Polestar 2 electric car review: we drive the Tesla Model 3 rival in the UK

Published:07 July 2020

Polestar 2 review: we drive the new electric car in the UK for the first time
  • At a glance
  • 4 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5

By Tim Pollard

Editorial director of CAR's digital publishing arm. Motoring news magnet

By Tim Pollard

Editorial director of CAR's digital publishing arm. Motoring news magnet

► Our new 2020 Polestar 2 review
► We drive new EV in the UK
► On sale now, prices from £49,900

So here it is: our new 2020 Polestar 2 review, testing one of most eagerly awaited electric cars of year. After the hors d’oeuvre of the Polestar 1 plug-in hybrid coupe, this is the main course, the model that’ll properly launch the new electric vehicle (EV) company from Sweden into the mainstream.

It’s hard not to compare the £49,900 Polestar 2 to the Tesla Model 3. In price, footprint and concept, they are remarkably similar bedfellows and this segment will soon be buzzing with all-electric German premium manufacturers too. You have to applaud the Swedes’ nimbleness to market by beating the likes of the BMW i4 and Mercedes-Benz EQE to showroom reality.

Not that you’ll be buying your Polestar from a traditional dealership. They’ve invested heavily in online platforms so that the purchase journey is mostly digital, with the ability to visit Polestar Spaces in major urban shopping centres for a dose of look-and-touch and spec inspiration. There will only be two Spaces in the UK at launch, in London and Manchester, with further stores at retail sites in other big cities through 2021. First UK deliveries start in August 2020, priced from £49,900 although the Performance spec model with metallic paint driven here retails at £55,800.

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Tell me more about the Polestar 2!

It’s a soberly styled five-door fastback - at 4.6m long it’s a 3-series sized, chiselled hatchback that looks slightly on tip-toes, owing to the shared Geely group CMA architecture that also begat the tall Volvo XC40 crossover. If it looks familiar, that’s because the 40.2 concept car from sister brand Volvo was the inspiration. 

Polestar 2 review in the UK

Build quality is impressive, with tight shutlines, lustrous paintwork and neat detailing. A large panoramic sunroof is standard, bathing the cabin with diffused light; there is no sunblind and Polestar says a UV layer removes the majority of heat soak - and at nighttime the brand’s North Star motif is projected on to the glass overhead, a neat design touch typical of this Scandinavian trinket.

It’s a decent package, with easy access through the rear doors to the back seats - just watch out for a large ‘transmission tunnel’ making this effectively a four-seater - and a large tailgate that lifts at the press of a button located a long way down by the bumper. Taller folk will have to stoop to open it. The bootlid is electrically operated and you can also open it from the key (a disappointingly cheap black plastic affair - a Volvo key but weirdly shorn of any trim, as if it’s unfinished).

The sensibly shaped boot is 364 litres in capacity, which isn’t a huge amount bigger than a Volkswagen Golf’s loadbay - but you do get a 41-litre compartment beneath and there’s a small 35-litre ‘frunk’ (or front trunk) for storing your charging cables and paraphernalia under the bonnet.

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Polestar 2 frunk: the front boot has 35 litres of storage for charging cables

The rear seats split 60:40 and there’s a ski hatch for stowing longer objects. It's a pretty practical car and will slot into family duties easily, though it's worth noting that Polestar predicts a heavy fleet/business bias for the new electric car at launch.

What’s the interior like? 

Settle in and you’ll be at once familiar with the Scandi chic and Volvo overtones, yet surprised by the sheer modernity and freshness of the design. Choice of materials and quality are top-notch - it feels on a par with Volvo cabins and they’re from the top drawer - and, yes, you’ll spot a few telltale shared parts (steering wheel controls, electric window switches and suchlike), which is just fine by us.

