If you’ve shopped for a performance-oriented, road-trip-range sort of electric car with that was truly “an car” – not a crossover of some sort – your only options until recently came from Tesla, in the form of the smallish Model 3 and largeish Model S. There are plenty of reasons to like the Model 3, and plenty of reasons to hope for alternatives. If you’re in the “alternatives” camp, the competition has arrived in the form of the 2021 Polestar 2.
Polestar started life as a racing team, building racecars out of Volvos in the late 2000s. From there, a partnership with Volvo solidified, later becoming a full-on acquisition. While hot-rod Volvos continued to be tweaked by Polestar (now with factory support), things changed in late 2017. Geely Holding, Volvo’s parent company, announced Polestar would become its own brand, set to focus on electric cars.
Though the first Polestar model – appropriately named Polestar 1 – is actually a plug-in hybrid, the latest Polestar 2 is the brand’s first fully-electric car. And yes, it’s a car. Crossover haters, rejoice.
What Is It?
This is a 2021 Polestar 2. It follows the plug-in hybrid Polestar 1 and will be augmented with a (necessary for volume sales) crossover called the Polestar 3 in the next year or so. Every Polestar 2 is fully electric, with no option for gasoline power.
Polestar, given its ties to Volvo, builds the Polestar 2 on a platform that’s shared with the Volvo XC40 crossover. The platform, dubbed Compact Modular Architecture (CMA), was designed from the start to go both ways. Gas engines? Yas gawd. Battery power? Slay.
My particular Polestar 2 was a dual motor model, which sticks one electric motor on each axle. You end up with 408 horsepower, 487 lb-ft of torque, and all-wheel drive as a result. Range of the dual motor Polestar 2 is rated at 249 miles. If that’s not quite enough and you’re less of a speed demon, consider the single motor Polestar 2. It’ll be front-wheel drive and produce 231 horsepower, and you’ll gain another 16 miles of range while spending less money.
Polestar keeps packaging on the Polestar 2 relatively simple. Choose your paint “color” – in quotes because they’re all relatively dull and uninspiring – and interior trim, then pick from three packages. Plus adds a heat pump for more efficiency, alongside Harman/Kardon audio and heated rear seats. Pilot gives you a host of expected driver assistance goodies. Performance adds Brembo four-piston front brake calipers, 20″ wheels with summer tires, Öhlins adjustable dampers, and gold seatbelts.
Pricing can be spread fairly wide, with a basic single motor Polestar 2 offered at $45,900. My dual motor example started at $49,900 and with all three packages equipped, came in just shy of $65,000.
Polestar 2 Performance Package – Worth It?
Normally, I’d be all-in with a performance package. We’re enthusiasts, we want the best and fastest and most of whatever we’re driving, right? Eh, not necessarily in the case of the Polestar 2.
Any dual motor Polestar 2 will accelerate with the same urgency. Polestar quotes a very-specific 4.45-second 0-60 time, and in the real world, it’s snappy as hell off the line. It’ll throw your head into the headrest over and over, if that’s your idea of a good time. It’s heavier than a Model 3 Performance by nearly 630 pounds, so it’s not quite as fast in a straight line. For those of us who care about the overall experience more than beating everyone else at a largely-irrelevant numbers game, both the Polestar and Tesla are disorienting and plenty fast in their acceleration.
Past the wide-open throttle experience, the rest of the Polestar 2 is pretty good. Regenerative braking can be adjusted from nil to full one-pedal driving, and I preferred the latter, avoiding the use of those four-piston Brembos unless I really needed them. Steering effort can be adjusted, but feel remains the same, and is fine but not outstanding.
Where I feel less confident in recommending the Polestar 2’s Performance package is with those beautiful Öhlins dampers. Öhlins is a Swedish suspension company with their roots in racing, just like Polestar. They are well-known and generally make high-quality suspension bits.
I have no doubt about the build quality of what they bolted on the Polestar 2, but the ride quality at their default setting is intolerable in a city environment. There’s just no rebound to be had, and the car crashes through every little imperfection on the road. It’s fantastic on a perfectly-paved stretch of asphalt, but how often do you get that unless you’re on a racetrack?
“Ah, but you can adjust them!” you’ll say. Well, you can. They’re manually-adjustable, something forgivable on a $65,000 new car if you can pop the frunk and trunk and twist some knobs. Not so.
