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New Polestar 1 prototype review

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Polestar 1 - front

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17 Jun, 2019 1:00pm John McIlroy

We went to Sweden to try out a prototype version of the new 599bhp Polestar 1, the first model from Volvo's new sub-brand

As a launch vehicle for a new brand, the Polestar 1 is quite the statement: concept-car looks, a 599bhp hybrid powertrain, carbon-fibre bodywork, four-wheel drive and a price tag of £139,000.

In fact, the new 2+2 coupe is the first and only vehicle from Volvo’s offshoot to feature a combustion engine (a four-cylinder turbo and supercharged unit with 304bhp). From the next model – the Polestar 2 hatchback – all of the brand’s cars will be purely electric.

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The first deliveries of the Polestar 1 (left-hand drive only) aren’t due until the final quarter of 2019. But we’ve been allowed a quick spin in a verification-prototype vehicle on damp Swedish roads, as well as around Volvo’s test track in Hällered.

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Polestar 1 - rear

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On the outside, the car sticks closely to the original looks of Volvo’s Concept Coupe, revealed in 2013. There’s muscle over the rear arches, although the front still carries the Volvo look. Inside is where the Polestar struggles most to escape its connections; the steering wheel is the same as an XC40 SUV’s, except for the badge, and the portrait infotainment system is familiar as well. So are the heating and ventilation controls.

Still, there are neat touches that will help the Polestar stand out. The sturdy-looking connectors for the car’s electrical systems are not just visible, but actively showcased behind a screen in the boot – celebrating the powertrain instead of masking it.

And the Ohlins dampers can be manually adjusted by clicking small dials at either side of the bonnet and above the rear wheels. It’s too fiddly a process to perform regularly, but it will allow customers to adjust the stiffness of their individual vehicle through nine separate stages.

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Polestar 1 - John McIlroy

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Our car was in roughly the middle of the damper parameters, in what Polestar will recommend as ‘Sport’ settings to buyers. But even on the standard 21-inch wheels, the coupe – which is based on Volvo’s larger SPA platform – feels pretty assured and comfortable as we escape Gothenburg traffic to find some empty country roads.

This is a 2.3-tonne car – a 34kWh battery more than blunts the weight savings made by the carbon-fibre bodywork. But the powertrain has, in theory, enough shove to take it from 0-62mph in a whisker over four seconds. That’s because the engine is assisted not only by an integrated starter-generator (67bhp), but also by two electric motors at the rear that add an additional 228bhp. The total system output is 599bhp, along with a whopping 1,000Nm of torque.

Soaking-wet conditions mean we’re unable to test the claimed standing-start figure, but even so, the powertrain feels more than comfortable with the 1’s mass. It stops short of delivering the stomach-churning shove you get in a Tesla Model S, but torque vectoring through the rear axle allows us to push hard at the drenched test track, with aggressive inputs bringing increased speed rather than understeer.

If anything, it’s the 1’s assured nature that impresses most; it disguises its bulk well as you throw it around, resisting body roll and responding neatly to steering that’s short on feel but reassuringly precise. The brake modulation – always a big challenge for a hybrid – is nicely resolved, too.

Even on pockmarked back roads, there doesn’t appear to be a massive trade-off for this agility. There’s a bit of tyre roar from those wheels and a firmness at lower speeds, but in the main, the overall ride is comfortable enough for a mid-sized GT car.

There’s little noise – not only when in ‘Pure’ electric-only mode, under which the car can run for up to 80-odd miles and keep pace with motorway traffic – but also in the settings that call on the engine. If you favour a throaty soundtrack over the potential for pure-EV miles, then save yourself £10k and buy an Aston Martin Vantage or Mercedes-AMG S 63.

4 The Polestar 1 isn’t cheap, and its design does little to hide its Volvo connections. But there’s not much currently on sale that can match its combination of fast cruising pace and emissions-free running. Its wealthy early adopters will get a stylish, well-finished grand tourer that’s swift, capable and comfortable. If anything, though, the coupe could be too good a commercial for an accomplished hybrid powertrain that Polestar has no further plans to use.

  • Model: Polestar 1
  • Price: £139,000
  • Engine: 2.0 4cyl petrol-electric hybrid
  • Power/torque: 599bhp/1,000Nm
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
  • 0-62mph: 4.2 seconds
  • Top speed: 155mph (est)
  • Economy/CO2: 135mpg/40g/km (est)
  • On sale: Now

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