But Polestar has struck its own interior vibe, as you’d expect when Volvo’s former design chief - Thomas Ingenlath - is the CEO. It’s largely achieved through the use of twin large digital screens for the instrument panel and central touchscreen. In a bold move, Polestar is premiering the world’s first Google Android operating system for its infotainment and it clears the way for a very minimalist cabin. Sound familiar, Tesla?

The digital design and touchpoints are very simple and unobtrusive. It passes the not-having-to-read-the-manual test with ease.

Polestar 2 interior, right-hand drive: this is the Performance spec

You’ll appreciate the supportive seats that continue a decade-long Swedish love affair with comfort and the ergonomics are largely spot-on. There is a terrible over-the-shoulder view however, thanks to that pillarbox rear window, but standard 360-degree cameras and three well-positioned, frameless mirrors mean you never really worry, even when parking.

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Polestar 2: tech specs and EV range

The 2’s key stats are projected to the outside world by some rather cheap-looking stickers behind the front wheelarch. This car has a 78kWh battery capacity slung down low along the spine of the car (explaining the lack of a flat floor), and it’s big enough for the following key electric car stats:

  • Battery capacity: 78 kilowatt hours
  • Battery type: Lithium ion 400-volt
  • WLTP tested combined range: 292 miles
  • WLTP tested urban range: 348 miles
  • Home charging (AC): Up to 11kW
  • Rapid charging (DC): Up to 150kW
  • Rapid charging time: 40 minutes 0-80%

Polestar 2 charging point

The numbers provide great reassurance and we reckon you’ll manage an easy 200 miles in mixed driving and maybe nearer 300 if you stick in town. The range compares well with the claims made by the Tesla Model 3, this car’s arch rival:

  • Model 3 Standard Range Plus 254 miles
  • Model 3 Long Range 348 miles
  • Model 3 Performance 329 miles

The American will go further on every charge, according to the official figures, and part of that must be attributable to the Polestar’s weight, which comes in at a chunky 2123kg. That CMA architecture isn’t a bespoke electric platform, remember - and is engineered to accept petrol and diesel engines too.

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Enough specs! How does the Polestar 2 drive?

Our Polestar 2 review took the first batch of EVs off the boat from China (this car is built by parent company Geely in Luqiao, south of Shanghai, remember) and boss Ingenlath admitted the company had been lucky because the scheduled start of production occurred just as Chinese coronavirus restrictions lifted, meaning there has only been a fortnight delay to launch.

We tested a model equipped with the Performance Pack, a £5000 upgrade that Polestar reports is temping most early buyers. It includes larger 20-inch wheels, uprated Brembo brakes with larger, vented discs and four-pot callipers up front, and adjustable Ohlins dampers, whose dualflow valves have a greater range of response than the standard monotube items. We can’t imagine many owners fiddling with the settings (you have to remove the rear wheelarch liner to access the back dampers) and by default they are on the eighth click out of 22, for a dynamic sporting set-up. You can in theory tweak until you have just the rate of compression and rebound you want, which sounds fun playing your inner Lewis Hamilton.

New 2020 Polestar 2 review

Thankfully that rather awful, cheap black Lego-spec key can remain in your pocket when you approach the car and it unlocks automatically. More impressive is the total absence of a stop/start button; simply sit down, foot on brake and select D on the attractive, stubby gear selector and you’re off. It’s a wonderfully simple start routine that’ll make you smile every day. (Rather like a Tesla's).

Poke the accelerator and it’s immediately obvious this is a very fast car. The Polestar 2’s 0-62mph time of 4.7sec says it all really - there’s instant, pinned-back-in-seat acceleration from the two 150kW motors (one on each axle for all-wheel drive). That’s a combined total output of 300kW or 402bhp and together with a brutal 487lb ft of torque there is thrilling, fast and feisty shove available at all speeds. All electric cars perform well at the traffic light grand prix, but the Polestar 2 is properly quick even for a burst of speed up a motorway incline. It’s all highly repeatable, too.

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What about the ride and handling? Can the Polestar cope with all that performance?

