Who is Polestar, what is she? Flagship or frippery?
Fearing that his anti-China stance will restrict his access to Volvo’s intriguing offshoot, Iain Robertson having already criticised Polestar’s retail presence takes an askew view of Polestar 1, the firm’s tech-led Grand Tourer that remains all-Volvo.
To be frank, I have not yet established if Polestar is more uber-costly vanity project, or questionable profits earner for the Sino-Swedish carmaker. Judged on its first product (the ‘1’), based on a shortened S90 platform, powered by Volvo’s ‘Twin-Engine’ (T8) 2.0-litre-hybrid powertrain, the surprisingly conventional coupe is not exactly the landmark machine that it ought to be. However, it exemplifies Scandi-conservatism to a ‘T’.
Yet, headline figures, such as 600bhp, 737lbs ft of torque, 93-miles range in EV mode and a price tag for the 1,500-units limited production model of £139,000 are clearly intended to shock. Factor-in a monstrous kerbweight of 2,350kgs, a posted top speed potential of 155mph and its ability to scorch from 0-60mph in around 3.9s, while returning a reputed 403.5mpg and emitting a modest 15g/km of CO2, and Polestar 1 comes across as more of an oddity.
However, as intriguing as it appears to be, when you peel back the layers to reveal its all-carbon-fibre bodywork (the bumpers are plastic), carbon reinforced structural rigidity and manually-adjustable suspension, this is a renamed Volvo project that is competing on price at least with the Porsche 911, Aston Martin DB, Tesla Model X, BMW 8-Series, Bentley Continental and Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupe. It could be said that its rarity qualifies its price-tag but it is outclassed hopelessly by its Teutonic, British and US rivals, hybrid tech, or not. Perhaps that single factor may aid its success?
Admirable, minimalist and naturalistic Scandinavian style is stretched to the blinding limit in everything from its ‘state of the art’ Chinese factory, to its Swedish offices and intended development of Polestar Spaces…the locations at which Polestar will be represented but not actually sold. It is almost achingly Swedish, even though it is one hefty lump of Chinese hardware.
The exceptional power potential comes from the T8 turbo/supercharged engine allied to a single front axle electric motor, with a further pair on the rear axle. The electric motors draw their potency from a 34kWh, 342bhp lithium-ion battery pack, located in a T-shape along the 1’s central spine and transversely across the rear axle. However, if you are expecting a silken ride and silent progress, in EV-only mode, which can be dialled-in using the typical Volvo rolling drum, the 1 is restricted to a 93mph top whack and strident acceleration, although ride quality is somewhat firmer than anticipated.
As mentioned earlier, the Swedish Ohlins dampers can be adjusted just like a racing car, by way of a 22-click adjuster built-into the top-mounts (under the bonnet; you need spindly fingers to adjust those on the rear struts), if you can be bothered. Remember that Polestar used to be an independent tuner of Volvo cars, even developing the firm’s strong reputation on racetracks of the world, before Chinese funding subsumed it into group ownership. How much sway the original Polestar had over the new company was surely limited but it is clear that its race suspension was considered important. Well, it is not. It is a silly frippery that is not warranted on a slick, hybrid Grand Tourer.
As to the torque vectoring technology provided by the car’s electric motors, various sensors and judicious chassis management, it makes its presence felt the instant the driver delves into the weighty coupe’s handling envelope. Having driven broadly similar technology on other ‘exotics’ but not felt its operation, that of the Polestar is surprisingly insistent, almost as if the chassis engineers are saying: ‘See how safe we are?’. To be frank, I expect better from a mature carmaker like Volvo. Despite the weight penalty of its electrified components, the Polestar 1 corners securely, virtually roll- and pitch-free and with huge amounts of mechanical grip but it is not the most engaging of handling compromises. Regular Volvos do it better.
In case you wondered, orange is the new grey at Polestar, from air valve caps and Akebono brake callipers, to the seatbelts. However, the grey that remains is stoically Volvo, which means that, while you would have every right to expect a bespoke interior, it could have and does originate from the truly excellent S60 model. I have no real issues with the reapplication of parts bin specialities like the entire dashboard, with its digital screens and fluent air-vents, because they are so good in those other installations, but we are talking about a car in Bentley territory, in pricing alone.
Standard fayre is the laminated and heavily tinted glazing above occupants’ heads. Bonded into place, it is as structural as the rest of the expensive bodywork. However, space is at a premium in this strictly 2+very-occasional-2 coupe cabin, which is entirely current, upmarket Volvo in its seating, trim and detailing. Crack open the bootid and the space is not exactly generous, thanks to the electric hardware, however, an extra fillip is provided by a full-width, see-through panel that shows the neat orange wiring plug-in points. Subtle and conservative it is not. Sure, it is a talking point, again, if you can be bothered.
If you desire and can afford a little slice of Sino-Swedish rarity, with just 850 examples of the production run reaching the rest of the world (650 are already sold into the Chinese domestic scene), you will need to place your order sharpish. In some ways, I sort of get the Polestar precept, although I cannot help feeling that it has far less to do with Swedish know-how and everything to do with Chinese pride. Polestar 1 is certainly ‘different’, in some ways slightly retrograde, in other ways just a bit too ‘ordinary’, where it ought to be ‘special’.
Conclusion: As one of the world’s newest car brands, Polestar is certainly worthy of attention. Polestar 2, its four-door variant, will help to refine the offering but, truth is, Polestar is an unnecessary and dangerous frippery that only serves to highlight the better value proposition of regular Volvo models.