► Polestar 2 driven in the UK
► Range not up to expectations
► Costs from £46,900 after PiCG
Forget the LHD-only hybrid Polestar 1, the Polestar 2 represents the true beginning for Volvo’s offshoot. A ground up EV with striking looks and minimalist, Google-powered interior, it’s already a rival for the Tesla Model 3, Audi Q4 e-Tron and everything else in the competitive electric SUV/crossover market. But what it’s like to actually drive?
Now that the Polestar 2 has been out for a while, we’ve had the chance to put it through its paces, both on and off the track – and in a range of ride configurations (allowed by its two-way adjustable Öhlins dampers.
The best EVs: our guide to the best electric cars
What is it?
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 and forthcoming Lynk & Co 01. If it looks familiar, that’s because the 40.2 concept car from sister brand Volvo was the inspiration.
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 night the brand’s North Star motif is projected on to the glass overhead, a typically neat design touch.
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.
How much does it cost to charge an electric car?
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 its latest model.
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. Materials and build 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 a designer – Volvo’s former design chief, Thomas Ingenlath – in Polestar's 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. Just a pity that everything's so dark and gloomy – if you fancy beige leather and brown wood to add some visual relief you'll need to fork out a further £4000.
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.
Our only other serious gripe is the central cupholder position. Okay, it's not as if it's a manual that needs frequent gearchanges, but a tall oat milk latte beaker will prove to be a pain in the proverbial every time you want to touch something south of the main screen.
The best electric SUVs: our guide to the best EVs
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 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: 78kWh
- 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%
The numbers suggest great reassurance, but not one matched by our experiences so far. Even reaching 200 miles in mixed driving conditions is a stretch and 250 seems to be nearer the mark if you stick in town. Tesla's Model 3 still has the edge here by reducing range anxiety:
- 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; it's engineered to accept petrol, diesel and hybrid powertrains too.
Our guide to electric car batteries: a bluffer's explainer
Enough specs! How does the Polestar 2 drive?
That first batch of EVs off the boat from China (this car is built by parent company Geely in Luqiao, south of Shanghai) arrived later than originally planned, but only just. Boss Ingenlath admitted the company had been lucky because the scheduled start of production occurred just as Chinese coronavirus restrictions lifted, meaning there was only a fortnight's delay to its European launch in summer 2020.
We have tested models equipped with the Performance Pack so far, 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 calipers up front, and manually adjustable Öhlins dampers, whose dualflow valves have a greater range of response than the standard monotube items.
Most customers will have them set up just once by a dealer, but they’re relatively easy to adjust without tools. By default, they’re set on the 8th of 11th click out of 22 for a middling set-up, though we’ve now tested the Polestar 2 in both and extra firm and extra soft setup.
Thankfully that rather awful, cheap black 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.
CAR lives with a Tesla Model S: our long-term test
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 versus handling balance just so.
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.
And on track?
The billiard table smooth tarmac of the Goodwood Motor circuit meant we were able to click the Ohlin’s dampers to 2 – and the result was an even more planted ride when pushed. While the ride is a little busier at normal speeds, the main difference comes when the car is pushed closer to its limits. There, the increased firmness results in a car that’s pointier on entry, and eve more adjustable mid-corner. And in the last phase, the Polestar 2 feels more planted too, so you tend to open the electric taps earlier.
But it’s clear why the Polestar 2 doesn’t ship like this – because it doesn’t need to. It’s only with far more aggressive driving that the softer modes really expose themselves.
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.
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 wasn’t ready in time for the first deliveries, but it’s worth stressing that all phones will sync with the Android OS from day one.
CAR interviews the Polestar chief
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 right now, 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.
View Polestar 2 lease deals
More Polestar reviews by CAR magazine