• New electrified performance brand by Volvo
  • Polestar 1 is a high-performance plug-in hybrid
  • As a halo model it makes 626 horsepower
  • Premium Öhlins suspension featured
  • Production starts in September 2019
  • Priced from $155,000 as more accessible

 

For decades, Volvo has written the proverbial book on safe, reliable family transportation. Meanwhile their high-performance Polestar division has spiced up the Swedish brand in the same way that Mercedes-Benz’s AMG division and BMW’s M cars have boosted those carmakers’ street cred. Recognizing the value of building a separate nameplate to redefine its future, Volvo purchased Polestar and spun it off as a new brand, offering electrified cars with expanded performance.

Their debut product is the 2020 Polestar 1, a big grand touring coupe that’s nothing short of a Hail Mary attempt to put the brand on the map. Priced at $155,000, the Polestar 1 is an ambitious halo car that demonstrates what happens when a carmaker breaks new ground and challenges pre-existing norms. Does it deliver? We spent a day behind the wheel in Gothenburg, Sweden to find out.

Complex hybrid powertrain

The Polestar 1 features a complex combination of gasoline and electric power to deliver some compelling stats: 626 horsepower and 738 lb-ft of torque in U.S. spec (European versions produce 600 horsepower due to their legally required gasoline particulate filters.)  That power comes from a symphony of propulsion methods: a turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-liter gasoline engine up front with a small electric motor/generator (mated to an 8-speed automatic), two electric motors at each rear wheel, and enough battery power to deliver an estimated 65 miles of pure EV range.

Polestar took an ambitiously tech-heavy approach with their debut model, incorporating a drivetrain layout with many of the same complex components as high dollar exotics like the Acura NSX and Porsche 918 Spyder. The mix between internal combustion and electric power enables a seriously steep ramp up of torque, helping flexibility when accelerating and delivering a level of power that pushes you quietly back into your seat.

Familiar interior

If the Polestar 1’s sophisticated powertrain excites you, the interior might be a bit of a letdown. Sure, the matte carbon trim and discreet switchgear is nicely suited to car’s buttoned-down personality. But it’s also virtually identical to the interior components you’ll find in an S90 or XC90 – nice and well-finished, but totally and utterly familiar–not packing the same shock and awe that striking exterior or the state-of-the-art powertrain possess.

Front and center in the cabin is a touchscreen oriented in portrait mode (dubbed Sensus), which manages many of the car’s functions and displays navigation and multimedia info. The instrument panel is also digital and can be configured to display navigation maps or trip computer data amidst virtual tachometer graphics, with a head-up display delivering key info. Dark trim is accented by aluminum Bowers & Wilkins speaker grilles, and the leather-wrapped steering wheel has a nice, fat feel in your hands. Similarly satisfying are the front seats, which are biased towards good bolstering and overall support over plushness, though they proved entirely comfortable during five hours of driving. Don't count on cramming anyone larger than a pre-teen kid into the back seats, which are tight due to the coupe’s low roofline.

Grand (hybrid) touring

Whereas the interior carries over more than a few familiar elements from high-end Volvos, the Polestar 1’s driving experience is an all-new experience. Drive modes are controlled via Volvo’s usual faceted, center console-mounted roller switch, and in this application has five setups: Hybrid, Pure (EV), All-Wheel Drive (for snow, ice or rain), Power (for max acceleration), and Individual, which enables customized settings.

Hybrid delivers seamless switching between electric and internal combustion power, a transition that doesn't feel jarring, or even perceptible under most conditions. I was reminded that the test vehicle is a pre-production prototype and that a few irregularities might be present– and they were, in the form of sometimes jittery low speed power delivery and an occasional judder when slowing down (not to mention some warning lights on the dashboard). The glitches were entirely understandable, since the car is still being fine-tuned well before its production release later this year.

Power and agility

Pure electric Switching to Pure (EV only) mode delivered smooth, relatively quiet acceleration save some electric motor noise Polestar says will be significantly reduced in the final version. Speed freaks will rejoice in Power mode, which taps both the internal combustion and electric motors for maximum thrust. This setting is totally addictive: dip the throttle, and the Polestar pulls forward like a freight train, offering a seemingly uninterrupted flow of power that courses through all four wheels.

Handling is also surprisingly crisp, despite a staggering curb weight of 5,180 pounds. Much of the unexpected nimbleness comes from the fact that the bulk of that weight is distributed low in the vehicle, and that torque vectoring via the twin electric motors enables sharp cornering. Also aiding the maneuverability is an Öhlins damper system that can be manually adjusted by opening the hood and hand-dialing in the desired stiffness. It’s an unusual touch that says a lot about this car’s handmade, low volume origins and niche approach to the market.

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The big picture

Though the Polestar 1 is being touted as grand tourer, it delivers surprisingly entertaining dynamics on winding roads. And while its interior is more staid than revolutionary– especially considering its supercar-like price– this big coupe’s impact is greater than its individual weaknesses. Polestar set out to start a serious conversation by launching a premium coupe, not a more predictable SUV or crossover, and though controversial, the Polestar 1 sets off a fascination debate about the future of electrification.

While only 140 U.S. buyers have signed up for the first model year car, the real test of the Polestar brand will come when their follow-up car, the dedicated electric Polestar 2 arrives, a 5-door Tesla Model 3 competitor that promises a considerably more affordable price point. Until then, the Polestar 1 marks a line in the sand: if their follow up offerings are as intriguing as their debut, the future looks bright for the premium Swedish brand.

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