ROAD TEST: 2021 Polestar 1

By Shari Prymak

The introduction of an all-new car brand is a rare occurrence and a bold move for a small car manufacturer such as Volvo, but that is exactly what we have with Polestar. Volvo’s new subsidiary brand represents the future with a small, exclusive lineup of electrified vehicles designed for those looking for something fresh and interesting. Although the all-electric Polestar 2 is intended to serve as the core model with mainstream appeal, the Polestar 1 is the halo model of the lineup, designed to stoke interest and draw the attention of buyers.

Drawing attention is no challenge for the Polestar 1. It is not just the fact that it is an exceedingly rare sighting with an unfamiliar badge on the grill. It is so elegant and understated, and yet so achingly gorgeous, that it commands attention wherever it goes. It absolutely nails the formula for an exotic 2+2 seater grand tourer coupe, and it has the exotic car exclusivity to match its looks. With only 1500 examples being produced over a three year period, you can bet you’ll never see another one on the road.

Just as unique as its appearance is its highly complex and powerful hybrid drivetrain. The engine consists of a turbocharged and supercharged 4-cylinder unit which pairs to a set of electric motors powering all four wheels. Total system output is an impressive 619 horsepower and 738 lb-ft of torque. It may not be a conventional choice for a drivetrain, but the hybrid system produces some pretty spectacular results in terms of performance. 0-100km/h is accomplished in as little as four seconds, with an incredible, torque-filled thrust that never seems to let off.

The lack of enjoyable engine sound can almost be forgiven thanks to the benefits of the hybrid system. With a full charge and Pure mode selected, the Polestar 1 moves in total silence and smoothness with a total electric range of up to 100km. The Power mode gives you the best of both worlds with full electric operation plus the full power of the hybrid powertrain available on demand with a heavy prod of the accelerator. The hybrid operation is something we’re not used to seeing in a grand tourer, but it actually works surprisingly well in this application.

Although grand touring comfort and refinement is the focus of the driving experience, the Polestar 1 is also capable of pretty impressive handling and cornering performance. Despite the use of ultra-lightweight carbon fibre composite panels for the entire bodywork, the curb weight is a rather hefty 2,350kg. And yet, it manages its weight remarkably well with excellent balance and control around corners. This is partly thanks to the use of electronic torque vectoring and manually-adjustable Öhlins dampers which are tuned to control body motions while also delivering comfortable ride suitable for a GT car.

If there’s any part of the whole car that falls a bit short, it is the interior. Although luxurious and covered with high quality materials down to the last detail, there’s no getting around the fact that this is fundamentally the same basic interior found in a $50k Volvo XC40. It shares all the same Volvo controls, including the cumbersome touchscreen rather than the latest Google-based infotainment system found in the Polestar 2. The large glass roof gives the cabin a nice airy feel, but this is still a pretty cramped space with small rear seats and a tiny trunk that’s mostly taken up by the hybrid hardware proudly on display.

A few compromises and quirks aside, the Polestar 1 delivers an exceptional driving experience and stunning looks befitting a halo car. Its $199,000 price tag is no joke, but it almost seems reasonable given the level of rarity and exclusivity that comes with it.  Whether the buzz of the Polestar 1 is enough to flame excitement in the brand for the long-term remains to be seen, but this is certainly an outstanding start.