There’s a big divide in attitudes between the U.S. and Europe right now, and we’re not just talking about David Hasselhoff’s continued popularity. Where cars are concerned, consumer tastes have always differed between our continents. But there’s something new brewing across the pond: a full assault on emissions. Once upon a time, it was merely a bit gauche to show up in a gas-guzzler over there. These days you’re regarded as a gluttonous pariah.

This story originally appeared in the June 2020 issue of Road & Track.

Here in America, we’ve seen geographic—and demographic —pockets packed first with Priuses and now teeming with Teslas, but for the most part We the People are still in love with conspicuous consumption. To us, it makes no sense for a company to invent an all-new, all-electric sub-brand that will render its own brand kaput when the last piston engine pumps its way out of the factory. But when CO2 is the enemy, the further you can distance yourself from your old hydrocarbon-spewing ways the better. And for that very reason, Polestar was born. Originally called Flash Engineering after its founder’s nickname, Polestar began as a racing team that partnered with Volvo for participation in the Swedish Touring Car Championship. The Polestar name sounds like the title of a reality-TV search for Sweden’s hottest exotic dancer, but is in fact derived from references to “pole position” and Sweden’s frozen north. Polestar continued its racing efforts while concurrently developing high-performance variants of Volvo models, including the hot V60 Polestar wagon.

Volvo purchased the performance-car portion of the brand in 2015 and the competition team rebranded as Cyan Racing, presumably after the gorgeous blue color of its cars. This allowed the Polestar name to be used as a stand-alone brand for Volvo and parent company Geely. We were originally told that Polestar would be a performance brand. Now we’re learning it will be an all-electric one.

Either way, the first car from this new brand, the aptly named Polestar 1, is both. Right off the bat it causes some slight head-scratching. First off, though Polestar is an EV brand, the 1 is actually a gasoline-burning, plug-in hybrid. Second, though the 1 is made up almost entirely of “lightweight” carbon fiber, it weighs an outrageous 5184 pounds. And lastly, Polestar’s first new car is actually a seven-year-old concept from another marque.

Dane Pollok

We’ll address each of those in time, but fact is the Polestar 1 is so achingly beautiful that we can dismiss most of its philosophical deficiencies. If you think it looks lovely in pictures, wait until you see one on the road. The coupe turns heads everywhere it goes, pulling phones from pockets as if it has a special gravitational field. Its proportions are every bit as captivating as those of the best Aston Martins. To use a well-known measuring stick, the Polestar is 5.2 inches shorter than a BMW 3-series, but 3.2 inches lower and an enormous 5.2 inches wider. Its hips seem as wide as a Chevy Suburban but as low as a Ferrari’s. It wears simple and elegant detailing so devoid of fake vents and visual- accessory crap that you might think it’s from a different, better age of automotive design.

And so it is. The Polestar 1 is a near-identical facsimile of the 2013 Volvo Coupe concept, down to its S90-based running gear and hybrid gas-electric powertrain. Watching this car enter production so many years later makes us wonder if there was someone at Volvo who didn’t want to waste that gorgeous concept, regardless of the marketing difficulties it could create. Suspicion becomes an aha moment when you realize that the very man who designed that Volvo concept is now the CEO of Polestar.

Ego-driven vanity projects can be disasters (here’s looking at you, Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet), but if the envisioneur is a visionary, the car can be transcendent. The Polestar 1 is firmly in the latter camp because it is as splendid to drive as it is to behold. In case you hadn’t noticed, that’s exceptionally high praise.

But first the technical bits. The Polestar rides on the same basic SPA (Scalable Product Architecture) underpinning as Volvo’s 60- and 90-series cars, but essentially everything above the floor has been lopped off and replaced with carbon fiber. Not just the body panels, but the crash and structural parts, too. As such, it’s built by hand at Polestar’s low-volume factory in Chengdu, China, which can produce a maximum of 500 cars per year. Three years of production are planned, and only 150 examples are scheduled to come to the U.S. annually. This will be an exceedingly rare car.

polestar 1 side profile

Dane Pollok

According to Polestar, the 1 would have weighed an additional 507 lb if the metal bits from Volvo’s SPA hadn’t been replaced with carbon fiber. And thanks in part to a massive transverse structural brace that Polestar calls the Dragonfly (made of carbon fiber, of course), the big coupe is also 45 percent stiffer in torsion.

