

Except that’s not what the Polestar 1 is. The car is hand-built at the company’s plant in China, using an expensive carbon fiber body that gets mated to a steel floorpan, a modified version of the same platform that underpins much of the Volvo product lineup. Polestar says the use of carbon fiber cut over 500 pounds from the Polestar 1’s curb weight, which would be more amazing if the car didn’t still weigh so much.

But that’s the problem with plug-in hybrids. By packaging two powertrains into one car, they are inherently inefficient. Supercars demand efficiency just like electric vehicles do, the same means deployed for different ends.

Polestar will soon be launching its own all-electric vehicle: The Polestar 2 is due by summer 2020. It will not be a limited-production supercar with a six-figure price, but a mass-market battery-electric crossover that sells in the mid-$60,000 range. If there is one clear takeaway from the new Polestar’s first car, it is that we should expect great things from its second.


About the Author

  • Jeff Sabatini has written for many publications over his 20 years in automotive journalism, including Car and Driver, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Sports Car Market magazine. His lifetime car churn includes 30 vehicles: eight GM cars, five Ford products, four Toyotas, three BMWs, two Jeeps, two Chrysler minivans, a Miata, a Mercedes, a Porsche, a Saab, a Subaru, and a Volkswagen.

can be reached at jeffsab@gmail.com
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