Do you worry that electrification will make all cars the same? Then the Polestar 1 is a reassuring thing: a 450kW plug-in hybrid with a 2.0-litre supercharged, turbocharged petrol engine with starter/generator, two other electric motors, a part-steel part-carbonfibre monocoque, a carbonfibre bonnet the size of a mainsail, and a single transverse rear leaf spring.
It’s so techy you have to open the bonnet and delve behind the rear wheels, having jacked up the car, or perhaps while lying on the floor, to tweak its 22-stage adjustable Ohlins dampers. Welcome, then, to the intensely baffling Polestar 1.
Polestar is now a stand-alone electric performance brand, owned by Geely and Volvo, and gets its own R&D spend, so it can do things like open a satellite engineering centre in the UK. And its engineers can go to the bosses and present a car as wacky as this and get the answer: “Hey, sure, go for it.”
The 1 began life as 2013’s Volvo Concept Coupe, designed by Thomas Ingenlath, now CEO of Polestar.
They will build just 1500 1s, all in China and all left-hand drive. Although it’s a plug-in hybrid, all following Polestars will be purely battery electric – as well as more widely available and, presumably, cheaper and less complex.
The 1 is an extremely complicated car, with ravenous performance and luxury, a car of extravagance but the ability to cover 130km on pure-electric power. At €150,000 (AUD$240K) it’s a four-wheeled champagne socialist.
Based on Volvo’s SPA platform that underpins the 60-Series, but with a chunk taken out of the wheelbase and floor, the 1 is just 4.5 metres long. There is structural carbonfibre in the floor, roof and pillars, plus all of the body panels bar the bumpers. The composite is costly but allows tight radii on those rather dashing rear guards, reminiscent of the P1800’s.
More significant, the composite gives greater structural rigidity and lightness. The 1’s body is 40 percent stiffer than if the whole caboodle were steel, and it weighs less. To a point. The twin rear-mounted electric motors, the twin-charged and electrically assisted combustion engine, and 34kWh of batteries located down the spine of the car and behind the rear seats mean that this 2.07m-wide coupe with tiny rear seats and not much boot still weighs 2350kg.
Still, the 450kW and 1000Nm help things move along.
The interior architecture is pure Volvo, and none the worse for it, with carbonfibre trim inserts and better-trimmed leather than usual.
It’s necessary to note that what you see here is a validation prototype car, with unfinished tooling and fit. There’s at least one more build phase before production proper, and yet it’s already better inside than some finished cars.
The ambience, then, is a posher version of something familiar.
The front seats are big, the driving position comfortable and the plus-two rear seats very small. There’s a sedan-style boot with some connectors made visible behind a panel, looking a bit ‘flux capacitor’, and the rear seats don’t fold. Therefore, it’s not the most practical of coupes, but such is the will of its personality that I don’t think that matters much.
You spin the start button and the dials spring to action, and you can scroll through various modes of propulsion, from full EV to four-wheel drive (everything always on). In zero-tailpipe-emission mode, it’s still brisk enough to keep pace with motorway traffic. In many-emissions mode, it feels Continental GT levels of quick.
The ride and handling give you fewer options. From the factory, those Ohlins dual-flow-valve dampers are set to positions 9 (front) and 10 (rear) of 22, and I suspect that’s where most of them will stay. They give the car an acceptably pliant ride, despite 30-profile, 21-inch, bespoke Pirellis.
It has tremendous consistency, with a good ability to smother small bumps without the ‘sproing’ and echo of air springs, but just as key is a restrained roll rate, and particularly deft body control for a car of this weight. It might just be the best EV/PHEV driver’s car to date.
Choosing those gold Ohlins shocks over adaptive dampers is a little weird, nerdy, expensive – all Polestar’s words, incidentally – but there is only one steering setting, moderate of weight and speed, with a nice build-up of torque away from a very stable centre.
The whole set-up is very much focused on the way the engineers like it. It’s keyed to the road surface, with torque vectoring at the rear axle, which puts in effort even during mild cornering, overdriving the outside rear wheel. Few cars of this mass feel this agile. It’s decidedly well integrated and curiously rewarding.
Given the 1 is not yet finished, I won’t give it a star rating. In a way, it doesn’t really suit one. This is a car with loads of alternatives, but none of them is a natural rival to a coupe that’s slightly bewildering, has a great sense of fun, and is thoroughly well finished inside.
You might not ‘get’ the 1, but I must admit I really do.
All about the drive on MOTOR reviews
POLESTAR 1 SPECS
Engine: 1969cc inline-4, DOHC, 16v, twin-charge; three electric motors
0-100km/h: 3.6sec (est)
Price: $300,000 (est)
Like: Potent performance; luxurious interior fit-out; structural rigidity; adjustable Ohlins shocks, surprising agility
Dislike: Very small rear seat and boot; unlikely to be sold here