What is it about a road trip? Perhaps it’s the sense of adventure; the covering of hundreds of miles in one go, driving through multiple countries in a single day. Or is it the smaller details? The sugary snacks; the sandwiches of questionable content bought with the deployment of a patchy recollection of high school French? Or maybe the intermittent local radio, or the walkie-talkies for keeping the accompanying convoy in check?
A European road trip must also feature a flat-out blast through Germany on derestricted sections of the Autobahn, of course. Remarkably well-mannered and surprisingly safe, German commuters and tourists alike fly past, their silver sedans sat on their 155mph limiters while the drivers of lesser machinery keep to the right with a watchful eye in the mirror.
It’s the destination that matters too, of course. And the stops along the way. The highways of France and Germany might not offer much in the way of an arresting vista, but the stop-offs can be spectacular. Take the old Reims-Gueux Circuit in northern France. Like a slightly shabby Goodwood Revival parked at the roadside, the pit boxes and grandstands remain intact, still bearing their advertisement hoardings 49 years after the last checkered flag fell.
Local government has helped to keep the towering structures safe, and there’s work ongoing to bring them back to former glory. But for now, despite being a rite of passage for every motor racing fan in all of Western Europe, a visit to Reims still feels like unearthing something special, hitherto lost and forgotten for decades. Visiting somewhere you wouldn’t normally, simply to stand in awe and take a photograph. That’s a key roadtrip component too.
I’m standing in the derelict pitlane of the Reims-Gueux circuit, early one morning on a return drive to the UK from the IAA motor show, this year in Munich, Germany for the first time. It might not be a US coast-to-coast, or a road trip across Australia, but for us Europeans it’s a decent trek. Six hundred miles in all, starting in Munich at midday Tuesday, venturing to an overnight stay in France’s Champagne region, before a photoshoot at the Reims circuit and a run up to Calais for the drive-on train through the Channel tunnel and back to England.
The journey began, as any road-trip born out of Germany should, with currywurst for lunch at the hotel. The sun is shining and there are three Polestar 1s at our disposal.
Polestar’s first car, it’s flagship but also the only hybrid it will ever make before going fully-electric, the 1 is a curious thing. This is a carbon-bodied super GT with an immensely complex hybrid powertrain comprising a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine that is turbocharged, supercharged and attached to a plug-in hybrid system with an electric range of over 60 miles. Then there’s the not-so-small matter of 609 horsepower and a full 1,000Nm of torque. A thousand. Or 738 lb-ft, if you prefer. Interestingly, the car is almost as electric as it is internally-combusted, with each side of its character producing around 300hp.
Despite its substantial 2,350kg, the 1 sprints to 60mph in a claimed 4.2 seconds and on to an electronically-limited 155mph.
Munich city centre quickly navigated, the 1’s hybrid mode using only the battery its three electric motors, we hit the Autobahn and open the taps. It’s busier today than on the Sunday run over from the UK, so even when the national speed limit signs appear (meaning there is no limit at all), opportunities to stretch the Polestar’s legs are few and far between.
One such opportunity finally arrives. Instead of first switching from Hybrid to Power mode and taking manual control of the gearbox, I simply bury the accelerator, let the car work things out for itself, and look as far ahead as I can. The head-up display quickly scrolls from 130km to beyond 200 and is in the mid-220s, homing in on the 250km/h (155mph) limiter like a cruise missile when a car pulls out ahead. I brake firmly, perhaps a little too firmly, and the car squats forwards to the sound of luggage sliding off the rear seats behind.
It’s hardly a moment of high drama, but a timely reminder that the Autobahn is not to be messed with. Sustained traffic and fluctuating speed limits conspire against my bid to reach the Polestar’s 155mph limiter, but I’m assured by my co-driver that it head-butted the limiter with such enthusiasm on the drive over to Munich that 170 or even 180mph is surely well within the car’s grasp. German manufacturers often let buyers remove the limiter for a fee, but there’s no such box to tick on the Polestar options list. It’s a shame really, given what a supremely capable autobahn cruiser the 1 is. Perhaps having a sister brand in Volvo, whose cars are limited to 112mph, has something to do with it.
