2021 Polestar 1: Old and new combine in perfect Swedish harmony

SAN DIEGO — Look, I know I’m a jaded car journalist. I’ve tested and reviewed hundreds of cars, and after a while, they all begin to blur together.

You know how you sometimes forget what you ate for breakfast? That’s what it’s like for me and cars. Someone will ask, “what car did you have last week?” and I’ll struggle for a bit and respond, “I think it was red.”

But, that isn’t always the case. Sometimes a car is so terrific (or terrifically bad) that it leaves an impression that is impossible to shake. That’s what I had this week with the Polestar 1, a car I first saw four years ago that I’ve pined for ever since.

It’s a plug-in hybrid from Volvo’s electric car brand, and it might be the most beautiful vehicle you can buy. It also has an absurd amount of tech under the hood, which appeals to my inner geek, and it’s incredibly rare. Let’s take these one at a time.

The Polestar 1 is loosely based on a Volvo concept car from a few years ago. It’s a 2+2 grand touring car, meaning it’s a roomy coupe with two front seats and two rear “seats.” Most of the time, those rear seats are useless for anyone with legs, but Volvo manages enough space for smaller adults to fit on short journeys.

I’m not usually a big fan of coupes. The doors are too long, and they’re challenging to park, and you end up with a lot of wasted space. Not this one, though. The Polestar 1 has perfect, muscular proportions, and I’m fully prepared to throw out all my prejudices to say it’s stunning.

I’m a Volvo fan, and this thing is full of Volvo DNA but given a unique Polestar twist. The sheet metal is familiar but somehow improved. Perhaps that’s because it’s not metal at all but made from carbon fiber and covered in a jaw-droppingly gorgeous greyish paint called Magnesium Matte. 

The carbon fiber polymer (it’s not straight carbon fiber, but that only matters if you’re a materials scientist) allows for shapes in the body that wouldn’t be possible with sheet steel. That’s part of what makes it look so special — it’s not easy to quite put your finger on what is different about the Polestar, but you know there’s something.

The Polestar 1 is $156,500, and there’s only one option: a $5,000 matte paint. It’s worth it. 

Under the hood is a version of Volvo’s supercharged and turbocharged 2-liter 4-cylinder engine. This engine graces all of Volvo’s US vehicles and, though it’s wildly complicated mechanically, it’s largely proven itself when it comes to reliability.

I won’t dive into the mechanical details of super- and turbocharging. Basically, it uses engineering wizardry and witchcraft to create lots of power from a tiny engine and send it through the front wheels.

Then there are a pair of electric motors powering the rear wheels, powered by an enormous 38-kilowatt-hour battery that is the largest in any plug-in hybrid and is suitable for more than 60 miles of all-electric range.

That means this is a fantastic car for folks who aren’t quite ready to jump on the electric car bandwagon but still want to be green. Or if you want a car that hauls ass. This thing is the ultimate sleeper.

That’s a car that looks restrained and slow, but when you want to drop the hammer, it takes off like an absolute rocket, and Volvos are great at it. Between the internal combustion engine up front and the electric motors in the back, the Polestar 1 is good for 619 horsepower and 738 lb-ft of torque.

A small but elegant active rear spoiler pops up automatically if you exceed 62 miles per hour but can be deployed at any time via a switch on the door. It’s understated but gives the 1 a sporty look and adds a bit of extra rear downforce at higher speeds.

Polestar is only making 1,500 of these too, so it might be the rarest car I’ve ever driven in terms of raw production numbers. Only 500 are being made every year for three years, and that’s it. That means that after 2021, production stops and this gorgeous car will reach the end of the line.

If you’re looking for something exclusive, this is it. And that’s both a delight and a shame. I only had the Polestar 1 for a weekend, but every time I stopped, people would come up and ask what kind of car it was. That’s good news for Polestar, which is a new car brand looking to make an impact in the electric car space — but with only 1,500 being made, there’s a limited opportunity for the company to use the 1 to make a splash.

I can count the number of cars I have been sad to give back on one hand: the new Corvette, the Dodge Charger Hellcat, any Rolls-Royce. But the Polestar 1 might be more special than all of them. It’s a swan song for the internal combustion engine, combining the best parts of that (a nice engine note and the ability to refuel quickly for long road-trip journeys) with a futuristic and fast electric powertrain.

It’s a sign-on for Polestar, a first car looking back to what came before and forward to what’s to come. I like the Polestar 2 electric car a lot (I reviewed it earlier this year), but it doesn’t have the gravitas that this enormous GT car has.

I’m sure other electric cars will come along that I’ll love almost as much as the Polestar 1. But I don’t know that I’ll ever stop pining for the beauty of this incredible car.