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First drive: Polestar 1. Image by Polestar.

First drive: Polestar 1
So, then – does a £139,000 plug-in hybrid coupe with obvious Volvo heritage really convince as a truly top-end GT?

 



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Polestar 1

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

This is the first product of an all-new car marque called Polestar. Yes, yes, we know you're looking at it and thinking it looks a lot like a Volvo, and you're also aware that Polestar has had a relationship with said Gothenburg manufacturer for many a year now, but the Swedish outfit is proud of its electric, luxury offering. The Polestar 1 is the halo product which has to generate customer interest in more pragmatic, affordable follow-ups like the Polestar 2, and to that end it has some show-stopping numbers to play with. But, at £139,000, is it really a convincing enough alternative take on the grand tourer formula, one which can possibly tempt a few people out of the more conventional likes of the Bentley Continental GT, Mercedes S-Class Coupe and BMW 8 Series? Or, dare we say it, maybe even the Porsche 911?

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Polestar 1
Pricing: 1 from £139,000
Engine: 2.0-litre super- and turbocharged four-cylinder petrol plus twin rear axle electric (ERAD, 2 x 85kW) motors, 52kW Crank-Integrated Starter Generator (C-ISG) and 34kWh twin lithium-ion battery packs
Transmission: all-wheel drive, eight-speed automatic
Body style: two-door plug-in hybrid GT coupe
CO2 emissions: 15g/km (VED Band 1-50 Alternative Fuel Cars: £0 first 12 months, then £455 years two-six of ownership, then £135 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 403.6mpg
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
0-62mph: 4.2 seconds
Power: petrol 309hp at 6,000rpm, 170kW ERAD motors 232hp, C-ISG 68hp, peak system output 609hp
Torque: petrol 435Nm at 2,600-4,200rpm, 2 x 240Nm ERAD motors 480Nm, C-ISG 161Nm, peak system output 1,000Nm
Boot space: 143 litres (126 litres with charge cable storage bag fitted)

What's this?

It's a Polestar 1 and, whatever you do, don't just call it a Volvo S90 Coupe fitted with an uprated T8 Twin Engine drivetrain. It's a standalone product by electric performance brand Polestar, which will be built in numbers of just 1,500 units (globally) at a special factory in China, and as a left-hand-drive model only.

Polestar is most emphatically a Swedish company, of course, a spin-off of what used to be Polestar Racing - which handled Volvo's motorsport interests - until the name was sold to Gothenburg in 2015 and the competition arm became Cyan Racing. Polestar is now, as already stated, forging ahead as an electric brand, although it has already knocked out the high-performance V60 Polestar of 2015, at a time when Polestar looked like it was going to become Volvo's M Division/quattro GmbH/AMG/SVR/F, and it's also working on the current range of S60 and V60 T8 models under the 'Polestar Engineered' tag.

This is a performance car, too. But a different kind of performance car: a plug-in hybrid (PHEV). It has more range than any PHEV which has gone before, with up to 78 miles possible according to WLTP figures. Its petrol-electric drivetrain serves up whopping numbers of 609hp and 1,000Nm, propelling the carbon-fibre-bodied 1 from 0-62mph in 4.2 seconds and comfortably on to a 155mph limited top speed. It will be the only Polestar to have any sort of combustion engine onboard, as every model coming after this will be a pure battery-electric vehicle (EV), and it's a four-seat, two-door coupe that looks like a Volvo which has been to see a Hollywood stylist to sort its public image out. Seriously, while no modern Volvo is bad-looking in the slightest, this thing is stunning. Those flared rear haunches, the clean flanks, the elegant lines... it's absolutely beautiful. Preposterously beautiful, and its majestic appearance is one area where it can certainly compete with the prestige brands Polestar is ambitiously tilting at.

Buyers can clothe that glorious bodywork in one of five colours, then choose whether to keep them metallic or go for a matte-effect finish for around five grand. In the arches are 21-inch alloys and that's the only size available, and there's a solitary design too - but, again, you can go for diamond-cut, gloss black or matte black shades here. This lack of exterior options translates into the interior, where all the specification of the 1 is standard-fit; that includes the carbon-fibre trim finishers and the 15-speaker Bowers & Wilkins high-end sound system. Of course, the elephant in the Swedish room (interior?) on this score is that the main architecture is oh-so-clearly the same as any current Volvo from the XC40 upwards. Now, Volvo passenger compartments are, in our opinion, some of the very finest in the business, but that's on cars which cost from £30,000 to about £70,000. Does this sort of human-machine interface, infotainment, digital instrument cluster and switchgear/seats really satisfy on a car which is nigh-on £140,000?

