“Wow, what a stunner!”
That was my first thought when I saw the Polestar 1 in my driveway. Its chunky grille, sleek proportions, big, glossy black wheels over gold brakes, and broody Midnight Blue paint evoke an automotive emotion adjacent to lust. I start putting hands on the car, opening doors and lids, running my fingers over the matte carbon accents and peering at the bright orange electrical cables displayed behind plexiglass in the trunk.
Autoblog has already had a crack at the Polestar 1, the Volvo spinoff’s performance halo and first vehicle offering. It’s a plug-in hybrid, with a gasoline engine driving the front wheels, and two electric motors powering the rears. All together, it offers 619 horsepower and 737 pound-feet of torque, and can do 0-60 in 4 seconds. It’ll also do a little more 50 miles on electric power alone. Its price corresponds to its looks and performance, at a cool $156,500 (including the $1,500 destination charge). As Autoblog West Coast Editor James Riswick already found out, “It's a phenomenal car and deeply desirable,” and rare, too, at just 500 examples a year.
But my groping hands and hungry eyes, though still new to the Polestar 1, start to find familiarity as I drink the car in. The grille looks a lot like that of the Polestar 2 I drove late this summer. As I duck my head inside and plop into the driver’s seat, my eyes are drawn upward to the glass roof, and the similar little shelf above that projects an illuminated Polestar logo skyward. The crystal shift knob has a Polestar logo in it, but otherwise looks like it was lifted straight from our long-term Volvo S60 T8, as does the twisty ignition knob and drive mode selector log. Much of what sets the P1 apart and justify the price — like its carbon fiber body, high-performance powertrain and advanced Öhlins suspension — are hidden away, unseen. Turning the car on, it feels even more like a Volvo as the infotainment comes to life. Suddenly, the Polestar 1 begins to feel a lot less novel than the quirky Polestar 2.
Who cares, though, right? This thing can dance. Everything Riswick wrote of the P1 is true, and I wish I had the car for more than two days, as it would make a fantastic grand tourer. Instead, I shoehorn a car seat in the diminutive rear seat and whisk my son off to school in a fury of electrons and engine noise that's disconcertingly quiet given the acceleration. The car feels composed and almost casual in its abilities to sneak past the speed limit or bite into the pavement under lateral g forces. In Hybrid mode (which favors the electric motors) and Power mode (with the engine always on), it’s effortlessly swift, but still rides comfortably and quietly.
Putting it into Pure mode (all-electric, all the time) the car loses that eagerness, and accelerates more like an electric commuter car. I’ll give it credit, though: The Polestar 1’s Pure mode actually does prevent the gas engine from chiming in if you ask for a bootful of right pedal, something the Volvo PHEVs refuse to do. But Pure mode effectively turns the P1 into a slow-ish EV that costs $156,500.
I putter home under electric power, disentangle the car seat and then head back out to rip around under the fall colors of the Southeast Michigan countryside when I come to a clear realization. I’d rather be driving the Polestar 2. Heck, I’d rather own the Polestar 2.
For $95,300 less than the Polestar 1, the P2 does away with the gas motor completely. For a greenie, an all-electric car is more desirable, with the gas engine in a PHEV feeling a bit like an anchor to the past. For nearly $100,000 less, you get a car that’s a mere half-second slower to 60 mph, but feels faster. You pull out of your garage every morning with a full “tank,” and you have less machinery that can break. You still get the glass roof, the same sense of hi-po mischief behind the wheel, the same body-color badges.
But with the Polestar 2, you also get a usable back seat and a big trunk. You get a far better infotainment system in the P2’s Android Automotive Operating System. There are also smaller touches that make it feel uniquely special. With the P2, you get materials that look and feel unlike anything in any other vehicle, and speakers that are completely hidden behind those materials. Even the sound of the turn signal is unique.
Sure, if you've fallen in love with Polestar 1's knockout exterior design, grand touring format and its low-volume exclusivity, give them your $156,200. It’s a fantastic car. May I make a suggestion, though? If you’re like me, the all-electric powertrain of the P2 is almost as exciting, and a smoother, greener fit for your everyday driving. It feels just as unique as the P1, and even more distinct from its Volvo relatives. I propose that you save $95,300 and get the Polestar 2 instead of the P1.
And if you still need a grand tourer for those long weekend trips, buy a Lexus LC 500 with the money you saved.
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