Eric Adams

Words/photos for Wired, Gear Patrol, PopSci, The Drive, Men's Health, Air&Space, more

Mar 4, 2020
Published on: Forbes
2 min read

Polestar 1 hybrid electric sports car

Polestar 1, amid the trees of Norway

Maneuvering a car on snow and ice is always a dicey proposition. Grip changes by the inch. Even the most capable traction-control and all-wheel-drive setup can still dispense moments of terror. Find a patch of pure ice on a slight slope? Forget it—you’re going downhill. Unless you’re driving like a granny in a beastly Suburban, you’re far better off staying on the sidelines when the white stuff starts sticking.

Yet there I was, in Norway in mid-February, in something significantly less burly than a Chevy Suburban, actively searching for snow—a quest that, sadly, is becoming harder and harder these days. The 2021 Polestar 1 hybrid-electric GT I’d borrowed for this solo road trip and winter-photography expedition, a $155,000 limited-edition, 619 horsepower exercise in Nordic design and Volvo-birthed engineering prowess, was seemingly itching to show itself off in any challenge. It took just a few minutes to sync up with the potentially awkward geometry of a three-motor hybrid—in this case, two electric motors powering the rear wheels, and an integrated motor supplementing the four-cylinder gasoline engine up front—but I quickly got used to it. It felt immediately intuitive; its power distribution nicely balanced and predictable. On the few dry patches I could find, I played with the acceleration, catching a whiff of the 1’s 0-60 time of 4.2 seconds.

Polestar 1 at the train station in Geilo, mid-snowstorm.

I’d left Gothenburg, to the south in Sweden, in a steady, lukewarm rain, conditions in which stability barely trumps visibility as your truest ally, and it immediately validated my initial hunches—rock-solid, with its LED lights piercing the downpours, and never flinching even while blasting through deep puddles at highway speeds. Three hours later, I passed through Oslo in slightly colder rain, in the dark, then headed northwest, hoping to roll into a true Scandinavian winter. The next morning, it grew colder, and thus the rain converted itself to black ice on the pavement. As a result, I started to find the limits of merely passive attention to your drive modes in such a complex car. The Polestar 1 defaults to a Hybrid mode, which isn’t a dedicated all-wheel-drive mode. So you have to manually engage AWD in snow or ice. Because the car wouldn’t retain my preference on restarts at gas stations and such, I’d often forget to make the switch. So I had a few slips and slides that I wasn’t anticipating, no doubt exacerbated by the car’s major 5,100-pound weight.

Once AWD was engaged, however, the car kept its composure through it all, prompting me to tempt fate just a hair by pressing on even as the sleet turned to snow in the vicinity of Geilo, a ski town about two hour outside Oslo. I’d intended to simply pass through on my way to a scenic stretch called Hardangervidda and then the fjords of the country’s west coast, near Bergen. There I’d hoped to shoot a variety of wintry landscapes, with and without the Polestar. The land is known for its waterfalls and stunning geography, and I was excited to see it.

Morning-after snow near Geilo, Norway.

Of course, I knew it was Norway in February, and was fully aware that snow could hit at any moment, but the region was having one of its warmest winters on record, and all the way up from Oslo it was mostly melting snow on the terrain. Temperatures were anticipated to be in the 30s to 50s, so I wasn’t actually holding out much hope that the flurries in Geilo would become anything worse. I continued on toward Hardangervidda—but didn’t make it far. About 15 miles past Geilo, the snow began coming down in earnest. Fast-falling flurries turned into swirling gusts of powder, then complete whiteout conditions. I reached a hostel where I found the road had been completely closed due to to the growing storm. The owners assured me there would be no access to the lovely area beyond for several days.

I decided to return to Geilo and hang out there, on the off-chance things would settle and the road would open. The sinuous, high-plateau route was devoid of traffic save the occasional car full of skiers and the hearty plow crews. In stretches the snow had accumulated a few inches, and in stretches it was solid ice.

Polestar 1 in Norway.

As I neared Geilo, something startling occurred to me: I was in a 600-hp sports car. In Norwegian snow and ice. Not an SUV with studs and chains and giant knobby tires. Not even a normal all-wheel-drive sedan. Yet I was fine, and completely untroubled by the maelstrom, except where visibility was concerned. The Polestar 1, in electrically-enhanced all-wheel-drive mode, with a robust dose of millisecond timing in its ability to secure and maintain traction in wildly changing conditions, handled the snowstorm like a champ.

I played with the modes to confirm it wasn’t my imagination. In Pure mode—all electric, rear-wheel-drive—the car was a train wreck, barely able to build any momentum from a standstill. In Hybrid mode, it was passable, but not confidence inspiring by any stretch. In Power it was a bit better, but in All-Wheel-Drive mode it was domineeringly good. I disabled traction control in each mode to see how it behaved, and it further enhanced my read, improving each mode but not truly kicking butt until in AWD.

Geilo, Norway

Over the next 24 hours, I made multiple passes up and down the same road to check the conditions and monitor the status of the closed road, without any qualms about doing so. I drew an imaginary line at deep snow—anything up to the doors—but thanks to the Norwegian tendency to remove snow immediately, it never came to that. My challenges remained traction and control. With the exceptions of a few utterly acceptable slips here and there, it drives were stress-free and effortless.

In Norway, Teslas are famously ubiquitous, and their drivers seemed equally nonplussed by the conditions—though I didn’t see any in the midst of the blizzard I had been driving through. That stands to reason given the known prowess of well-engineered, all-wheel-drive electric cars in the snow, though the comparison is of limited usefulness. The Polestar 1 is a sport coupe, and possesses the low-slung geometry of the genre. It also balances engine and motor power in different ways, and it behaves more like a true supercar then you’d expect. On dry ground while threading my way back to Gothenburg, I had many enjoyable hours powering out of twisties, thanks to the car’s astonishing 738 lb-ft of torque. The interior is also a huge step up from Tesla, built to much higher manufacturing standards and designed with proportion and posture well in mind. Polestar likely won’t lure any Tesla owners away from their Models 3, S, and X, but it will certainly give a lot of premium-luxury sport coups runs for their money.

Interior of the Polestar 1 hybrid sport coupe.

More importantly, though, it will give drivers who crave this kind of performance but who are equally concerned about the fate of such delights as Scandinavian winters a better, greener option—its estimated 65 mpg is no slouch for a 5,100-pound, 600-hp machine, and its 60 miles of all-electric range will make it a solid commuter-friendly ride.

Yes, I was hoping to make it to Hardangervidda to shoot the winter landscape, but I’ll gladly take being stopped in my tracks by the arrival of actual winter in the process. Now if only it were happening on my drive back south, as well.

Polestar 1, road-tripping through a Norwegian winter.