What Car? says...
The Polestar 1 takes the rulebook for high-performance GT cars and simply obliterates it. Rather than using a big eight or twelve-cylinder engine driving the rear or all four wheels, the 1 combines a high-output 2.0-litre petrol engine with a trio of electric motors to create a seriously rapid plug-in hybrid.
How rapid? Well, its total system output is a hefty 601bhp, enough to take this 2350kg brute from 0-62mph in just 4.2sec and on to a limited top speed of 155mph. Now, before you shout that the Porsche Panamera 4S E-Hybrid is faster still, it’s worth bearing in mind that the Polestar 1 is about more than just all-out pace.
This is one plug-in hybrid that’s serious about electric driving. It uses a pair of battery packs to give an electric-only range of 77 miles, according to official figures; that's nearly two-and-a-half times the distance you can expect from the Panamera. According to Polestar, this means the 1 can be treated like an electric car in normal day-to-day use; its petrol engine is only needed when you want to extend the range, or to provide a healthy dollop of extra performance.
Despite having more batteries than a branch of Currys, Polestar has still managed to squeeze a couple of chairs into the back of the 1. That makes it more practical than the BMW i8 and (in theory) on par with other 2+2s such as the Bentley Continental GT and Aston Martin DB11. Of course, if you just want a seriously high-performance plug-in hybrid, the four-door Porsche Panamera is more sensible still.
But the question is: has Polestar’s gamble paid off? Read on over the next few pages to find out how good the Polestar 1 is to drive, how plush it is inside and how hard it’ll clobber your bank balance. Oh, and don’t forget to have a look at our New Car Buying pages for tempting deals on your next car purchase.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Switch the Polestar 1 on and, assuming there’s charge in the car’s batteries, it’ll start off running on electric power until you either run out of volts or forcibly introduce the accelerator pedal to the carpet. If you want to avoid the petrol engine coming on at all, there’s a ‘Pure’ mode that’s electric-only all the way up to 100mph.
In fact, in Pure, performance isn’t at all shabby. The 1’s pair of electric motors – one for each rear wheel – work together to produce a reasonable 229bhp and, more importantly, 354lb ft of torque. That’s more torque than you get in a Porsche 911. As with all electric cars, though, expect to see the 77-mile range tumble quickly at motorway speeds, so it’s handy that you have the option to conserve battery power for later in your journey. If you’d rather use it all up and charge it when you get home, it’ll take 3 hours to go from 0-100% using a 7kW home wall box, or less than an hour if you can find a 50kW fast charger.
Even though you’ll keep pace easily with traffic in electric mode, you’ll need to wake up the petrol engine for the 1 to feel as fast as its official 4.2sec 0-62mph time suggests. This 2.0-litre turbocharged and supercharged motor produces 305bhp, while an additional 67bhp electric motor (additional to the two at the rear) can add power or restart the engine far more smoothly than a conventional starter motor. ‘Hybrid’ mode will get the motor running when needed, with ‘AWD’ and ‘Power’ modes keeping it permanently engaged to prioritise maximum traction on slippery surfaces or to maximise performance, respectively.
Now, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice that the front wheels receive a fair bit more power than the rears. As a consequence, on slippery surfaces, you can occasionally feel the steering wheel writhing in your hands as the front tyres struggle for traction. Thankfully this is only really an issue when you launch the car from a standstill.
It's still quite a way off the pace of its fastest rivals – as we said that includes the Panamera 4S E-Hybrid but also the Bentley Continental GT – yet there’s no doubting it's still quick. The way the 1 surges past slower-moving traffic when overtaking is addictive. Just be aware that, if you’re cruising in electric mode and want to pick up speed in a hurry, the petrol engine does take a moment to wake up and start producing power. Keep it in Power mode if you’re in the mood for a spirited drive.
And even though (whisper it), the Polestar 1 shares its basic platform with the rather soggy Volvo S90 T8, you’ll certainly feel the temptation to give it a damn good thrashing. For a start, the steering transmits a few subtle messages about the front tyre’s activities and is precise, helping to build up your confidence. The brakes feel much more natural than we’ve come to expect on hybrids, too, although nothing like as progressive as the best sporting coupés', including the Aston Martin DB11.
The 1 is a little on the porky side, so it's not as agile as the DB11, either, but it does a convincing job of concealing its mass the vast majority of the time. While you might expect some clever computer-controlled air suspension system to be behind this, the 1 is actually refreshingly simple; you get conventional coil springs on all four corners, paired with high-quality Ohlins dampers. These are adjustable but don’t expect to change their stiffness from the car’s touchscreen or a button, which is what you do in nearly every rival. Instead, you have to manually adjust them, which believe it or not involves jacking up the rear of the car.
Sticking with the standard settings, the 1 grips the road tenaciously and does a commendable job of resisting running wide at the front. Helping matters are those twin electric motors, which are able to do something called torque vectoring. Without going into too much detail, this means the outside rear wheel can be sent more power during cornering, to effectively push the nose of the car towards the inside of the bend, and even get the tail sliding slightly if you want to.
