Volvo's performance arm's first standalone model is a carbon-bodied ripper with industry-leading electric range.
Volvo's revitalization efforts since it was purchased by China's Geely in 2010 have proven to be nothing short of remarkable. Its product-led transformation over the last few years has been both sweeping and convincing, yet few could have predicted the company taking a gamble on anything like the automobile seen here. This is the Polestar 1, and it's the first standalone model from the Volvo Cars Group's newly spun-off Polestar division.
At first blush, the Polestar 1 may seem like little more than a two-door coupe version of Volvo's S90 sedan in these photos. But look closely and you'll see that something far more serious lurks beneath its Scandinavian skin. Notice its wide-footprint wheels and the beefy Akebono six-piston brake calipers displayed inside them like bars of bullion. Check out the design's steeply raked windshield and backlight, its surprisingly broad track, and the subtle flush-fit deployable rear spoiler for improved high-speed aerodynamics. After seeing it person at its debut in Shanghai, I can tell you that despite being smaller, it has significantly more presence. The Polestar 1 is a high-performance car in grand tourer disguise.
Just how serious are we talking? Volvo says this new 2+2 packs 600 horsepower and 738 pound-feet of torque. A big slug of the latter figures to be available from rest, too: the Polestar 1's powertrain is a plug-in hybrid setup that leverages a Drive-E 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine to power the front wheels and a pair of torque-vectoring electric motors to motivate the rears.
Good for 218 hp by themselves, those motors are fed juice by a 34-kWh battery pack. Volvo claims it has 150 kilometers of range. That's 93 miles, a range figure that isn't just well above any other PHEV on the market today, it's comparable to some older battery electric vehicles still on the market. Interestingly, the Polestar 1's hardware is flexible enough to allow it to function purely as a rear-wheel-drive EV in Pure mode, a development that should please driving enthusiasts.
Unfortunately, at least for the moment, Volvo also isn't sharing any of the Polestar 1's other dynamic metrics, including 0-60 mph, top speed, or skidpad performance.
The Polestar 1 may be the first ever plug-in hybrid high-performance car from Volvo Cars Group, but it's also destined to be the last -- company officials say that all future Polestar models will be pure electric. That said, the division will continue to tune future versions of Volvo-branded vehicles, a plan that could well include PHEV models.
I mentioned the Polestar 1's S90 likeness earlier, and that's not entirely coincidental. Under its carbon-fiber skin, they have , but perhaps not as much as you might think. According to the company, this car's underlying chassis is approximately 50% new, with the other 50% being based on Volvo's Scalable Platform Architecture, the framework that underpins the S90, as well as the company's XC90 and XC60 SUVs. By comparison, nearly 13 inches have been hacked from the S90's wheelbase, and almost 8 inches have been sheared off the rear end to create the P1's tidier two-door proportions.
The Polestar 1 doesn't seem to share much in the way of suspension componentry with its Volvo brethren, though. The company says the coupe will feature the world's first implementation of Öhlins Continuously controlled Electronic Suspension. Öhlins is a Swedish firm best known for providing high-quality pliant bits for motorcycles and mountain bikes, but it's been branching out into automotive in recent years. The new suspension system compares road conditions with the driver's inputs, and can firm up or slacken in two milliseconds to deliver optimal handling. As is the way with such systems, driver-adjustable settings will be part of the program.
Polestar isn't just looking to transform the Volvo Cars Group's approach to high-performance automobiles, it's also looking to shake up the company's approach to selling cars, too. Company plans call for online requests of on-location test drives, as well as full internet ordering. Further, the company expects to offer a two- or three-year subscription model that will afford drivers access not just to the P1, but to other Polestar and Volvo family vehicles. In addition to offering a range of cars and SUVs, Polestar will also offer to fit and remove accessories on demand -- things like storage adding roof boxes for ski holidays.
Volvo has already shown off the technology that allows it to use mobile phones as keys, and Polestar will similarly take advantage of app-based virtual keys to loan the vehicle out for service or upgrades like the roof box mentioned above, as well.
Polestar officials seem to understand that the road to offering subscription-based automobiles is not yet clear in the US. Powerful dealer franchise laws that could impact the automaker's ability to offer such services vary greatly from state to state, and it's likely that the company will be working up until the P1 enters production to clear the necessary legal lanes for such programs.
Don't expect the company to be timid in its resolve to clear such bureaucratic hurdles. Exactly these sorts of consumer initiatives are key to parent company Geely's ambitious plans for global expansion. Notably, the success of its other new brand, Lynk & Co., hinges almost entirely on alternative sales models, including car sharing and subscription programs.
The new Polestar 1 looks like it should be an impressive performer, but it's unclear how many well-heeled buyers are clamoring for a Chinese-built sports coupe from a new division of a company best known for safety. Without more performance numbers and pricing information, it's also not clear what cars the Polestar 1 will compete against. Other high-performance two-door plug-in hybrids include the Acura NSX and BMW i8, but the comparatively upright P1 reads like more of a grand tourer than a pure sports car.
In any case, just 500 Polestar 1 models will be built per year, so the company shouldn't have any problem filling its order books for such a modest total. Incidentally, those order books open today, but would-be buyers are going to have to wait a while. The P1 will be built at Polestar's Chengdu, China Performance Centre, which is currently under construction. The latter is expected to be completed mid-2018, but the Polestar 1 won't enter production until mid-2019.
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