Yes it does. A combination of all-wheel drive and clever energy management means you’re never left wishing for better traction. All that thrust is deployed intelligently and the Polestar 2 is as much fun on a B-road blast as it was refined and serene on the dual carriageway. This duality of purpose defines the car’s character.

We found the ride quite busy at times on the 20-inch wheels; it’s well judged during most conditions, but becomes thuddy on that peculiar black-top British back roads specialise in. We suspect the regular 19s will be a better bet if you value comfort over cool, and it might be possible to tweak the Performance Pack’s dampers manually to get the ride vs handling balance just so.

Author Tim Pollard reviews the Polestar 2 EV

We’re pleased to report that Polestar hasn’t gone overboard with digital settings: you can adjust the weight of the steering (Light, Normal, Sport) and turn Creep on or off, but that’s about your lot. The steering isn’t exactly feelsome and we found the Sport setting artificially heavy, but you quickly adapt. It feels more planted and grown-up than the hyper-pointy Tesla Model 3 rival.

Ease off on a motorway cruise and the Polestar 2 is hushed and refined, helped by a slippery 0.278 drag coefficient slicing through the air with minimal fuss. It makes it easier to talk to the Google Assistant, which is one of the best voice recognition systems we’ve yet tried in a car - and if you’re a Google fan, your whole digital life will follow you seamlessly into the car, including playlists, diary appointments and favourite journeys.

What’s the Google Android operating system like?

It works well. Polestar’s infotainment system is a step change over the Volvo legacy set-up. Mapping is leagues better, with clear, pared-back cartography and clever integration of charging point information, while the general UI and layout of the screen is straightforward and easy to use on the go. Voice recognition isn’t perfect, but worked 70% of the time for us - and will improve over time, Polestar pledges.

Google Android operating system in new Polestar 2 infotainmentv

The services offered (above) currently include Spotify for music streaming, Google Maps for navigation and Google Assistant for asking inane questions, jokes and general queries. But Polestar is working on iterations including smartphone as digital key, Netflix and more communication services. Disappointingly, Apple CarPlay isn’t ready until 2021, but it’s worth stressing that all phones will sync with the Android OS from day one.

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Polestar 2 review: verdict

The new Polestar 2 is quite an achievement. Volvo decided to spin off the company as a standalone unit to rival Tesla - a progressive, performance brand highly attuned to the zeitgeist. And those values feel on point in 2020, as we all question our way of living in these post-pandemic times and we predict positive interest in Polestar’s vegan interiors, clean-fuel EV status and focus on low environmental impact. 

The 2 scores more highly than the Tesla Model 3 on quality and many will prefer the reassurance of an established parent company, but Polestar can’t match Elon Musk’s proprietary charging infrastructure and evangelical following. Which would we pick? The Polestar 2 is a more mature product (despite hailing from a brand even newer than Tesla) and delighted us with its interior, its slick drive and all-round package. Pick the Tesla if you want greater choice of powertrains, range and price - not to mention outright performance and an own-brand charging network - but the Polestar will be a more exclusive, intelligent purchase and one that we’d back long term to make proper inroads into the growing EV marketplace.

Read on for our earlier prototoype Polestar 2 review.


Back when we drove the new Polestar 2 in prototype guise in spring 2020

Polestar 2 review

► Prototype drive in Polestar's new EV
► Claimed battery range of up to 350 miles
► Can it beat the Tesla Model 3?

The Polestar 2 might come from the icy north but it represents a serious heating up of the electric car cold war that has been going on since Tesla released the mass-market Model 3.

Rivals like the Jaguar i-Pace, Mercedes-Benz EQC and Audi e-Tron are undeniably effective, but they all feel like electric versions of existing cars. None garnered the drawn on a blank sheet of paper appeal that a new name like Tesla delivers.

This Swedish car may be bankrolled by Geely and Volvo and even use some of the latter’s hardware, but it feels anything but an electric version of one of its cars. And that’s quite exciting.