Difficult to say. What's not difficult to say is that it feels suitably high quality inside, with great ergonomics and a wonderful driving position, while visibility is uniformly excellent in all directions. Not so excellent is the Polestar 1's practicality. You might be thinking the Volvo DNA has resulted in the most capacious, useable GT in the six-figure category, but you'd be wrong. The rear seats are cramped for anyone of even average height, while the boot is severely reduced by the placement of half of the two-piece 34kWh lithium-ion battery pack. Polestar has made a feature of this latter item, creating a sort of visual focal point in the cargo bay where the battery's connectors are picked out by Swedish Gold details (this colour can be espied elsewhere on the 1: for the tyre valves, the front brake callipers and the seatbelts, specifically). It's eye-catchingly nice and tentative public response seems to be positive, but you can't help feeling this lithium-ion feature wall is a coy way of disguising the fact the battery has hacked the useable boot space down to an incredibly modest 145 litres; less, if you've got the 1's charging cable bag stashed in there.

How does it drive?

We said that the Polestar 1 has a carbon-fibre body and it does; every exterior panel except the bumpers is made of the stuff to keep the bulk off the Swede's frame. The chassis is a Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) platform, shortened in the wheelbase and behind the rear axle, and then reinforced with a carbon-fibre central member called the 'Dragonfly'. This increases torsional rigidity by up to 60 per cent, without the need for heavy side members, and helps to contribute to a car where all the steel is found very low down, meaning the centre-of-gravity of the 1 is close to the deck. And then we start to get serious on the tech.

The brakes are Akebono six-pot front callipers milled from a single piece of aluminium, and these grip ginormous 400 x 38mm front discs, with 390 x 25mm anchors at the rear backing them up. Akebono, by the way, made the brakes for another production hybrid... which just so happened to be none other than the McLaren P1. The shock absorbers are Öhlins Dual-Flow Valve (DFV) 20-stage manually adjustable items, rather than the more fashionable magnetorheological affairs you'd find on competitors, and the tyres swaddling those spectacular alloys are 275/30 R21 front, 295/30 R21 rear Pirelli P Zeros.

The drivetrain is indeed similar to a Volvo T8 Twin Engine, but not identical and it is considerably more potent as a result. Up front is the 2.0-litre super- and turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It makes 309hp in this installation, rather than 302hp, which is in the main down to the main mechanical change in the form of a marvellous carbon-fibre airbox. It drives the front wheels via an eight-speed automatic gearbox, although sandwiched between this and the combustion unit is a 52kw (68hp) Crank-Integrated Starter Generator (C-ISG). This provides torque infill and so on, and is the first of three electric motors sitting in the underpinnings of the Polestar 1.

The other two are on the back axle and are known as ERAD. Each one is rated at 85kW and 240Nm, which tots up to 170kW (232hp) and 480Nm. They have their own planetary gear sets and drive their respective wheels, meaning the Polestar 1 has proper, genuine torque-vectoring across the axle. You'll also quickly have worked out this means the Swedish PHEV super-coupe is four-wheel drive, which brings its particular brand of traction advantages to the party, and the peak drivetrain outputs are a sum-of-its-parts 609hp with not-quite-a-sum-of-its-parts-but-still-pretty-damned-bloody-handy 1,000Nm bolstering that.

All told, it is a drool-inducing spec list. Even with only four petrol-burning cylinders. However, despite the extensive use of carbon fibre, which presumably accounts for the 1's exorbitant list price, trying to cram an engine, three electric motors and two battery packs (that one in the boot and then another sitting longitudinally under the transmission tunnel) into the shell, plus all the sound-deadening and safety gear that a premium GT like this requires, has resulted in the Polestar clocking in at a not-insignificant 2,350kg. It means the power-to-weight ratio is about 259hp/tonne, which isn't exactly game-changing, but the balance of that mass is pretty impressive - it's 48:52 front-to-rear.

Concomitantly, to drive this is miles ahead of any Volvo we can think of. That might sound like damning with faint praise, but if - after all this technical rundown - you're still expecting a dynamic experience that's redolent of a powered-up T8 Twin Engine in R-Design spec, you're so far off the mark that it's actually painful. The Polestar 1 is magnificent to drive. It took us a while to gel with it; our first experience was as a passenger and, for reasons we'll come onto, the ride was getting on our nerves. But day two in the 1 easily convinced us that this is a ridiculously talented sporting GT.

It turns in with a keenness and alacrity that is wholly at odds with its Volvo-esque looks, and which is better than anything else even remotely similar, save for the vastly improved third-gen Conti GT and maybe the hybrid Honda NSX... which, lest we forget, is set up as an out-and-out supercar. The steering is wonderful, too, with plenty of feel and a directness that's quite astonishing, if you've tried any of the other recent Scandi stuff.

That means you can lean on the Polestar 1's three most heavy-duty items of weaponry: an AWD drivetrain that's unnaturally rapid; brakes which are quite simply out of this world; and those trick Öhlins dampers, which are extraordinary bits of kit. For the hybrid power delivery, it's eerie. You'd think 1,000Nm would compress the small of your back when fully accessed with full-throttle applications, but it doesn't exactly work like that. Almost as if the Polestar 1 has some kind of gravity diffuser, you don't feel much in the way of leaping forward when you plant the gas, but the car instead smoothly begins to accumulate pace. And it does so at a farcical rate. The numbers dialling in on the head-up display look like they've been comically speeded-up, until you focus on the rate the scenery is spooling by the windscreen and fast re-evaluate your impending corner-entry speed.

