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2021 Polestar 1 Review: A Spiffy Hybrid Worth Remembering

As production wraps up, Polestar's first and only plug-in hybrid proved quite the impressive preview.

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Andrew Krok
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Andrew Krok

Reviews Editor / Cars

Cars are Andrew's jam, as is strawberry. After spending years as a regular ol' car fanatic, he started working his way through the echelons of the automotive industry, starting out as social-media director of a small European-focused garage outside of Chicago. From there, he moved to the editorial side, penning several written features in Total 911 Magazine before becoming a full-time auto writer, first for a local Chicago outlet and then for CNET Cars.

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5 min read
2021 Polestar 1
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2021 Polestar 1

The Polestar 1's proportions ensure people are looking, no matter where you go.

Andrew Krok/CNET

Before Polestar came out with its first full-on EV, the Polestar 2, the fledgling automaker wanted to make a splash and get people talking. To do that, it made the Polestar 1, a stunning plug-in hybrid coupe. And now as production draws to a close, it's time to take one last drive in a car that feels far greater than the sum of its parts.

2021 Polestar 1
8.6

2021 Polestar 1

Like

  • Drop-dead gorgeous
  • Surprisingly potent
  • Massive electric range

Don't like

  • Trunk the size of a glovebox
  • Price tag the size of a house

Sure, the headlights and taillights are cribbed right from Polestar's Swedish daddy, but everything between them is fresh as all get-out. This coupe is long, low and wide, truly stunning proportions that stand out in an ever-growing sea of SUVs. It's not a busy design, either; aside from a few major creases to emphasize its strength, the carbon fiber body panels are free of unnecessary styling cues. Slather it all in a $5,000 coat of flat paint, and you've got quite the conversation starter. No, seriously: I haven't received this much attention driving a car since I last had a McLaren.

While a quick glance through the Polestar 1's window may leave you thinking that the company nicked the entire cabin from Volvo, you'd only be partially right. Yes, the general layout is the same, but the material choice is far more premium. The Nappa leather seats are endlessly soft with the right amount of support, and there's lovely real metal and tasteful matte carbon fiber trim. The Polestar's single-piece crystal shifter is quite the sight, as well, and looks great when the sun hits it... which is basically all the time, as the roof is almost entirely glass.

2021 Polestar 1 Is One Helluva Appetizer

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It's pretty obvious that a six-figure Swedish Hellcat isn't the most practical vehicle on the planet. Interior storage options are limited to the glove box, door panels and cup holders; the center armrest cubby is so shallow that I can barely shove a single iPhone 11 Pro in there. Getting into the rear is a hilarious exercise in waiting a full minute for a power seat to creep forward, but unless you are a child (in which case, how did you buy this car?) you won't fit back there anyway. In fact, the rear seats are better off being treated as the trunk, because the Polestar 1's actual trunk is mostly filled with batteries. Yes, it's cool that I can see them through a little window, but at 4.3 cubic feet, I barely have room for groceries in what little cargo space remains.

But the Polestar 1 isn't about practicality, and that's evident from its powertrain. Under the hood is a 2.0-liter supercharged and turbocharged inline-4 gas engine. It mates to an integrated starter-generator and an eight-speed automatic transmission, sending 326 horsepower and 321 pound-feet of torque to the front axle exclusively. The back half of the equation is a pair of 85-kilowatt motors that send 232 hp and 354 lb-ft to the rear tires.

Put it all together, and you've got a meaty 619 hp and 738 lb-ft, enough to shove this flat-white rocket to 60 mph in under 4 seconds. Yet, owing to the Polestar 1's size, the acceleration never feels brutal or surprising; it comes on immediately with that instantaneous electric torque filling the gaps as the internal-combustion engine spins up, but since it all feels so chill as it's happening, it's incredibly easy to overshoot posted speed limits.

2021 Polestar 1
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2021 Polestar 1

The Polestar 1's interior is very Volvo-heavy, but the material quality is higher, and the glass roof lets in a ton of light.