Which one is the Polestar 2?

You will remember the Polestar 1, a plug-in hybrid that looks a bit like an S90 from the front and a muscle car from the back, with a fittingly hench £139,000 pricetag. While that car is a performance-orientated grand tourer, the Polestar 2 is more of a family-focused EV with a sporty edge. It has a (comparatively) more palatable bottom line of £49,900, putting it between the standard and Performance Tesla Model 3 in terms of price as well as range and power.

The Swedes say that while they’re not targeting Tesla owners, their car is more fun to drive than a Model 3, and features a much slicker Google Android operating system. It’s actually the first car to offer such a thing, but we’ll get onto that later.  For now, consider Polestar’s assertion that this is an electric car for the type of driver who’d rather have a BMW M2 or Ford Focus RS than a Renault Zoe.

2020 Polestar 2, Adam Binnie driving

Our test car was very pre-production (although it felt and looked pretty damned finished), and confined to the Hallered Proving Ground near Gothenburg. This facility has 16 test tracks including a 66km high speed oval, a handling circuit and a collection of the worst roads in the world, with a stretch that very accurately reproduced our own terrible UK tarmac.

The Polestar – currently - has a dual motor drivetrain with 408bhp and a simple set up – all-wheel drive with a 50/50 resting split, brake-based torque vectoring and mechanical antiroll bars. No wheel-to-wheel power shuffling or 48v-powered active antiroll bars here. 

Even so it just feels hugely grippy, secure and stable even when cornering at high speeds. It’s not completely tied down though, lift-off mid-corner and the front end tucks in to tighten your line without fuss. Repeat with the traction control in its sportier mode and the car rotates around you with a bit more vigour, but in neither setting does the ESC jump in too soon, opting to assist rather than interfere. An electric Volvo, this is not.

Polestar 2: ride and handling 

While this car inherits rack componentry from Volvo it certainly doesn’t steer like one – thank some clever programming for that. There’s not a huge amount of feel but it’s way more predictable with linear weighting and quick responses. This is to be something of a Polestar hallmark, we’re told. 

Bodyroll is kept in check too - there’s a bit of initial lean when you turn in hard but then a strong sensation of the car bracing itself against those sideways forces. This makes it feel neutral and poised with traction limits that would be hard to breach on the road. It simply strides on with great confidence regardless of how much you try to over-drive it.

How much of that is due to the Performance Pack our cars had - one of the only options at launch, focussing purely on the chassis – we’ll have to decide when we drive a normal one. For £5000 this pack gets you 20-inch wheels with Continental Premium SportContact 6 tyres (the standard car gets a 19-inch Primacy or 20-inch PremiumContact 6 depending on wheel size), plus larger Brembo brakes up front, gold seat belts and valve caps.

The antiroll bars get beefed up by 0.5mm at both ends to quell bodyroll further while the springs are 5 and 10mm shorter front and back, and between 5 to 8% stiffer. Mere tweaks though - the biggest difference comes from the dampers, says Polestar.

These come from Öhlins like we’ve seen on Polestar Engineered Volvos before, with dual-flow valves that can be adjusted using a dial on the shock absorber itself. Like a race car.
With 22 clicks to play with, winding a needle in and out of an orifice within the damping circuit to control the flow of oil in compression and rebound in the same stroke, you can get the car set up just how you like it. This is infinitely cooler than merely selecting comfort or sport mode on a screen. Although admittedly, it is a bit more involved.

The advantage of this system, apparently, is that it works properly all the time as opposed to an electronically controlled damper that has to constantly adjust for different types of surface. You’ll set it up once in a configuration that suits you, and then leave it alone. It works well, offering up a ride that is firm but controlled – it’s comfortable enough over bumpy bits but offers up spookily flat handling when you’re really on one. 

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Is it fast?

