2021 Polestar 2 first ride review: More than a Swedish Tesla

"Polestars first electric car feels like the tenth."

  • Well designed interior

  • Android operating system

  • Well-coordinated brakes

  • Good balance between driving behavior and handling

  • A car that can replace an SUV

  • Second place area

  • Lifeless steering

When you want to bring a new type of car to market, it helps to bring a new brand to market with it. At least that's what Volvo thinks.

The Swedish automaker is betting on electric cars and hybrids, but doesn't think its own brand name would convey that change. So in 2015 Volvo recycled the name of a tuning company to create Polestar as a showcase for green technology. The brand was introduced with the Polestar 1 plug-in hybrid coupe, following the Polestar 2 electric car. As a high-end electric vehicle (EV), the Polestar 2 appears to be a Tesla Model 3 rival, but Polestar claims it does is not the case.

"We don't want to chase Tesla," said Polestar USA. CEO Gregor Hembrough said Digital Trends. "We are building an electric vehicle that is an alternative on the market."

Polestar can struggle to convince customers. In size and purpose, the Polestar 2 is very similar to the Model 3. Polestar will initially only sell its car in a fully loaded four-wheel drive launch edition with a twin engine and a base price of 61,200 USD – about 5,000 USD more than the top model 3 Performance. However, unlike new Tesla purchases, Polestar vehicles will continue to receive the full $ 7,500 EV tax credit (as well as some state and local incentives). According to Polestar, cheaper variants are also on the way.

2021 Polestar 2

Design and interior

The Polestar 2 inherits design features from the parent Volvo and runs on the CMA (Compact Modular Architecture) platform used by the Volvo XC40. The exterior is a copy of the 2016 Volvo Concept 40.2 concept car. That means the Polestar 2 looks like a sedan, but has a tailgate instead of a trunk. It also has an SUV-like ride height, though it doesn't feel like that on the inside.

Behind the wheel, the Polestar 2 feels more like a car than an SUV, largely due to the way Polestar designed its battery. While many electric cars have a long, flat battery under the floor, Polestar has chosen to stack the individual modules, placing some under the floor, others under the back seat, and even more modules along the center line of the car. As a result, the Polestar 2 has a lower floor than the Model 3, so you feel more like sitting in the car than on it. The car also has a distinctive center tunnel that divides the cabin, much like the transmission tunnels in gasoline cars.

Like Tesla, Polestar went for a minimalist interior design, but with some more traditional elements. Instead of just throwing a touchscreen in the center of the dash and labeling it a tag, Polestar kept the instrument cluster and gear stick, making the interior more conventional.

The Polestar 2 comes standard with a vegan interior, including carpets made from recycled plastic, recycled wood paneling, and upholstery made from a fabric called WeaveTex. Nappa leather trim is optional, but the vegan version has been well executed and fits better with this electric car's sustainability mission. It's just a shame Polestar threw cheap looking black glossy plastic on surfaces that are likely to get touched frequently – resulting in stains and scratches.

Like Tesla, Polestar went for a minimalist interior design, but with some more traditional elements.

The Polestar 2 is roughly 5 inches wider and 2 inches taller than a Model 3, but the Tesla is 3.5 inches longer. The Model 3 also has a longer wheelbase than the Polestar 2, which translates into more legroom. However, the Polestar's higher roof creates more headroom and its hatchback configuration gives it an advantage in cargo space. With the rear seats, the Polestar 2 has a manufacturer-estimated cargo space of 15.5 cubic feet compared to 15.0 cubic feet for the Model 3. With the rear seats folded, the Polestar 2 can hold 38.7 cubic feet of material.

2021 Polestar 2

Technology, infotainment and driver assistance

The Polestar 2 is the first production car to receive the Android Automotive OS from Google, with which Google apps are integrated into the infotainment system. Instead of general voice control and navigation, you get the Google Assistant and Google Maps. The infotainment system can also be synchronized with your personal Google account for additional adjustment.

The Polestar 2 is equipped with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard as well as a basic Bluetooth connection. Non-Android users can still get the same functionality as with projection apps on other infotainment systems, including the ability to make calls and send text messages. However, Polestar only expects connectivity for select Apple apps, and CarPlay is not available at launch. Polestar plans to add it via a wireless update in 2021.

If your personal preferences are centered around Android, this is a great setup. The graphics displayed on the 11.1 ”central touchscreen and 12.3” digital instrument cluster were especially excellent for maps. The touch screen was also very responsive. However, if Google Apps isn't your favorite, this system has fewer advantages.

If your personal preferences are centered around Android, this is a great setup.

Polestar Parents Volvo is synonymous with safety, so it is not surprising that the Polestar 2 receives a lot of driver aids. Standard functions include blind spot monitoring, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, traffic sign recognition, autonomous emergency braking and Volvo's Pilot Assist, which combines adaptive cruise control with limited steering inputs for lane centering. Polestar said its version of Pilot Assist will use cloud connectivity to detect road obstacles in real time and will be able to improve through wireless updates. However, Pilot Assist cannot perform automated lane changes like the Tesla Autopilot.