Adjustment knobs are on the bottom of the dampers, and requires jacking up the car to adjust the rears. Front dampers can (theoretically) be adjusted by turning the steering wheel to full-lock each way. Once you’ve got access to the adjusters, Polestar offers four recommended settings, but those four settings are accessed by turning each knob all the way to zero and counting through twenty-two “clicks” of adjustment.
It’s all very racecar-esque, which is to say a total pain in the ass on an expensive street car. Between the impossible, crashy Öhlins and the 20″ wheels with minimal sidewall, I’d recommend skipping the Performance package to get a softer, fixed-rate suspension and 19″ wheels with more tire. Both items should improve ride quality markedly.
Pulling Ahead of Tesla’s Model 3?
Tesla’s user interface has proven divisive. It’s intuitive enough, but relies almost entirely on a touchscreen to control the entire car. Why does opening the glovebox take several taps? Why is steering wheel adjustment a convoluted maneuver? Sometimes innovation for innovation’s sake goes too far.
Polestar relies on a similar touchscreen setup, but retains enough physical controls for quick adjustments and overall safety while in motion. Yes, the steering wheel and mirror adjustments are “old fashioned” levers and knobs, but I also adjusted everything in about three seconds.
The touchscreen interface in the Polestar 2 runs on Android Automotive OS, which is not “Android Auto” that you get from plugging in your Galaxy smartphone. Rather, Android Automotive is a Google-based car operating system that can be skinned and configured by Polestar or any other manufacturer. The benefit here is that you can log in with your Google account, and have your preferences, contacts, Maps destinations, and so on immediately available and always in sync with the Polestar 2.
Apple CarPlay is not available right now – though coming sometime this year with an over-the-air software update – but I honestly didn’t miss it. The Polestar interface was snappy and easy to use. I enjoyed Google Maps as my navigation software, and could have used the car-specific Play Store to download Spotify or Tidal directly to the car for music.
Polestar also includes a “gauge cluster” screen directly in front of the driver, which I appreciated. It provides a concise view of speed, navigation, and state of charge.
Similar to Tesla, Polestar allows you to use your smartphone as a key. I didn’t have time to set this up during my brief loan, instead grousing to myself about the physical key, which looks and feels like a Volvo key made of thinner plastic. Pro tip – use your phone and leave the “real key” at home.
Do I prefer the Polestar 2 over the Model 3 in terms of technology? Absolutely. I’m not a fan of all-touch interfaces, and cars are nowhere near autonomous enough to allow drivers to take their eyes off the road safely for more than brief periods. Polestar has nailed the “tech forward” vibe, but in a way that is far safer and more intuitive in the real world.
Range and Charging
I didn’t get to spend as much time with the Polestar 2 as I’d have liked, as the company is only issuing vehicles for three-day loans right now. The Polestar 2 was delivered to me with a full charge, and I put about 100 miles on it during our time together. Range seemed accurate, given how I was driving and the car’s estimates, though I’d love to really road-trip another Polestar 2 and see how it performed then.
Even though I didn’t have to recharge the car, I stopped at an Electrify America station to juice back up before handing the keys back to the fleet company. Charging was as easy as can be, with a quick credit card swipe to get started. Polestar claims the 2 can charge at speeds up to 150 kW, going from zero to 80 percent charge in about 40 minutes.
Charging started off around 70 kW and ramped up to a maximum speed – according to the text message receipt from Electrify America – of 175 kW as I walked off to have dinner. The car was back to 80% before I got my appetizer, and charged at a slower rate all the way to 95% while I was eating. Should you value ultimate battery health, you can choose the percentage at which charging stops.
The Polestar 2 isn’t perfect. At least it wasn’t in the configuration I tested. Despite my complaints about the ride quality from those fancy-yet-optional Öhlins and other little quibbles, I’d still take a Polestar 2 over a Tesla Model 3. It is plenty quick, handles well, and has a safer and smarter user interface once you’re on the move. Choose your options wisely and the Polestar 2 should be an enjoyable electric daily-driver.
(Note: in the video, I mention “swiping” to get back home on the infotainment screen and calling up the climate control instead. That is expected behavior, and simply tapping the white “home” line on the screen will work as designed. The perils of a quick loan and me not reading the manual…)