Very, and refreshingly there’s only one drive mode, so going fast is remarkably simple. The throttle response is sharp and the car hauls itself out of corners and gets into a gallop on the straights with a mere flex of your foot, but remains easy to modulate. There’s no launch control as such but from a standing start the Polestar 2 invokes that EV rollercoaster nausea from 0-20mph that no petrol or diesel car can emulate.

You can tailor things a bit, by adding or taking away steering weight, and altering the level of regenerative braking from total coasting to Nissan Leaf-like one-pedal driving.
The brake pedal itself offers little differentiation between the top of the stroke where it’s using regen and further down when the incredibly strong Brembos step in. It just feels natural and progressive.

What about that Android operating system?

Perhaps the most exciting element of the Polestar 2 for techheads is the fact it’s the first car in the world to feature Google Android infotainment. It’s set on an 11-inch, free-standing portrait screen, and once you’ve logged in to your Google account it works just like your phone or tablet with all your apps and contacts already saved. You can use it as a guest, but then it’s not as good.

A familiar home screen with status bar showing phone reception, Bluetooth and internet connectivity etc is the default screen, and four customisable tiles show summaries of things like the sat-nav or media info.

Four buttons along the top help navigate deeper into the car’s settings – they’re big and easy to jab on the move, and there’s one for the 360 camera, one to set up the various handling options, another for safety systems and finally a catch-all for other settings, like the interior lighting.

The sat-nav itself comes courtesy of Google Maps, which displays charging stations with live availability data if you’ll need a top up en route. It looks a little different because it has a specific skin for cars with reduced info like street names and traffic info to help you concentrate.

There’s an offline mode too so if you're going somewhere with no reception, it will automatically download maps to the car’s hard drive to avoid any inconvenient drop-outs in signal.

How is it better than Android Auto?

For several reasons but chiefly because of ease of use. You log into the Polestar 2’s infotainment by simply walking up to the driver’s door where a Bluetooth antenna picks up your phone in your pocket for verification. An addition PIN can be set up if you’re paranoid, but otherwise there’s no need to plug your phone into the car’s USB or press buttons on the screen, it just works.

It’s also connected to the car’s various systems in a way Android Auto isn’t, and because everything is integrated and saved to your Google profile, by the time you open the door the car has already started moving the seat and mirrors for you, selecting the steering weight you prefer and configuring the various safety systems to your liking.

So instead of Android Auto being in charge of some stuff and the car’s voice control doing the rest, you just have Google Assistant controlling everything – the sat-nav, Spotify, air-con, and connected devices like your garage light or oven.

There’s no subscription for this and the car comes with a sim card onboard with Polestar picking up the tab for Spotify streaming and maps usage – you can’t use it to set up a hotspot and watch hours of Netflix, though.

What about range?

2020 Polestar 2 recharging socket

Polestar says 294 miles of combined driving or 350 miles if you only drive in the city. That’s WLTP approved range now, of course, so there’s no reason to doubt it.
Charging times are TBC but there’s no Porsche 800v tech here, just your standard 400 volts, so don’t expect anything ground-breaking.

As a rough working estimate engineers said an 80% fill from empty on a 150kW DC charger would take 35-45 minutes, which is pretty average. 

Is it practical and well equipped?

From launch all cars will come with basically everything ticked. Your only cost options are larger 20-inch wheels, a 1500kg tow bar and a ventilated leather interior. The standard car doesn’t have any cow in it because it’s a vegan.

There’s also the choice of Performance Pack or not (an expected 50% uptake) and a handful of paint options – but no Polestar blue though like we’ve seen on fast Volvos. Motorsport heritage doesn’t really suit the brand anymore, apparently.

In addition are two option packs thrown in for free, the first, called the Plus Pack gets nice things like a panoramic glass roof, adaptive LED headlights, heated everything (seats, wheel, wipers) and a Harman Kardon stereo.

The Pilot Pack is where things get a bit more Volvo, with all your adaptive cruise and lane keep needs, plus autonomous braking in all directions, 360 degree cameras, road sign recognition and collision mitigation systems sewn up.

