• This attractive GT is the Polestar 1, a new plug-in hybrid EV from a new sister company to Volvo. Jonathan Gitlin
  • The Polestar 1 uses Volvo's technology, but the emphasis is on electric performance. Jonathan Gitlin
  • Only 1,500 Polestar 1s will be built, and here in the US, it will cost $155,000. But you do get a lot of car for your money. Polestar
  • American muscle cars have always had a following in Sweden (yes, really, and it shows in the Polestar 1's design. Polestar
  • The interior lives up to the rest of the car's good looks. Polestar
  • This will be familiar to anyone who's driven a recent SPA-based Volvo. Jonathan Gitlin
  • Polestar was actually extremely subtle with the exposed carbon fiber compared to some OEMs. Jonathan Gitlin
  • Underneath the carbon fiber body are two battery packs, one running the length of the cabin, the other above the rear axle.
  • The Volvo Concept Coupe of 2013 was a definite influence.
  • Early next year, Polestar will start production of this, the Polestar 2 BEV. It has a 78kWh battery and will cost about the same as a Tesla Model 3. Jonathan Gitlin
  • The Polestar 2's digital technology is a generation newer than that in the Polestar 1. Jonathan Gitlin

Polestar provided two nights in a hotel and air travel from Washington, DC, to San Francisco for this story.

SAN FRANCISCO—Few cars in recent times have piqued my interest quite like the Polestar 1. I like 600-horsepower grand touring cars, particularly when they're dressed up in handmade carbon fiber bodies. I like plug-in hybrids even more, particularly if they come with a battery big enough to be useful. And this car is both of those. It features a supercharged, turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine for the front wheels and a pair of electric motors fed by a 34kWh battery at the rear. Just 1,500 will be built during the next three years, and at $155,000, they aren't cheap.

But the Polestar isn't supposed to sell in volume. It's a halo car, a mission statement, a four-wheel calling card from a startup automaker that will follow it up with an affordable (and Android-based) electric car early in 2020. Well, I say startup—spin-off might be more accurate. As the name suggests, it's the first car from Polestar, a name that used to mean souped-up Volvos and touring-car racing. Now it's a standalone brand that's going to explore the idea of electric performance cars.

If the Polestar 1 looks familiar, that's understandable. We first saw something that looked like it in 2013's Volvo Concept Coupe, and visually it shares a design language with Volvo's current -60 and -90 series cars. That's no bad thing—Volvo makes some lookers right now (particularly wagons). But not one has quite the visual drama of the Polestar 1, which takes that design language and passes it through a muscle-car filter.

The family resemblance makes more sense when you realize that, under the carbon fiber body, it shares a lot more with those cars. The Polestar is built using Volvo's Scalable Product Architecture toolkit and parts bin, which first debuted in the XC90 SUV. But this is the most modified we've seen a SPA vehicle. The track has been widened at both the front and rear axle, and a huge section has been cut out of the wheelbase (now 107.9-inch (2,740mm)). It's been replaced by a carbon fiber "dragonfly" structure. Together, with the carbon fiber body panels, this gives the Polestar 1 much greater torsional stiffness than anything wearing a Volvo badge.

Carbon composite body panels are more time-consuming to make than stamping metal, but they also allowed Polestar 1's design team to give the car a low, swooping roofline. An extremely stiff carbon fiber tube runs from the base of the A pillar to the side member of the C pillar at the back, allowing for far thinner pillars than would be possible with conventional construction. And that brings more benefits in turn. In addition to weighing 506lbs (230kg) less than it would were it made from metal, the Polestar's weight is lower down in the car, which improves handling.

  • A row of Polestar 1s charge outside Volta's HQ in San Francisco. A 50kW DC fast charger will take the batteries from 0-80% in under an hour. Jonathan Gitlin
  • The carbon fiber airbox is a neat touch. Polestar
  • US cars get a CCS fast charging plug. Polestar
  • The trunk isn't massive, but it does have this cool plexiglass window. Jonathan Gitlin
  • Brakes are from Akebono, like some F1 cars, and they measure a massive 400mm up front. Jonathan Gitlin
  • The Öhlins dampers are adjustable but only from outside the car via these knobs. At their default setting, the car rides wonderfully. Jonathan Gitlin
  • Roll that roller to switch between drive modes. Polestar
  • The shifter is crystal, like in Volvo PHEVs. Put it in B if you want a one-pedal driving experience. Polestar

Underneath the clamshell hood, you'll find another example of Volvo's dependable four-cylinder gasoline engine. It's both turbocharged and supercharged, like the Lancia Delta S4 rally car and like the current SPA-based Volvos. The engine provides 326hp (243kW) and 384lb-ft (520Nm) to the front wheels via an eight-speed Aisin automatic transmission. A crank-integrated starter generator can also drive the front wheels, alone or together with the internal combustion engine, and it adds another 71hp (52kW) and 119lb-ft (161Nm) to the party.

At the rear, each wheel gets its own 113hp (85kW), 177lb-ft (240Nm) electric motor matched to a 1:6 planetary gear set. Add all of that together and you get a total power output of 619hp (461kW) and 738lb-ft (1,000Nm) of torque—although as we'll see on the road, it's unlikely you'll get all of that altogether at once.

There are two lithium-ion battery packs, one in a spine running down the middle of the car as per other SPA-based plug-in hybrids, and a second mounted transverse above the rear axle. The car uses LG Chem battery chemistry, and there's a total of 34kWh to give the Polestar 1 a WLTP electric-only range of 112km (70 miles). Together with the 15.9 gallon (60L) fuel tank, that should give the Polestar 1 all the range it needs, although as ever, we should point out that Europe's WLTP test is usually far more optimistic than the EPA's rating, which is still in the works.

Charging takes "under an hour" to go from 0-80% state of charge when using a 50kW DC fast charger, and the car will also charge over AC at 11kW although we can't tell you quite how long an empty-to-full AC charge will take. During our day behind the wheel, we averaged 37mpg.

If you've driven recent big Volvos, you'll find the Polestar's 2+2 interior recognizable, if a little more elegant than usual. Instead of rough-wood textured trims, there are slivers of naked carbon fiber, and the leather that trims most everything else is of a high quality. But the steering wheel, 12.3-inch main instrument display, and 9-inch infotainment screen look identical to the ones you've already seen from Sweden. If anything, the interior actually dates the car slightly, for I made the mistake of sitting in a static Polestar 2 that was on hand, which features a more modern UI atop its Android innards.

Things aren't quite so swanky in the back seats. Polestar says the design emphasis was always on the front-seat occupants, and the company isn't kidding. It says that you can put Isofix child seats back there with no problem; for passengers who have outgrown the need for child seats, you may want to take the bus.

At 5'7" (1.7m), I could just about squeeze back there with the front seat in use. The bigger problem is headroom—there's a (leather-wrapped) bar that runs the width of the glass roof, and it occupies the same space that even people of my height want for their foreheads.

  • The glass roof makes cabin very light and airy if you're up front. Polestar
  • In the rear, it's a different story, and that bar across the roof is the main impediment to putting anyone bigger than a small child back there. Polestar
  • The trunk isn't massive, but it does have this cool plexiglass window. Jonathan Gitlin
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