► 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.
The best EVs: our guide to the best electric cars
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.
Acoustic Vehicle Alert System: why EVs must make a noise for safety
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?
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.
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.
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