Andrew Krok/CNET

The Polestar 1 offers multiple driving modes, but only its Power setting unleashes the full dog and pony show. In its default Hybrid mode, it'll putt around on electric power until I dig deep enough into the throttle, and the crossover from EV to ICE is pretty dang smooth. It can also operate exclusively as an electric vehicle, but as my esteemed boss noted in his review of a 2020 model, the Polestar 1's 5,165-pound curb weight becomes quite apparent when the car is only using half of its powertrain.

Nevertheless, because there's a whopping 34-kilowatt-hour battery in the back, the Polestar 1's electric range is prodigious. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates an EV-only range of 52 miles, but I was seeing estimates closer to 60 when topped off. Overall, the feds claim the Polestar 1 offers 26 mpg combined on the gas engine alone, or 58 MPGe when operating as a hybrid. Regenerative braking can be boosted by moving the shifter from D to B, but it's not true one-pedal driving. I can charge the battery on the go by activating the Polestar's 1 Charge mode or I can keep those electrons for later use in Hold mode, in the event I'm leaving the highway and want to run around city streets in relative silence.

2021 Polestar 1
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2021 Polestar 1

Peek into the trunk for a look at all the high-voltage hardware that makes the Polestar 1 as fun as it is.

Andrew Krok/CNET

The rest of the Polestar 1's underlying bits combine to produce quite the experience. It rides rather stiffly over Michigan's pockmarked roads, but guess what? I can change that by popping the hood and adjusting the Öhlins coilover suspension to dial in some additional smoothness. In its default setting, the suspension handles weight transfer excellently, slicing through twisty roads like a well-sharpened chef's knife. The massive Akebono brakes will shut everything down in a hurry, but they're easy to modulate in daily driving. The steering is direct but numb, par for the course these days. All these parts result in a grand tourer that's good at hiding its curb weight when the going gets sinewy.

When it comes to cabin tech, Polestar once again leans on Papa Volvo. The portrait display on the dashboard runs the Sensus Connect infotainment system. I like its Google integration, and I like that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto only take up part of the screen when running, but it still takes ages to wake up on a cold start and it's not as responsive as I wish it was. The Polestar 2's homebrewed Android-powered infotainment system is much better, to be honest. Volvo's safety tech is present, and it is as lovely as ever, covering all the usual stuff like automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and blind-spot monitoring. I can only imagine what it costs to fix a carbon fiber body panel covered in matte paint.

2021 Polestar 1
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2021 Polestar 1

Keeping Apple CarPlay to only a portion of the display is a smart idea, in case there's something else in the system that needs accessing in a hurry.

Andrew Krok/CNET

Which brings me to the price. The Polestar 1 stickers at a hefty $156,500, including $1,500 for destination. Throw in that matte paint job, and my tester rings in at $161,500. You're in the right spot if you want a stand-alone statement piece, since they're only building 1,500 of these and production ends later this year.

But if you want to cross-shop, the Polestar 1 is in a strange position. You can easily spend that much money on a full EV, whether it's a Tesla Model S Plaid or a Porsche Taycan Turbo S. If you aren't quite ready to ditch your internal-combustion engine, the Polestar finds itself staring down brilliant segment stalwarts like the Audi R8, Mercedes-AMG GT and Porsche 911. If you're after something closer to a grand tourer in flavor, there are the also-excellent Lexus LC or the Mercedes-Benz SL.

The Polestar 1 is a very interesting kind of aberration. Since Polestar is electric-only starting with the 2, what you see here will never be made again, nor will Polestar use its underpinnings for future vehicles. It's a truly limited edition, and it rewards the courageous buyer with immense style and impressive performance underpinned by equally impressive powertrain technology.

2021 Polestar 1
8.6

2021 Polestar 1

Score Breakdown

Performance 8Features 9Design 10Media 7

Specs

See full specs Engine Turbo/Supercharged, 4 Cylinder EngineDrivetrain All Wheel DriveMPG 26 MPGPassenger Capacity 4Body Type Coupes