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The $157,000 Polestar 1 is a spectacular insight into what Volvo's new brand can achieve. It's also the best car China has ever built

DATE POSTED:December 2, 2019

Polestar 1

Volvo's revival under Chinese ownership has been impressive.

Geely, the Swedish automaker's parent company bought it from Ford in 2009, just as the financial crisis was starting to bite. 

We've already seen a new spate of Volvo SUVs and made-in-China sedans — plus a brand-new manufacturing plant in South Carolina. But most intriguing was the establishment in 2017 of the Polestar brand as a stand-alone manufacturer, tasked with carrying the electric-vehicle banner for the Sino-Swedish nameplate.

After a bit of a wait, I finally got a chance to grab some seat time in the first official Polestar product, the aptly named Polestar 1.

Polestar 1 is a bridge to the forthcoming, all-electric Polestar 2. For now, we'll have to subsist on a Polestar diet of a turbocharged-and-supercharged gas engine mated to a pair of electric motors driving the rear wheels. 

It's a potent combination, and I was prepared to be impressed. I just wasn't prepared for how impressed:

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The Polestar 1 I sampled for a few hours, zipping around the New Jersey highways and byways west of New York City, wore a dashing white paint job offset by black highlights and flickers of chrome.

The Polestar 1 is a performance car and it looks it. Volvo coupés have been few and far between. The last two-door in the lineup was the C30 hatchback.

The clear antecedent for the Polestar 1 is the Volvo P1800, a smashing sports car that arrived in the early 1960s and gained fame when driven by Roger Moore in "The Saint."

Polestar 1 is more Swedish than Italian, however (the P1800 enjoyed an Italian design). Its stance and attitude are also less sprezzatura than "Skoal!"

That said, the Polestar lineup will come from a new factory in China.

The Volvo fascia is an acquired taste. But once you acquire it, the taste is addictive. It makes an especially memorable first impression on the Polestar one.

The Thor's hammer headlights, a Volvo signature, have been carried over.

The Polestar badge is cool and EXTREMELY subdued. Polestar was Volvo's performance brand, but in 2017 it was spun off to form a new electrified nameplate.

The grille is an intricate marriage of black and chrome.

The Polestar 1 is ostensibly a grand-touring car, or a 2+2, but unlike GT cars of the past, it's relatively modest hood length indicated an equally modest engine. The powerplant is a mere 2.0-liters in displacement.

The wheels on my tester were gorgeous, and the yellow brake calipers were a cool touch. The Polestar 1, being a hybrid, utilized regenerative braking to reclaim power.

This sticker was the most Scandinavian element. But it's also a tip to how much lightweight carbon-fiber the Polestar 1 is made of. A good thing as even a medium-size electric battery takes the weight up above 5,000 pounds.

The Polestar 1 is a fastback coupé, but not a hatch.

The rear is a study in minimalism. There's a small spoiler that can be deployed at the driver's discretion.

Let's take a look under the hood.

There's a lot going on here. The 2.0-liter inline four is turbocharged and supercharged, cranking out 326 horsepower before a pair of battery packs (34 kilowatt hours total) and two electric motors take that to 619 horsepower, with everything piped to a hybrid all-wheel-drive system through an eight-speed automatic gearbox. Top speed is 155 mph and the 0-60 mph run happens in 4.2 seconds.

The trunk isn't exactly huge, but for EV nuts, it has a groovy feature.

It showcases the battery-electric connections, behind a clear panel. They have to be bright orange so that emergency crews can identify them.

Definitely one of the neatest design touches I've seen in an electrified vehicle.

A charging cable is stowed in an easy access case.

The Polestar 1 can fully recharge on DC fast charging in less than an hour, the company said. On slower level 1 or level 2 charging, the 70 miles of all-electric range is slower to restore, but owners using 240-volt power should be able to fully re-juice overnight.

The charge port is located aft, left rear.

The Polestar 1's interior is clean and elegant. Not sure how I feel about the bright orange shoulder belt, but it is what it is. The seats are mad comfy, yet supportive when necessary, and covered in Nappa leather.

Yep, it's a 2+2, and plus-two provides adequate legroom for ... Baby Yoda?

The multifunction steering wheel, instrument cluster, and other interior details are borrowed from Volvo.

That's real carbon fiber on the dash.

The Bowers & Wilkins premium audio system sounds magnificent.

For the most part, the Polestar 1's interior is devoid of bling. Except in the center console.

The toggle shifter is crystal.

The infotainment system is based on Volvo's innovative and oft-overlooked Senus setup.

I didn't fully evaluate it on my first drive, but I've used it extensively in Volvos and I have nothing but praise. It used a tablet touchscreen layout and requires some swiping to operate, but it's quite good once you pass the learning curve.

The Polestar 1 has five driving modes, ranging from all-electric to all-performance.

The roof is essentially all sunroof.

This makes for a wonderful experience in the cabin.

The Polestar 1 is stupendous. Not only is it something of a technological marvel, it looks fantastic and drives ever better.

So what's the complete first-drive verdict?

Awesome, awesome, and more awesome!

I'll do a proper review of the Polestar 1 next year, when I can sample the car for a week. But in a few hours, I definitely formed a favorable impression.

Maybe "favorable" isn't a strong enough word. I've driven a few made-in-China vehicles and have found them to be competitive with products from Japan, South Korea, the US, and Germany. 

But Polestar 1 is something else entirely. 

What we have here is a ferociously good grand-touring car that reminded me of the Lexus LC500h and the BMW i8. Of course, the LC 500h, while wonderful, is completely outclassed by the Polestar 1 on power: 354 hp vs 619 hp (the LC500 with a big V8 is a different story — but it still manages just 417 hp).

For the record, 619hp is supercar territory. The Polestar runs with the Corvette Z06, the Ferrari F8 Tributo, the Lamborghini Huracán, the McLaren 650S, the Porsche 911 Turbo S, and the Ford Mustang Shelby GT 350R.

For what it's worth, the mega GTs of the world — the Mercedes AMG GT and Aston Martin DB11 — also have something to think about.

Yes, this comes at a supercar price. The Polestar 1, at $156,500, is Audi R8-esque on the sticker (as well as on the spec sheet). 

The Polestar 1 platform, to simplify, is a front-wheel-drive, gas-powered machine that's not overly stunning on paper; add the batteries and the dual-electric motors to produce rear-wheel-drive and AWD in concert and you get provocative bliss. In all-electric Pure mode, the Polestar 1 is quiet, quick, and torque-y, doing a passable impression of a Tesla Model S. Switch to fun mode, however, and you get the bold petrol-fueled dynamics mated to electric boost. 

In summary, the driving is thrilling, engaging, precise, never less than joyful and at times rapturous. I went into the Polestar 1 with a blank slate and left with a ledger filled with "OOHS!", "AHHS!", "ZOWIES!", "BIFFS!", and "POWS!" I half-expected Adam West to show up and dance the Batusi.

The handling rides a continuum between docile and posh in hybrid mode to downright track-worthy in power mode. I felt confident to throw the car around a bit — and I had to be ever mindful of how fast the Polestar 1 is, as it rocketed to the legal speed limit without a single bead of sweat forming on its chic Scandinavian brow.

The Volvo-Geely deal has long been one of the most interesting in the car business. It's already created a lineup of first-class SUVs and has elevated Volvo from mid-luxury to a sort of thinking person's alternative to BMW and Mercedes. 

With Polestar 1, that deal has become A LOT more interesting. This is easily the coolest set of wheels Volvo has produced in decades. And it's the best car China has ever built.