All Polestar 2s are keyless, and open when you get within two metres of the door. On sitting down a weight sensor in the seat essentially replaces a starter button, so all you need to do is press the brake and select D on the transmission. 

There’s a 405-litre boot out back that expands to 1095 litres with the seats down, accessed by a hands free, powered tailgate that opens nice and high. There’s a smaller 35-litre space in the front too, which could be a handy spot for cables.

Rear seat passengers do well for legroom but those over six foot may find the roofline encroaching on their headspace. The ride is also choppier in the back, perhaps because you’re sat almost directly over the axle. There are two USB-C chargers in the back though, with another pair upfront, plus an inductive phone charger. 

The door bins could do with being bigger, if we’re being super nerdy.

2020 Polestar 2 interior

Sold! I'll take one please…

Polestar is currently taking £1000 refundable deposits and will confirm your order as soon as it has FCA and Government plug-in hybrid grant approval, before deliveries in July.  Expect a 50/50 split between private sales (cash or lease) and fleet, the latter taking advantage of the 0% benefit-in-kind you get on an EV from April 2020.

Early adopters have already started flashing their cash despite the fact none of them have driven the car, although it has been shown at regional events and at Goodwood. That’s because Polestar doesn’t believe in a dealership model, and so doesn’t have any dealerships – you buy your 2 via an app, which is also used to arrange servicing and aftercare.

There are two retail spaces planned in Manchester and London, supposedly set out like a high-end German kitchen showroom with things like wheels and components tucked away in soft-close cupboards for you to sample. The idea being you can’t buy a car there, but you can get some guidance on your configuration.

And because electric cars are weird and cutting edge there will of course be a Polestar-branded smell pumped into the room, and a specific ambient soundtrack, which at one point sounds like a teaspoon being dropped.

Verdict

Cutting-edge tech like an electric car is often marketed on some eye-catching gimmick – it can do this many launch control starts in a row or refuel from empty in 20 minutes providing you can track down one of three special chargers, and so on.

The Polestar 2 doesn’t do any of this – it deserves your attention because instead of reinventing the wheel, it’s nailed the basics, the less glamorous things that actually make a difference to you day-to-day. Its infotainment also seamlessly combines the functions of Android Auto, the manufacturer’s voice control and driver profile in one system that works better than all of those.

In a lot of ways those pragmatic victories makes it feel very much like a Volvo, but with a depth of character and driver enjoyment that is exclusively Polestar. In short, it’s very good indeed.

More Polestar reviews by CAR magazine

Specs

Price when new: £49,900
On sale in the UK: August 2020
Engine: Dual AC synchronous, permanent magnet, electric motors, 402bhp, 487lb ft
Transmission: Single speed, all-wheel drive
Performance: 0-62mph 4.7sec, 127mph, 19.3kWh/100km and 0g/km CO2
Weight / material: 2123kg/steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 4606mm/1985mm/1473mm

Rivals

Other Models

Photo Gallery

  • The new Polestar 2 is on sale now from £49,900
  • Polestar 2 interior
  • Our new 2020 Polestar 2 electric car review
  • Polestar 2 boot
  • Polestar 2 gets a 78kWh lithium-ion battery
  • Polestar badge is body-coloured on nose of 2
  • Polestar 2 side profile
  • Polestar 2 charging point
  • Polestar 2 review: we drive the electric car in the UK
  • Gear selector for the Polestar 2
  • Orange callipers for upgraded Brembo brakes on Performance Polestar 2
  • Orange seatbelts mark out Performance model
  • The Polestar 2 has quite a jittery back-road ride on 20-inch wheels but is comfortable on M-ways and A-roads
  • UK prices for Polestar 2 start at £49,900, or less than £600 a month on PCH lease

By Tim Pollard

Editorial director of CAR's digital publishing arm. Motoring news magnet

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