Polestar 1 vs. Acura NSX: Opposite Ends of the Hybrid Sports Car Spectrum

These stylish performers give us hope for the future—but what about right now?

Turns out great all-arounders can exist on opposite ends of the spectrum. On one there's the Acura NSX, a speedy hybrid sports car that happens to be comfortable. On the other there's the Polestar 1, a comfortable hybrid GT that happens to be speedy. Drive either anywhere, and you'll arrive with a smile on your face.

That's not to say, however, that this duo is anything alike. Despite their range of talents, they function and drive so distinctly that it's tough to class them against each other. Yet in the category of powerful, expensive, and radical hybrid two-doors, they're among the best. But which is better? After a day of byway blasting, the choice was close.

Sporty Driving

Big numbers set a precedent for the Polestar 1's driving experience. First is power: It makes 619 hp and 738 lb-ft of torque from its all-wheel-drive hybrid powertrain. Second is weight: It tips the scales at 5,155 pounds—major heft—despite extensive use of carbon fiber. Fortunately, the 1 celebrates its preferable figures and belies the other.

Acceleration is swift; 60 mph arrives in 3.8 seconds. Features editor Christian Seabaugh found the 1's power delivery "punchy, with plenty of that instant-on torque" intrinsic to electric motors. Its front-mounted I-4 engine helps, with Seabaugh commenting that in sporty Power mode, "The motors and engine feel supplemental to one another, in that each's strengths mask the other's weaknesses." But associate online editor Stefan Ogbac felt that in other modes the power sources don't always work in sync, saying the engine is "sometimes willing, sometimes left behind by the electric motor." Also, he thinks the eight-speed automatic transmission is "best left to its own devices," and its paddle shifters should be ignored.

On bendy roads, the 1 handles better than its weight would suggest. "You feel every bit of its heft through turns, but the car manages to stay flat and composed," Ogbac said. Seabaugh called it a "grip monster." Credit that to the manually adjustable Öhlins dampers and Pirelli P Zero tires. With torque vectoring from its rear-axle electric motors, the 1 can dance, too. "A 5,000-plus-pound car shouldn't be able to rotate this quickly," Seabaugh said. However, executive editor Mark Rechtin bemoaned how the video game-like steering has "almost no connection between hands and the wheels."

Meanwhile, the NSX's numbers are down in both areas. Likewise motivated by an all-wheel-drive hybrid powertrain, the Acura produces 573 hp and 476 lb-ft. Curb weight is comparatively svelte at 3,930 pounds, and mass is centrally concentrated thanks to the mid-engine layout.

Launching to 60 mph in 3.0 seconds flat, the NSX is proper quick. Road test editor Chris Walton called power delivery from the twin-turbo V-6 and electric motors "linear and ferocious at wide-open throttle." Seabaugh appreciated how "the NSX's motors augment its engine, providing more of what is already plentiful: power." Ogbac enjoyed the nine-speed dual-clutch transmission's paddle shifters, saying, "This is the one I'd drive in manual mode for fun."

The NSX comes alive in corners. "So much poise and confidence that you're not afraid to push it," Ogbac said. "There's virtually no body roll, and it goes exactly where you point it." Rechtin called its handling "a little darty" but loved how its hybrid SH-AWD always yanks the car out of a corner. With its "disgusting" levels of midcorner grip, Seabaugh deemed the NSX "direct, plugged in, and engaging in ways only mid-engine supercars are."

Advantage: Acura NSX. The Polestar 1 is quick and handles well but doesn't feel like a supercar. Meanwhile, the Acura NSX does, and it delivers constant excitement.

Chill Cruising

On city streets, the Polestar 1 is docile and composed. Ogbac liked its ride, which "does a great job absorbing uneven pavement and imperfections." Walton agreed, noting that its body motions are "very well controlled." Again, that's largely thanks to the Öhlins dampers, but their adjustment knobs' positioning makes them tricky and time-consuming to change. The result is a ride that's "firm, but without being punishing," Seabaugh said.

