It isn’t often that one gets to experience the fruits of a Chinese-Scandinavian partnership, but that’s exactly what the Polestar 2 is. This is, as its name would suggest, the second car from Polestar, formerly Volvo’s performance division – a bit like AMG is to Mercedes – but now a sister brand that, like Volvo, is owned by Chinese automotive giant Geely.
Geely also owns Lotus and the London Electric Vehicle Company, producers of the electric London taxi. But like those, Polestar has been given the autonomy to stand on its own two feet and forge its own identity.
The Polestar 1 was something of an experiment for the new company. A limited-run, high-performance hybrid super-saloon with a six-figure price tag and the most handsome of appearances. I’ll hopefully have more to share on that later in the year, but for now I have the Polestar 2 at my disposal, a mass-production, all-electric car that is priced from $63,000 in the US and £49,900 in the UK.
I’d hoped to use a word more descriptive than ‘car’ in that last sentence, but the truth is I’m not entirely sure what to call the Polestar 2. It has a hatchback, but isn’t really a hatchback, is it? It also appears to stand on tip-toes, its wheels deliberately not quite filling the arches, and the sills higher than you might expect.
Fastback is probably the best word to use, describing a car whose roof slopes uninterrupted to the rear bumper. But I fear I’ve taken up enough of your time failing to describe how a car looks. You can see for yourself, it’s a handsome thing. It has presence without being intimidating or unnecessarily assertive, and looks thoroughly modern and futuristic without shouting about it.
One detail I especially like is the frameless wing mirrors. Instead of the mirror moving insides its housing, the entire housing moves, so the mirror can sit flushing against it. It’s a small change to the norm, but somehow makes a big difference and looks great in a concept-car-made-real kind of way. The same goes for the huge panoramic glass roof, and the rear LED lights that perform a sci-fi startup sequence every time the car is unlocked.
Step itself and that theme continues with a cabin that feels as well screwed together as any current Volvo, but with fewer physical controls thanks to a large portrait-orientated touchscreen in the center of the dashboard. This not only controls the navigation, music, radio, phone and vehicle settings in the way we have all grown accustomed to, but it is also responsible for the climate control, and is all built on Google’s new Android Automotive.
Seen here for the very first time, Android Automotive features an attractive and intuitive touchscreen interface and voice control via Google Assistant. We’ve seen voice control systems in cars for years, but none work quite so well as the Polestar’s. It’s just like the Google Assistant you use at home, but its control extends beyond that of other automotive systems, with voice commands for adjusting the climate control.
It isn’t perfect just yet though, and makes the sort of mistakes Google smart speaker owners will be familiar with. I drove the car alone due to social distancing, but suspect the assistant, which responds to the ‘Hey Google’ command, may well chirp up unexpectedly while driver and passengers converse, as it does on occasion at home. At one point the assistant taught me how to say hello in Japanese, and I’m still not entirely sure why.
Although a Google product, the system is equally compatible with Androids and iPhones, and Polestar says Apple CarPlay is coming soon for those who would rather use that (and Siri) instead of Android Automotive.
As is quickly becoming the norm, the Polestar 2 will receive over-the-air software updates throughout its life. One such update coming later this year is to turn the driver’s smartphone into a digital key, using a secure Bluetooth connection with the car. Like with the Tesla Model 3, the Polestar 2 will unlock and start when it senses the phone is nearby.
The Polestar 2 is powered by a 78kWh battery that, unusually for an electric car, does not live in the floor. It is T-shaped instead of flat, stretching along the center of the car where the transmission tunnel between driver and passenger seats would normally be, then extends widthways under the raised rear seats. This creates a relatively high centre console, which helps cocoon the driver and give the impression of sitting lower, instead of in a relatively high-riding vehicle. It also doubles as a convenient place to steady your arm against while using the touch screen.
That battery pushes 300kW (408 horsepower) to all four wheels via an electric motor on each axle, and despite the hefty 2.2-tonne weight, serves up a 0-62mph time of 4.7 seconds and a top speed of 127mph.
As with most electric cars, the Polestar 2 delivers all of its torque (660Nm / 487 lb-ft) immediately, launching from the line as quickly as you’d ever realistically need to go. It isn’t the borderline-unpleasant accelerative shove offered by some EVs, but it’s certainly plenty for what otherwise sells itself as a sensible car.
Despite the refreshing lack of a sport mode (or any driving modes at all, for that matter), the Polestar 2 can be bought with an optional performance pack. This includes Öhlins Dual Flow Valve manually adjustable dampers and Brembo four-piston brakes, plus lightweight 20-inch wheels and brake callipers and seatbelts finished in ‘Swedish gold’, which is far more aesthetically pleasing than it sounds.
What’s strange here are the dampers. They offer 22 different settings to adjust their firmness, but this can only be done by removing bits of trim and tweaking them yourself, like you’re in a pit garage at Silverstone. Polestar says the performance pack has been popular with early customers, and while those with their own tools can adjust the dampers at home, a visit to the service centre is recommended. That said, the company also believes many will set-and-forget them once they’ve found their preferred setting.
For me, the default setting felt a little too firm. It gives the car excellent composure, disguising the weight and high stance admirably, but at the cost of ride comfort. It isn’t an overly taxing ride, but such firmness felt at odds with the car’s otherwise relaxed demeanour.
Range for the Polestar 2 is 292 miles using the WLTP test cycle, and 275 miles on the more demanding EPA test of the United States. For the sake of comparison, the standard Tesla Model 3 manages 254 miles (WLTP) while the Long Range version extends this to 348 miles. So, in theory at least, the Tesla will go around 60-70 miles further per charge. But of course you’re never going to run either car to zero percent, and range varies greatly depending on location, driving style and ambient temperature.
In the real world, neither car inflicts much range anxiety on its driver. Over 200 miles of driving without stopping is plenty for almost everyone. And, while charging at home makes most sense, Polestar’s partnership with PlugSurfing (across the UK and Europe) means an RFID tag on the key fob is all you need to top up at over 200,000 charging points. Tesla’s own Supercharger network is hard to beat, but initiatives like PlugSharing take many of the pain points away from EV ownership.
In summary, Polestar’s first attempt at a mass-production car – and an all-electric one at that – is something the company should be immensely proud of. Although subjective, I think the design is among the best on sale today, across any category, while the interior is cleverly designed, and the Android infotainment system is a lesson for the entire industry to follow. The car has all the performance you’ll ever realistically need, with sufficient range, plentiful seating for four (three in the back might be a squeeze), and ample storage.
Thoughtful touches like the frameless mirrors, raised center console to help touching the display, and the lack of a start/stop button (just press the brake to switch it on) all bring a sense of cohesion. Polestar has really thought about every small detail, and it shows.
Driving a Tesla can sometimes feel like beta testing a future product. With their constantly evolving Autopilot, numerous apps and regularly updated software, they feel like an early preview of what the future of the car might be. For some drivers, and technology fans especially, that is exactly what they want. But for everyone else, the Polestar 2 offers a finished product. There are no video games and gimmicks, no emphasis on a work-in-progress autonomous driving system, and no sense that the driver is being forced to comply with a single-minded view of what the future should look like. By which I mean, the wipers aren’t inexplicably controlled by a touchscreen like they are in the Model 3.
The Polestar 2 is sensible yet desirable. It wears a smartly tailored suit, is packed with thoughtful details and offers levels of both technology and performance that impress but never overwhelm. As the first electric car – from a new company, no less – the Polestar 2 is a remarkable achievement.