If the weight isn’t from the body it must be from the powertrain, and the Polestar has two of those. Under the deeply scalloped hood resides Volvo’s familiar gas/electric hybrid setup. In this specification, the boosted-to-the-moon, 2.0-liter inline-four wears both a turbocharger and a supercharger to produce 326 hp and 321 lb-ft of torque. It sends the power, along with some additional thrust from an integrated 71-hp, 119-lb-ft electric sandwich motor, through an 8-speed automatic transmission to the front wheels.

The rear powertrain is, for now, exclusive to the Polestar 1. Powered by a pair of lithium-ion batteries with a total capacity of 34 kWh, it uses twin 116-hp motors, attached to the rear wheels, that can operate independently for real torque-vectoring. In electric-only operation, the Polestar 1 is strictly rear-drive, and its top speed is limited to 99 mph. EPA ratings were not yet finalized by press time, but we estimate electric-only range will fall between 60 and 70 miles.

In hybrid mode, all four wheels are driven. The rear motors physically decouple from the wheels at 99 mph, but until that point total system output is a substantial 619 hp and 738 lb-ft. That’s a lot of grunt, and it helped this heavy beast lay down impressive numbers in our testing. But the figures look a bit different than you’d expect thanks to the hybrid powertrain’s complexity. The 3.7-second run from 0 to 60 mph is certainly brisk, but it’s slower than other big-horsepower, heavyweight, all-wheel-drive luxury coupes. By comparison, the lighter, 542-hp Bentley Continental GT V-8 suffers an almost 10 percent deficit in weight-to-power, but blazes to 60 mph in just 3.3 seconds.

Keep your foot in it, though, and the Polestar will have made up half of that time difference by the quarter-mile, and will be traveling 2 mph quicker. Looking closely at the numbers confirms our seat-of-the-pants impressions: The Polestar is relatively slow off the line, but breathtakingly fast thereafter. The Polestar matches the Bentley’s outrageous acceleration from 30 to 60 mph, and beats it by a substantial 0.5 second from 60 to 100 mph.

polestar 1 rear

Dane Pollok

From a dead stop the 1 will spin its front wheels slightly through first gear. So we suspected the tepid launch was due to what’s happening out back. By switching to electric mode, it became clear that the electric motors don’t contribute their full shove at low speeds. Thanks to the long 6:1 gear ratio necessitated by their relatively low, 7200-rpm maximum speed, the motors’ peak output doesn’t occur until 45 mph. At least they remain at that peak all the way to 99 mph.

It’s not the power that’s the most impressive part of the drivetrain, though; it’s the integration. Somewhere inside the Polestar’s all-carbon body hides an overworked computer charged with managing the outputs of an internal combustion engine with both a supercharger and a turbocharger; a motor mounted on that engine’s crankshaft; and two separate electric motors at the rear.

With three electric motors and a supercharger supplementing the engine, the Polestar’s powertrain responds instantly, very much unlike any conventionally turbocharged engine. Our passing acceleration tests demonstrate just how quickly: Mat the throttle at 30 mph in the Polestar, and 1.9 seconds later you’ll be traveling at 50 mph. The twin-turbocharged Bentley requires 2.4 seconds to accomplish the same. Our 50-to-70-mph test shows an even bigger difference. There, the Polestar ties a Bugatti Veyron 16.4’s 2.3-second performance and absolutely destroys that Bentley, which requires a comparably slothlike 3.1 seconds. How do you say “nya nya” in Swedish?

However you say it, you’ll be doing it while sideways in the Polestar—this heavy coupe (which carries 52 percent of its mass over the rear wheels) turns like a mid-engine sports car. To say that you can feel the rear-wheel torque vectoring at work would be an insult to such a well-tuned system, but the Polestar 1 responds in corners in ways that defy expectations. Because its rear motors torque vector even without adding forward thrust, it nixes understeer on its own, remaining neutral off the throttle, on the throttle, or with the accelerator pedal pinned. A slight oversteer bias likely costs some overall grip, so its 0.95-g skidpad performance is less than we’d expect from 275- and 295-section Pirelli PZ4 summer tires. It’s behind the 1.01 g posted by the Bentley, which, let’s not forget, shares its chassis with the Porsche Panamera. On the other hand, the Polestar’s ass-out limit handling is easily controllable and very fun.