Activate Pure mode, and the 1 operates on electricity as much as possible; up to 65 miles of range is available from a full charge. Seabaugh found that to provide "enough power to get around," with extra help from the gas engine a flex of the ankle away. In this mode, the 1 is serene, a bit of motor whir and tire noise notwithstanding.

The interior ambiance adds to comfort but looks all too familiar. Rechtin said the seats "are as plush as you'd expect from a high-end Volvo" but called out the abundance of Volvo-sourced buttons and switchgear. Those made him "have a hard time getting the feel of this car's specialness." Ogbac said that the interior is "nice with good materials, but not $100,000 nice." Seabaugh concurred, saying, "It's a nice cabin with great materials, fit and finish, and technology, but $150,000 is a bit rich."

With the Acura, Rechtin said, "Part of what made the original NSX so great was that it had superior performance when you wanted it but was as docile as an Accord around town." He found the same in this modern interpretation, with a ride that's "sharp and snappy when you need it but then compliant and smooth when you want it." Unlike the Polestar, the Acura's suspension can be adjusted in-car and doesn't seem to have a bad setting. Ogbac said it's so compliant in hardcore Sport + that he'd even daily drive it in that mode.

Quiet mode prioritizes electric power, but the NSX's pure EV capability is paltry. You can't drive far before the gas motor kicks in to help. Quiet mode mitigates exhaust noise, but Ogbac found it "really noisy" in any other setting.

Like the 1, the NSX suffers from parts-bin sharing for its interior appointments, but Polestar's baseline is nonetheless higher than Acura's. Seabaugh said the NSX's cabin "screams 2014 MDX," and Rechtin thought some of the cabin's form factors "feel a bit last decade." Ogbac called its infotainment system a "freakin' mess" because of its slow responses. He said the interior doesn't feel special enough, noting the numerous bits and pieces that "reek of Honda parts bin."

Advantage: Polestar 1. Both cars are nice to cruise in, but the Polestar 1's all-electric range and swanky interior make it nicer, even if it is a barely disguised Volvo.

Stop and Stare

You'd expect cars like this to catch attention, and they do, albeit in different ways. The Polestar 1 is undeniably handsome. "The more I look at it, the more I love the styling," Walton said. "Sure, it's Volvo-ish, but it's just so restrained, so clean." That subtlety may work against it, though. It looks good from any angle, but as a whole, Seabaugh thought, it's "a bit anonymous" and still more a Volvo product than its own unique entity. Design lovers will geek out over the gentle surfacing and thoughtful linework, but—for better or worse—the 1 still manages to fly under the radar. Understated paint options guarantee that.

Meanwhile, the NSX is a pure head-turner. Sharp creases, big vents, and a mid-engine layout give it unmistakable supercar presence. "Parking lot dudes will think it looks more exotic," Walton said, and there's hardly any debate about that—just look at those awesome flying buttresses. "The styling has held up very well" over its few years on the market, Rechtin said. Even when it's not coated in any of the eye-catching color options on its paint palette, styling alone makes the NSX's mission clear.

Advantage: Acura NSX. The sculptural Polestar 1 is a master class in Scandinavian style, but it's impossible to ignore the Acura NSX's aggressive, purposeful angularity.

Electricity Exemplified

The differences between the Polestar 1 and Acura NSX are perhaps their most promising aspects. They show how distinctive sporty hybrids can be and prove that excitement and personality can come from electrification. Cars like these give us hope for the future, but what about in the moment? We applaud Polestar's efforts in executing the 1, but sometimes it's easier to succeed with a first effort than it is to create a worthy successor. In that regard, Acura triumphed, and the NSX is our favorite of the two.


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Autos Magazine: Polestar 1 vs. Acura NSX: Opposite Ends of the Hybrid Sports Car Spectrum
Polestar 1 vs. Acura NSX: Opposite Ends of the Hybrid Sports Car Spectrum
These stylish performers give us hope for the future—but what about right now?
Autos Magazine
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