Now, at this point you’re expecting us to say that agility comes at the expense of ride comfort, right? Well, the 1 is undoubtedly firm, making you aware of the road’s surface passing beneath you, yet those trick dampers take the sting out of even the nastiest pothole or pimple before settling the car back down quickly. That’s impressive for something that wears 21in wheels with tyres like rubber bands.
With cars like the Polestar 1 being designed to cross Europe should the fancy take you, refinement is rather important. Things get off to a good start; the electric mode allows hushed progress, with only a bit of a whine from the motors. Get up to speed and wind noise is well contained, road noise is perfectly acceptable, and the engine is virtually silent at a cruise. Put your foot down, though, and although the engine doesn’t sound bad, it makes a noise that’s more reminiscent of a hot hatch than a big GT – a DB11 sounds much, much more exciting. However, the 1 switches between its power sources and changes gear smoothly.
It’s also worth pointing out that the Polestar 1 gets something called Pilot Assist as standard. This combines adaptive cruise control with lane centring to take the strain out of long journeys and traffic jams. While it has the occasional moment of confusion, it’s a useful extra feature.
The interior layout, fit and finish
How you view this section might depend on whether you’ve spent time in a Volvo recently. If you haven’t, you’ll be impressed by the widely adjustable and supremely comfortable front seats, which also prove supportive in the bends. Once you’re comfy, you’ll find plenty of well-finished, genuine carbon fibre trims, classy metal detailing and lashings of leather. It might not look as flashy as the Aston Martin DB11's interior, but it feels far better screwed together overall.
The panache of the Bentley Continental GT's and Lexus LC's interiors are something else again, though, because those that have been in a Volvo S60 won’t be fooled by the Polestar emblem on the steering wheel. Even with its classy materials, this is clearly the same Volvo dashboard that you get in the brand's executive cars. We suspect some people might feel a little cheated by that in a car costing six figures.
The 1’s infotainment system is (unsurprisingly) also shared with other Volvos. The 9.0in portrait-oriented touchscreen gets Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard along with a seriously powerful Bowers and Wilkins 15-speaker stereo. The system’s interface is mostly responsive but crashes occasionally and some of the menus are a tad confusing. It's better than the DB11's outdated Mercedes system, mind you, but the Continental GT's infotainment set-up is better.
Joining the 1’s touchscreen is a 12.3in digital instrument cluster behind the steering wheel. It’s certainly clear, but we wish it would show a greater array of information; Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, as found in the far cheaper A7, goes into far more depth.
Being a coupé, visibility is restricted but still relatively good. The roof pillars are thin and the windows large, so you get a decent view out the front and to the sides, while a 360-degree camera system is standard to help with parking. You also get adaptive LED headlights that can keep the main beam in use more often than regular headlights; they can automatically adjust their beam pattern so oncoming drivers don’t get dazzled. Annoyingly, though, the 1 is only available in left-hand drive.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
Front space is generous, with loads of head room, seats that go a long way back and plenty of width to the interior, too. We also found ample storage for our pocket detritus, a couple of big drinks and a few road snacks, too. Only the cubby under the central armrest is a bit stingy, with just about enough room for a smartphone and its cable. Blame one of the battery packs being located underneath the central hump for that.
Move to the two rear seats, and things aren’t quite so rosy. Realistically, they’re suitable for children; even our dinkiest 5’ 3” tester had just enough head room only, and next to no leg room behind a six-foot person in the front.
In fact, we suspect the rear seats will be frequently pressed into service as additional luggage space. Look in the boot and you'll see why; you get a great view of some industrial-looking electrical connectors, which are displayed behind a perspex cover, but the boot is significantly smaller than a Volkswagen Up’s. More luggage space is taken up by the sizeable bag for the charging cables, so for long-distance driving holidays, pick the Bentley Continental GT instead.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Ask people to guess its price and most will tell you that the Polestar 1 probably costs around the money as a BMW 8 Series Coupé. It doesn't. It might undercut the Aston Martin DB11 and Bentley Continental GT, but it's way more expensive than the Porsche Panamera 4S E-Hybrid (matching the top-of-the-range Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid instead) and Lexus LC Coupé. Remember, the 1 is basically a Volvo S90 inside and underneath, not a bespoke, exquisitely tailored product.
However, while all of those cars have extensive options lists, the only options for the 1 are its wheel and body colours. That means you get tonnes of toys as standard, including heated front seats and steering wheel, keyless entry, Nappa leather seats and a panoramic roof.
Of course, the 1’s real advantage comes when you look at its running costs. Official figures put its CO2 emissions at a staggeringly low 13g/km, with fuel economy of 470.8.6mpg. Not even a BMW i8 can get close to those figures Now, you’ll need to make the most of the car’s 77-mile electric-only range to get anywhere near the latter figure, but those low emissions make it very attractive for those lucky enough to pick one as a company car.
Euro NCAP are yet to test the Polestar 1, but you get a cornucopia of safety kit as standard. This includes automatic emergency braking that works at a wide variety of speeds, blind spot monitoring, lane-keeping assistance, steering support to help you avoid potential collisions, a system that warns you of objects crossing your path when you’re reversing, and a road sign information system.