polestar 1 interior

Dane Pollok

The 1 wears Öhlins manually adjustable DFV dampers at all four corners. Polestar printed beautiful adjustment graphics on the plates atop the shock towers, but any adjustment hardware is unnecessary jewelry; the factory’s default setting is perfect. Body motions are impeccably controlled, and if there is body roll in corners, you’d never know it from the driver’s seat. Bumps are a one-and-done affair, and the only hint of harshness comes from sharp impacts over big imperfections. These are surely unavoidable with 21-inch wheels padded by 30-series sidewalls, which provide all the absorbent quality of the little blue rubber band that holds your grocery-store broccoli together. Only the tightest, bumpiest, and gnarliest of California’s wooded roads got the Polestar’s front end to run out of travel, and then only under heavy braking.

The brakes themselves are enormous, as you’d expect, to cope with all the mass and speed. Six-piston front and four-piston rear Akebono calipers clamp 15.7-inch and 15.4-inch rotors, respectively; these have both sufficient thermal mass and airflow to stay cool even on the most irresponsible mountain drives. The by-wire brake pedal is tuned well enough that the transition from regenerative to friction braking doesn’t get in the way of smooth stops.

That’s a lot of dynamic praise, and we haven’t even gotten to the best part yet: the steering. It’s easily the most impressive and surprising piece of the Polestar’s driving experience. Electrically assisted, of course, it has a perfect sense of straight-ahead; natural weighting, especially in its heaviest mode; and sends some information back to the driver about what the front tires are doing. Including, in rare cases, torque steer. This is the kind of steering we dream that BMW might once again produce someday.

polestar 1 high voltage trunk

Dane Pollok

The Polestar 1’s cabin is, on the other hand, something very much like what Volvo produces today. It’s handsome, but is constructed mostly of standard-fare S60 and S90 pieces. The seats are nearly as comfortable as the seating position is perfect; the crystal gear selector as frustrating (requiring two pulls to engage either reverse or neutral, as in other Volvos) as it is pretty. The touchscreen infotainment system, in typical Volvo style, is also somewhat cumbersome. And while the LCD gauges are clear and easy to read, the “tachometer” lacks any numeric scale. There’s a surprising amount of electric motor whir at lower speeds, and the all-glass roof (which has no retractable shade and does not open) seems to bounce interior sounds around. The 1 does project a reflection of the Polestar logo onto the glass at night, which is super cool.

That said, the cabin is very quiet—cruising at 70 mph, its 67-dBA sound level ties that of a Mercedes-AMG S63 Coupe, and is just 1 dBA louder than the Bentley.

The rearview mirrors are a new frameless design that shrinks the overall size of the housing to reduce aerodynamic drag by nearly a third. The mirror glass is attached permanently to the housing, which then moves as a whole to adjust its angle. Combined with a full-frame rear-view mirror, the Polestar 1 has good rearward visibility—except that the back-up camera is placed low enough in the bumper that it requires concentration to use.

One thing the driver will never see in any of the mirrors is a passenger in the back seat. For just one small person to successfully find his way back there would require multiple amputations. He would then need the Jaws of Life to get back out, meanwhile wasting years of his life waiting for the painfully slow front seats to electrically motor themselves out of the way. Best to think of the rear seating as a decorative torture device. Then think of the trunk as a 4.4-cubic foot joke even funnier than the rear seats. Open the rear decklid and you’ll see the Swedes have cleverly tried to distract you from the lack of space with a plexiglass-covered display of labeled, orange high-voltage electric wires. Don’t let that fool you—the trunk is smaller than a Mazda Miata’s.

Of course, the Polestar weighs as much as 2.2 Miatas, but other than in engine displacement, they’re not comparable. Fact is, the Polestar 1 doesn’t directly compete against anything. Ignore the lack of space behind the driver, and what it comes closest to is that Bentley Continental GT. At $156,500, the Polestar is certainly expensive, but far less so than the Bentley. And it’s quicker in the real world, with half the engine, real EV range, and none of the social stigma of showing up in an old-world, carbon-spewing chariot of excess. It may not make sense on the face of it, but as an interior-space-compromised replacement to guzzling GTs, the Polestar 1 is a beautiful success.

polestar 1 rear lights

Dane Pollok

This content is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page to help users provide their email addresses. You may be able to find more information about this and similar content at piano.io

This commenting section is created and maintained by a third party, and imported onto this page. You may be able to find more information on their web site.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here