This then allows you to work perhaps the finest anchors on almost any road car going. Those Akebono stoppers are immense, shedding velocity in as startling a fashion as the PHEV drivetrain can pile it on. Better still is the brake-pedal modulation, as there's no grabbiness and nicely judged travel for the first few centimetres of movement. Fade should also not be an issue, either, because we gave the 1 a good going-over and it didn't lose an iota of stopping power across the whole journey. And the body control from the DFV shocks is just top-drawer stuff, with little excessive movement of the shell to report. Brilliantly, one thing the Polestar 1 never feels is heavy; we had to keep checking that 2,350kg figure, because none of the acceleration, braking nor cornering ability of this vehicle ever betrays such portliness.

On its electric power alone, it's also punchy enough to feel brisk in city driving, where its silken, serene power delivery (as, in EV mode, the reciprocating-mass 2.0-litre engine is obviously lying dormant) only adds to the air of refinement. Yes, noise suppression is also first-rate on the Polestar 1, with low wind buffeting, despite a rather disappointing drag coefficient of 0.36Cd (wing up) or 0.37Cd (wing down), and minimal chatter from the wide rubber at all corners. Apart from a slight whooping noise from the ERAD motors, it's a quiet car to travel in if you want to cruise... and, inversely, it sounds superb when you're pushing it in 'Power' or 'Hybrid' modes. Whether there's any sound augmentation or not, and whether Polestar has done enough with the 1's exhaust system, the fact remains that the carbon airbox - a feature which did so much for the E46 BMW M3 CSL - blesses this car with a really alluring voice. It's hard-edged and gargly, and it's as good to listen to as any four-cylinder turbo we can think of, save for maybe an EJ-equipped old Subaru Impreza. Yes, rivals with more exotic six-, eight-, ten- and twelve-cylinder engines might still have the aural edge, but not to the extensive degree that you might think over a 'mere' four-pot.

A glowing dynamic report card for the Polestar 1, then? Well... not quite. As good as the Swedish machine is to steer, we're not about to say it surpasses every other vehicle at this sort of exalted price-point; no 911 driver, for example, is going to have a revelation while piloting the Polestar. And the ride quality is a more pressing issue. At motorway speeds, it's tautly controlled but it never lets you forget the unsprung mass sitting at all four corners, while in town and on poorly surfaced routes, we'd go so far to say that the Polestar 1's ride is borderline uncomfortable. That passenger ride we talked about earlier? When you're not focusing on the majestic steering and phenomenal drivetrain (i.e., you're not the driver), then you are all too aware of the tarmac passing beneath the Polestar's massive wheels. We listed them at the top of the piece, but all of the Conti, S-Class Coupe, 8er and 911 ride better than this, it has to be said - even with those fantastic Öhlins fitted on the 1.

Despite this, we really like the way the Polestar 1 drives. Adore it, in fact. If about the most similar analogue in roughly the same financial and performance sphere is the clever BMW i8, then we're happy to go on the record as saying the highly rewarding Polestar blows the German out of the water for performance, driver involvement, looks (yes, really) and technical excellence. And, given how highly we rate the i8 for 'normalising' part-electric high-performance cars, that's some serious praise indeed.

Verdict

Strip away all the contextual arguments of '£140,000 for a posh Volvo?!' and 'this cabin looks familiar' and 'why would I have a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder car when I could have a 6.0-litre biturbo W12?', and it's inarguable that the Polestar 1 is a tremendous piece of engineering. While it might be hard to identify a clear and defined buying demographic for this singular machine, it nevertheless does precisely what it needs to do for Polestar - suffuses the whole brand with an immense amount of (if you'll forgive the pun) star quality. Devastatingly good looking, monstrously quick, dichotomous enough of character to allow for plenty of EV driving when required, and surprisingly, enjoyably talented and engaging in the corners, if the Polestar 1 had a slightly more forgiving ride and a little bit more GT practicality on its side, we'd be happily doling out full marks here. Even as it is, this is one remarkably proficient debut, and we simply cannot wait to see more from this fledgling electric carmaker.

5 5 5 5 5 Exterior Design

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Interior Ambience

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Passenger Space

2.5 2.5 2.5 2.5 2.5 Luggage Space

5 5 5 5 5 Safety

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Comfort

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Driving Dynamics

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 25 Nov 2019









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2020 Polestar 1. Image by Polestar.2020 Polestar 1. Image by Polestar.2020 Polestar 1. Image by Polestar.2020 Polestar 1. Image by Polestar.2020 Polestar 1. Image by Polestar.

2020 Polestar 1. Image by Polestar.2020 Polestar 1. Image by Polestar.2020 Polestar 1. Image by Polestar.2020 Polestar 1. Image by Polestar.2020 Polestar 1. Image by Polestar.








 

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