We press on through Germany and into France, via a diversion through a small rural village owing to my Google Maps app mistakenly set to avoid toll roads. A rookie mistake, but one that, when narrow village streets are to be threaded with care, reminds me of the Polestar’s substantial 2023mm width, including those beautiful frameless mirrors.
Routing issues resolved, we return to the French highway and rejoice in a couple of full-bore launches out of the peage toll booths, the Polestar deploying a mountain of electronically-assisted torque but never feeling quite as monstrous as the numbers suggest. It can be coaxed into sounding pretty good, thanks to Power mode and a carbon plenum gulping air into the engine, but for the majority of the time the Polestar 1 is an iron fist wrapped in a velvet glove. Quietly capable and brimming with self-assurance, but rarely expressing a need to shout about it. Just what you’d expect from a Scandinavia super saloon.
A few more hours pass and we call in for a fuel stop. Not because the 1 necessarily needs a drink – the trip computer reckons we’ll manage Munich to Reims on a single tank – but because legs need to be stretched and eyes rested.
And what a sight for sore eyes the Polestar 1 is. Muscular but not steroidically so, the 1 is a wonderfully handsome thing. Tense and poised, with obvious strength and bags full of Scandinavian cool, especially in the ‘Snow’ white of the car we’re driving. For me, it is one of the true greats of contemporary automotive design, and one I suspect will age very well. As all beautiful cars do, the 1 encourages a glance over the shoulder every single time I walk away.
With my lousy French deployed and fuel stop completed, I hand over driving duties and switch my attention from the road to the interior. It’s certainly smart in here, with neatly stitched Nappa leather, comfortable front seats and ample stowage for drinks bottles, snacks, passports, phones and all the usual road trip paraphernalia.
But it is unmistakable the interior of a Volvo. That’s mostly fine, and I doubt someone who hasn’t sat in a Volvo before would suspect much was amiss with the Polestar’s cabin, but if you’re aware of the similarities then the £140,000 ($155,000) price tag becomes harder to swallow. That’s in the same ballpark as the Bentley Continental GT and Aston Martin DB11, both bona fide luxury GTs with interiors to match. When compared to these two, the Polestar cabin falls short.
It also suffers from small rear seats (as is true of other GT cars in its class, granted) and a surprisingly compact trunk. Open the rear and you understand why, as thick orange cables for the hybrid system are proudly displayed behind a panel of annotated glass. It’s a seriously cool detail, but the small trunk limits the 1’s grand touring capabilities. Luggage can be stowed on the rear seats, of course, but it’s a point against the car either way.
On reaching our overnight stay at a hotel overlooking acres of champagne vineyard rolling elegantly into the distance, the setting sun bathes the Polestar in perfect golden-hour light. Here and now, the 1’s looks alone are almost enough to make me forget about the compromised trunk and cabin.
That’s the thing with this car. It can’t match up to similarly priced competition in a practical sense – and is only available in left-hand-drive, dissuading the UK market – yet I’m willing to let it off. The looks, the performance, the fact that it stands entirely alone, not only in the Polestar lineup but against the entire rest of the market. All of these traits make the Polestar 1 a beguiling car that I can’t help but fall for.
The following morning, we visit the old Reims circuit on our way to the train back to England. The Polestar, a hybrid GT from a brand new company, doesn’t really fit in with its aged surroundings, but it’s still an undeniably cool photoshoot location on a quiet, sunny morning.
Waiting for the train, I realize I’ll probably never drive a Polestar 1 again. The plan was to make just 1,500 examples over a three-year production run. That will soon come to an end, bookended by 25 cars with exclusive gold paint. I wonder when I’ll even see a Polestar 1 again, especially in the right-hand-drive UK, and what will happen to its reputation and value. I suspect both will remain strong and despite its shortfalls the Polestar 1 will be remembered as an obscure curiosity, but also the high watermark for hybridisation.