The Future-Forward 2020 Polestar 1

Volvo's standalone brand balances beauty and possibility, all while being wildly enjoyable to drive

Anytime an automaker launches a new vehicle the stakes are high. There are countless questions automakers should answer before bringing a new product to market, yet dealerships are often littered with cars that were given little consideration, with the priority for many brands being making a quick buck. Polestar isn’t interested in that; they understand that those days are gone. Instead, the carmaker is intent on delivering a true halo product as their first vehicle: the electric performance hybrid Polestar 1. And it’s one that will stand apart from the crowd and stand up to the test of time.

As if that wasn’t a tall enough order, Polestar is also intent on establishing a new corporate culture in the auto industry that’s light on corporate and big on culture. The marketplace is seemingly primed for a start-up brand like Polestar to make some waves. Under the umbrella of Chinese parent company Geely, Volvo (in turn, Polestar’s parent company) has completely transformed itself in less than a decade while a number of competitors have repeatedly gone back to the drawing board with little success.

In the two years since Volvo announced that it was spinning Polestar off as a standalone hybrid and electric performance brand, they’ve garnered industry-wide praise, have now delivered the first legitimate performance plug-in hybrid GT, and have the four door Polestar 2 arriving next summer—which may as well have “your move, Tesla” written all over it. Moving quickly and with clear vision seems to be the modus operandi at Polestar and it has certainly manifested in the Polestar 1.

Anyone who has spent time in a Volvo since 2015 will be familiar with the upscale minimalist design of the interior that honors the brand’s Scandinavian roots. Even after five years on the market, during which other automakers have upped their game, Volvo’s sleek dash, fitted here with a quality matte carbon fiber weave, and retaining a single vertically oriented infotainment screen, remains legitimately attractive. Some individuals will surely take issue with forking over $155k for a car with an interior provided by Volvo, but we see the argument that it is in anyway “less than” as fairly weak. Volkswagen Auto Group sees fit to share bits across all their brands, and from VW to Audi, to Porsche, Bentley and Lamborghini, the differences are minute. Perhaps worth paying for at the upper end of the model spectrum, but minute nonetheless.

As is the case with other brilliant grand tourers we’ve driven recently (such as Aston Martin’s Superleggera and Bentley’s Continental GT), the cabin is a place we’re all too happy to spend several hours. Of course, one major difference is that with the Polestar 1, drivers have have to provide an enjoyable soundtrack via the Bowers + Wilkins sound system because though it doesn’t necessarily sound bad, the Volvo sourced 2.0-liter turbo/supercharged four-cylinder doesn’t do much to stir the soul in the auditory department. Fortunately for the start-up automaker and driving enthusiasts, the Polestar 1 lights up the occipital and parietal lobes with ease.

In a pre-drive roundtable conversation with Polestar CEO Thomas Ingelath he proclaims to the room that Polestar 1 is “a day-to-day electric car that can be driven like hell” and, following a full day behind the wheel, we’re inclined to enthusiastically agree. All of the tried and true adjectives used to describe the character of a sporting car are in play here.

You know the feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when an airplane reaches terminal velocity and then lifts off the tarmac? That’s what launching the Polestar 1 feels like: rapid, sustained and delightful acceleration. Come for the 619 horsepower paired with 738-pound-feet of torque, stay for the very un-Volvo like driving dynamics.

When we tell Head of Polestar USA Gregor Hembrough how delighted we are by the behavior of the chassis on some of the tight winding roads, he says, “That’s what Polestar does. Volvo is one thing, Polestar is another.” Indeed the characteristics of the Polestar 1 do embody what the company is all about: performance that’s future-facing. Hybrid and full-electric technology from Polestar will make its way into Volvo vehicles in the future (and the new 2020 S60 is the first Volvo to offer the “Polestar Engineered” upgrade) but Volvo’s baseline is comfort and Polestar’s is performance. We have never driven a Volvo that handles like the Polestar 1.

Despite bearing a weight tag of 5,170 pounds, this car is an excellent companion for spirited driving on hilariously tight roads. We expected to be impressed at take off, when merging onto the highway and in big sweeping corners—these are the hallmarks of a sporty grand tourer, as well as hybrids with a performance lean—but were completely gobsmacked by the composure of the Polestar 1 when driving it in anger.

As it turns out, chopping down a Volvo S90 sedan (to a length shorter than a BMW 3 Series), covering the steel chassis in carbon fiber panels, centering a carbon fiber “dragonfly brace” underneath and adding manually adjustable Öhlins dampers is a formula for turning a big comfy cruiser into a car capable of hanging with all kinds of internal combustion powered sports cars that should seemingly leave it far behind. It’s good, scary good even. Not because it’s so fast or so stiff, but because it’s hard to imagine this isn’t the future of performance.

With this car, Polestar proves that a plug-in hybrid can be genuinely enjoyable to drive. We’d say it’s a shame that they’re only making 1,500 of them over the next three years, but the exclusivity contributes to the allure of the Polestar 1, and could possibly make it a future collectible. Considering that it’s all fully electric for Polestar from here on out and that it’s a car heralding the dawn of a new era, we expect the Polestar 1 to be as desirable in the distant future as it is today.

Images by Andrew Maness