The Polestar 2 also receives a digital key that drivers can use to unlock and drive the car with smartphones and give other users access. Tesla is the only other automaker to date to offer this functionality to an electric car, although Hyundai and Lincoln have similar features for gasoline vehicles. The digital key is not available at startup. It will be added later via a wireless update.

2021 Polestar 2

Experience at the wheel

At the start, the Polestar 2 will be sold exclusively with a twin-engine all-wheel drive. The combined output of the two engines is 408 horsepower and 487 pound-feet of torque, which takes the car from zero to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds, according to Polestar. That's the same as a Tesla Model 3 Long Range, but according to Tesla, the Model 3 Performance can go from zero to 60 mph in just 3.2 seconds.

Our test car also had the optional Performance Pack, which includes 20-inch forged alloy wheels, Brembo brakes (with brake calipers specially designed for Polestar to reduce drag) and adjustable Öhlins dampers. These improvements made a huge difference on the road and were the perfect complement to the punchy acceleration of the electric powertrain.

The adjustable dampers kept the driver's spine intact as they traversed broken New York sidewalks.

Even with a fairly fixed setting (one of 22 settings that must be changed manually), the adjustable dampers kept the driver's spine intact as they traversed broken New York streets. Once clear of city traffic, they gave the Polestar 2 a tight, confidence-building feel when cornering. Regenerative braking allows you to ride with one pedal at its most aggressive setting, but the left pedal still has a predictable linear response in case you need it. The weak point was the steering, which didn't feel as selected as the other components. The Polestar 2 may be a very nimble car, but it's impossible to tell by the vague response of the wheel.

The US spec Polestar 2 can also tow up to 2,000 pounds. That's less than the Polestar, previously listed on the European market at £ 3,300, but still better than the Model 3. The Tesla has no official towing capacity in the US, although it can tow up to £ 2,000 in Europe.

2021 Polestar 2

Range, charging and security

The Polestar 2 gets a 78 kilowatt hour battery, but only 75 kWh can be used. Official range figures are not yet available, but Polestar expects to exceed 200 miles based on tests by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In a third-party test commissioned by Polestar, the car achieved a range of 205 miles on a closed circuit in hot weather. This means the EPA-rated range will likely be higher, but likely not enough to hit the 322-mile maximum of the Tesla Model 3 Long Range.

It takes 11 hours to charge on an 11 kilowatt charging station for house wall boxes or, if you are really desperate, 22 hours on a normal 120 volt household socket. DC fast charging with up to 150 kilowatts can deliver an 80% charge in 40 minutes.

Safety ratings from the Road Safety Institute (IIHS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are not yet available, but Polestar expects its first electric vehicle to perform well in crash tests. The car has special crash structures that protect the battery in crash mode and should take into account the lack of a motor in the occupant crash protection.

Polestar offers a four year warranty of 50,000 miles for vehicles and an eight year warranty of 100,000 miles for batteries. Tesla offers the same vehicle warranty and battery warranty for lower versions of the Model 3. The long range and performance models of the Model 3 have an eight-year warranty of 120,000 miles on batteries.

How DT would configure this car

Configuring a Polestar 2 is easy as the only options are the Performance Pack ($ 5,000), nappa leather pads ($ 4,000), 20-inch wheels ($ 1,200), and custom paintwork ($ 1,200). The Performance Pack's Brembo brakes and Öhlins dampers are worth the extra money, but the leather upholstery seems unnecessary. The standard interior is pretty nice and gives the car even more green credibility.

2021 Polestar 2

Our opinion

On closer inspection, the Polestar 2 really isn't like the Tesla Model 3. It can't compete with the Tesla in range or performance, and despite its reputation as a safety innovation, Polestar parent Volvo still has no answer to Tesla Autopilot. The technical data doesn't tell the full story, however.

The Model 3 urges buyers to throw away everything they know about driving. It's a futuristic car that you can never forget that fact. Rather than anticipating the driver's needs, the Model 3 expects the driver to follow suit. The Polestar 2 does things differently.

Polestars first electric car feels like the tenth. From the interior to the chassis tuning, every detail feels well thought out and is based on the experience of an established automaker rather than a newbie. Market demand for something new may have led to the creation of Polestar, but it's the Volvo experience that makes this car so good.

The Polestar 2 takes all that is good about electric cars and presents it in a familiar package. It's an approach that could likely win many converts when electric cars go from curiosity to commodity. It's a shame Polestar doesn't plan on tracking Tesla's sales volume, at least not immediately. Currently, the brand is aiming for an annual number of tens of thousands instead of the hundreds of thousands of cars that Tesla currently builds annually, US CEO Gregor Hembrough told Digital Trends.

Should you get one

Yes. Between the Polestar 1 and the Polestar 2, the new Volvo brand got off to a good start.

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