We drive the production version of the plug-in electric hybrid Polestar 1. Can the limited run sports GT match the promise of the prototype we drove earlier this year?

What is it?

It’s the first model to emerge from Volvo’s fledgling Polestar premium electrified car brand. A limited run and handbuilt special, it’s both a four-wheeled shop window for what the company can achieve and, hopefully, a taster for what its future models will be like.

At a glance, it would be easy to dismiss the Polestar 1 as simply a two-door Volvo S90. But there’s more to it than that. Much more. We drove an example a few months back, when it proved to be arguably one of the most interesting cars of the year. Yet that example was a prototype, quirks and all, while the one you see here is the finished article, one of the 1,500 that will be handbuilt over the next three years. 

There’s quite a lot to talk about with the Polestar 1, which is packed with advanced technology and, apart from the elements of its scalable platform architecture (SPA) and it’s interior, has little in common with Volvo’s more mundane models. For starters, the eye-catching (this car really does look good) bodywork is made up of hand layered carbon fibre reinforced polymer (CFRP). Even so the kerbweight is still 2,350kg, which makes sense when you realise what’s under those lightweight panels.

Driving the front wheels through an eight-speed automatic gearbox is a turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, while at the rear is a pair of active torque vectoring electric motors, one for each wheel, and another motor between the engine and gearbox that acts as powerful starter/generator. Powering these are two large batteries, one in the transmission tunnel and another over the rear axle. So you can see why it’s a bit lardy. Still, there should be enough power to overcome this, because with all the various motive forces working together there’s a not inconsiderable 601bhp and a thumping 738lb ft of torque.

Inside, the Polestar borrows heavily from Volvo, with the dashboard essentially carried over wholesale. However, special leathers and bespoke trims help lift the ambience, easily allowing the car to hit it’s luxury GT brief. However, while it’s billed as a 2+2, the rear seats really are cramped - as is the boot, which is largely full of battery.

2 Polestar 1 2019 first drive hero rear

What's it like?

In Pure mode the Polestar uses the combined 229bhp from its twin rear motors to travel in near silence for about 80 miles on a charge and at speeds of up to 100mph. Acceleration is instant and up to about 60mph it feels T5 quick, which is more than fast enough for the daily cut and thrust. Better still, such is the range that, for many day-to-day journeys, you could use the 1 as an EV and rarely bother its internal combustion engine. To do so, however, would be missing a trick.

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Engage ‘Power’ and the performance gets serious. It’s perhaps not quite as rapid as you’d expect a 600bhp car to be (that’s the effect of nearly two and a half tons for you), but the combination of immediate electric torque and the power of that twin-charged engine mean, in a straight line, the Polestar easily has the measure of, say, a Mercedes-AMG A45. With internal combustion and electrictrification doing a double act there’s terrific traction, too, with only the odd squirm of torque steer reminding you that the front and rear axles have no physical connection.

It sounds good too, the mix of supercharger and turbo chatter, gravelly induction (the intake plenum is carbon fiber) and the whine from the electric motors creating a unique aural backdrop that’s not necessarily better than a standard car, just appealingly different.

However, the Polestar’s real party trick is the way it deals with the corners. The trick torque vectoring motors do their bit here, rotating the car into and out of the bends, but so does the suspension. There are double wishbones at the front and a multi-link axle at the rear, but in place of a Volvo’s adaptive dampers are eye-wateringly expensive Ohlins dual flow manually adjustable dampers, which, as an engineering choice, is both strange (who wants to get grubby adding a few clicks of bump and rebound to their luxurious sports GT?) and brilliant (because they work so well).

There’s not much feel through the steering, but it’s meatily weighted and has a cracking rate of response, which, in tandem with those torque vectoring motors, helps the Polestar scythe towards the apex with real agility, and you can sense that the outside rear wheel is subtly overspeed on the exit. It doesn’t generate oversteer as such, it simply helps kill any understeer to deliver a deliciously neutral stance. Rapid direction changes reveal a deft dexterity, while those special dampers deliver cast iron control. The brakes are up to the challenge too, the low speed snatchiness giving way to both prodigious power and a progressive pedal that has you second guessing where regenerative retardation ends and friction braking begins.

Take things easier and the Polestar does the whole GT thing well too. Its ride is perhaps a little on the firm side, but only on really rough sections of road, and even then it manages to just round off the sharp edges where an S90 would get a bit brittle. Plus with a little effort you can always soften the dampers a touch. It feels special inside too, the use of bespoke leathers, premium trim inserts and details such as the translucent gear selector helping to both enhance the already stylish Volvo-sourced interior and justify the Polestar’s price.

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7 Polestar 1 2019 first drive dashboard

Should I buy one?

At £139,000, this thing isn’t cheap, but Polestar is only making 1,500 examples (all left-hand drive) and each one is essentially hand assembled, so it’ll be a rare sight, especially in the UK. More importantly, for such a hi-tech machine it has genuine charm and character, and, while it has some quirks (the firm ride and tiny rear seats for example), it also combines the digital and analogue to beguiling effect.

Moreover, as a showcase for what Polestar can achieve in the future, the handsome 1 hits the spot. Despite its fiendishly complex underpinnings, the quick and composed coupé also has genuine personality. 

Polestar 1 specification

Where Florence, Italy Price £139,990 On sale now Engine 4cyls, 1969cc, turbo and supercharged petrol, plus 3x electric motors Power 601bhp at 6,000rpm (combined) Torque 738lb ft (combined) Gearbox eight-speed automatic Kerb weight 2350kg Top speed 155mph (limited) 0-62mph 4.2sec Fuel economy 403.5mpg (WLTP) CO2 15g/km Rivals Aston Martin DB11 V8, Porsche Panamera Turbo S e-hybrid, Tesla Model S Performance

14 Polestar 1 2019 first drive cornering front

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James Disdale

James Disdale
Title: Special correspondent

James is a special correspondent for Autocar, which means he turns his hand to pretty much anything, including delivering first drive verdicts, gathering together group tests, formulating features and keeping Autocar.co.uk topped-up with the latest news and reviews. He also co-hosts the odd podcast and occasional video with Autocar’s esteemed Editor-at-large, Matt Prior.

For more than a decade and a half James has been writing about cars, in which time he has driven pretty much everything from humble hatchbacks to the highest of high performance machines. Having started his automotive career on, ahem, another weekly automotive magazine, he rose through the ranks and spent many years running that title’s road test desk. This was followed by a stint doing the same job for monthly title, evo, before starting a freelance career in 2019. The less said about his wilderness, post-university years selling mobile phones and insurance, the better.

Join the debate

Add a comment…
Digsy 26 November 2019

You'd have to really want the tech...

... to drop £140k on a coupe with the front, rear and interior of a common or garden S90. It would make a very pretty S90 coupe at £50-60k but this is almost DB11/Conti GT money and it really needs to be more special inside and out.

artill 25 November 2019

Should either have been EV

Should either have been EV only or the last car to get Volvo's V8. This doesnt know what it wants to be other than expensive. At least they managed that OK.

Citytiger 25 November 2019

Now that

they have got this into production, perhaps they should look at the Concept Estate (that draws heavily from the P1800ES) revealed at the same time as the Concept Coupe this based on, produce it as a PHEV or an EV,  using the standard T8 running gear, perhaps call it the PH2000EV (should I trademark that), and give us a sexy Volvo for the masses.