Few cars are truly unique these days. As profit margins grow ever scarcer in the motoring industry, manufacturers want to get as many vehicles out of each platform and engine as possible. VW Group is probably better at this than most - we’ve already lost count of the number of EA888-powered, MQB-underpinned stuff we’ve driven this year.
Volvo goes one better, though. It has just two platforms across the whole range and only two engines. This extends to electrified offshoot Polestar too, and yet, using this same box of bits, it’s made one of the most interesting and unusual takes on the coupe question you can buy today.
To build it, Polestar started with the Scalable Project Architecture (SPA) used for the 60 and 90-series Volvos. Into this goes a 338bhp turbocharged and supercharged 2.0-litre engine from the ‘T8’ cars to power the front wheels, supplemented by a 39bhp starter motor generator unit. On the rear axle are two electric motors providing a combined 215bhp, giving a total system power figure of 592bhp. Oh, and peak torque of 738lb ft, or more neatly 1000Nm.
What’s especially interesting is what sits between the motors and the engine. Where the transmission tunnel would normally be on Volvo’s T6 AWD cars, Polestar stuffs a large battery pack, installing another above the rear axle. This gives 34kWh of electrical juice, which is way more than the ~14kWh packs we typically see used for bigger plug-in hybrids, and larger than some full EVs like the Mini Electric.
Polestar describes the 1 as an “electric car supported by an internal combustion engine,” which isn’t far off the mark. The official EV range is up to 93 miles, with 70-80 being a more realistic figure. It’s not all that far away from the real-world range of the Honda E we’re running at the moment.
And, of course, all of this is wrapped up in a bodyshell that gives a lot of supercars a run for their money in the beauty stakes. It’s an arguably even prettier version of Volvo’s 2013, P1800-inspired Concept Coupe, only lightly tweaked for production usage. No one we encountered during our one-week drive seemed to know what the Polestar 1 was (interestingly, many thought it was American), but every bystander had one thing in common - they all loved the way it looks.
It’s not as spectacular to drive as it is to look at, though. What it is instead, is intriguing. The use of twin-charging and electric motors with a near-instantaneous peak torque delivery is - in theory - ideal for responsiveness. Sure enough, in ‘Power’ mode the 1 picks up much quicker than a similarly powerful twin-turbo combustion engine. The motors ramp up fairly gently, though, so it’s not quite the dramatic kick up the arse you might expect.
That said, there’s no doubting the straight-line performance. The official 0-62mph time of 4.2 seconds doesn’t really do it justice - when you’re already on the move the hybrid powertrain is capable of punting you forward with vigour. An inline-four up front means the soundtrack isn’t exactly stellar, but we appreciated how damn smooth the unit is. The upshifts from the eight-speed gearbox, meanwhile, are acceptably brisk, but it’s not the snappiest automatic out there.
When left in the default ‘Hybrid’ mode meanwhile, the 1 uses the electrical part of the powertrain whenever it can. If there’s enough charge, the engine only comes into play with a decent throttle input, arriving with a reasonably slick transition. The ICE part of the equation is used more as the battery gets low, ensuring it’s never depleted entirely. ‘Pure’ uses electric power only, making for steady progress which is just about swift enough for normal driving.
The front axle getting the lion’s share of the 1’s total output is a key factor in how the car feels when you get to a corner. On the way in, those electric motors feel like they’re wanting to push the back end out, but as you apply some throttle at the midpoint to drive yourself out of the bend, the car is pulled back into line. Get greedy with the right-hand pedal, and it will understeer.
The steering has that usual slightly springy feeling you get with all Volvo products and also the Polestar 2, but it seems to have been toned down here, at least. There’s quite a lot of body roll, too, although if you can be bothered to fiddle with the manually adjustable Ohlins dampers, it should be possible to lessen this at the expense of ride quality. Changing the compression and rebound settings at the front is easy enough since it’s done via dials on the strut tops, but for that back, you need to jack the car up.
The mid-way settings the car was delivered with were a decent enough compromise. As a car that doesn’t necessarily egg you on to drive fast, it’s better off focusing on ride comfort. The 1 is more of a grand tourer than a sports car, although its tiny boot (complete with a fabulous display of orange-coloured electrical gear) means there are better vehicles for the job.
The 1 certainly has the GT-like weight figure, though. Despite a mostly carbon fibre reinforced plastic body trimming the fat by 230kg, the Polestar is still a positively porky 2.3 tonnes mostly thanks to that colossal battery. Oh, and it’s priced like a GT too. An expensive one, at that - while originally insisting the 1 would only be available on a subscription basis, Polestar relented and offered it for conventional purchase at £139,000.
A price hovering close to the starting point for the Bentley Continental GT is a tough pill to swallow when the interior is scarcely different from a well-specced 90 or 60-series Volvo. The cabin is one of the nicest things about those cars, but c’mon, we’re talking about something that costs twice as much as the most expensive S90.
The Polestar 1 has ended up being a hard sell in Europe, where just 65 were flogged last year. Its cause isn’t helped in the UK by it being left-hand drive only, although you do get used to that pretty quickly.
For the few that take the plunge, I get it. For all its parts borrowing, the 1 is incomparable with anything else out there. It’s more eye-catching than any other similarly priced coupe, yet less brash. No one’s going to resent you for driving this in the same way they might a BMW M8, or Mercedes S63 coupe. And although it’s not anything like as exciting, the 1’s very different take on going fast is refreshing.
After this year, all of this will be moot. The 1’s reign as a halo model will come to an end after a short production life, the car having done its job at attracting attention before the Polestar brand heads off on its fully electric future with the 2 and its incoming colleagues. We can’t imagine Polestar will ever do anything this strange, flawed, beautiful and brilliant ever again.