Rivian, Lucid, Nio, Nikola, Fisker. There’s no shortage of new electric car brands these days, huh?
Well, let’s go ahead and add one more, anyway. It’s called Polestar and it’s a little different than the rest because it’s a standalone subsidiary of Volvo, so comes to the table with some experience.
The name originally belonged to a Swedish outfit called Polestar Racing that built competition Volvos and modified the company’s sedate street cars into high performance machines. Volvo bought it in 2015 with the intention of turning it into its version of BMW’s M division or Mercedes’ AMG, but rebooted it as an electric carmaker. Its first model was the low-volume $155,000 Polestar 1 sport hybrid luxury coupe that was meant to draw attention to the brand, but now it’s getting down to business.
The Polestar 2 on sale now is an all-electric compact that competes with the Tesla Model 3. The company is working from the top down by launching with a high-end model equipped with a 408 horsepower all-wheel-drivetrain, 78-kilowatt-hour battery pack and a starting price of $61,200. Lower-priced versions will be added in the future, but it is eligible for the full $7,500 federal tax credit plus various state incentives.
The four-door liftback sports a boxy, modern style that got a lot more interest on the street than I expected. To me, it looks like a sedan version of the Volvo XC40 that will soon be available with this same electric platform. But as I drove around in it there were more people pulling out cell phones and pulling up next to me to ask about it than any sedan I’ve ever driven.
You can place an order for a Polestar 2 via an app at a no-haggle price, but it’s sold through a traditional dealership affiliated with the brand. The company currently has two showrooms in California and one in New York City that have the minimalist feel of a Tesla store circa 2010, but will expand to more cities across the country in the coming months.
You’ll soon be able to use your phone to open and start the Polestar 2, too, but it comes with a traditional remote key fob. What it doesn’t have is a start button. At least not one for your finger. It’s built into the seat. Just get in and the car is ready to go.
The Polestar 2 is very much a compact, especially the rear compartment, but the trunk is roomy and the hatchback adds practicality. It comes standard with a vegan interior that employs fabric and textured wood in a style that’s very different than Volvo’s. Leather upholstery is optional, but the car is otherwise fully-loaded with a full glass roof, digital instrument cluster, wireless charging pad, Harmon-Kardon audio and the world’s first Android-based infotainment system.
The system is operated via a large touchscreen display that works as well as a tablet and has Google Maps, the Google Play store, from where more apps can be downloaded, and the voice-activated Google Assistant that responds to natural language. Just say “play Bohemian Rhapsody on Spotify,” “lower the fan two speeds” or “turn on the air recirculation” and it does it. Some functions require deep dives into the menus when you use your fingers, but the overall operation is far better than most in-car systems.
It all gives the Polestar 2 a techy feel that’s further enhanced by a standard active safety suite with automatic emergency brakes, adaptive cruise control and Volvo’s Pilot Assist, which offers one of the best lane-centering systems available, but nowhere near the capability or upgradability of Tesla’s “Full Self-Driving” feature--for better or worse.
Floor the accelerator and the Polestar 2 knocks your noggin into the headrest as it accelerates to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds without making a sound. Its twin electric motors provide 487 lb-ft of instant torque, which is more than you get in BMW M3.
Drive normally and the power comes and goes with perfection. It feels like a well-crafted and programmed machine, not a first effort. There aren’t any Eco/Normal/Sport drive modes, but you can set it to creep or not creep when you’re right foot’s off the pedal and adjust the regenerative braking effect, which uses the motors to slow the car, from none to medium to strong.
Polestar clearly wanted to impress its early adopters and it’s handling puts on a show. The suspension is firm, but not harsh, and the steering very responsive. There’s so little body roll that on a curvy road it can feel like you’re playing a videogame with the volume turned down. Electric power aside, the experience is very unlike recent Volvos I've driven, including the conventional XC40 and V60 Cross Country.
There’s an optional $5,000 performance package that comes with upgraded Öhlins shocks, Brembo brakes and 20-inch wheels, but I can’t see how it would be necessary unless you planned on going to a race track.
If you do, chose one that’s nearby and has a charging station. The Polestar 2’s EPA rated range is just 233 miles, which is the only disappointing thing about it. A Tesla Model 3 with similar performance can make 353 miles, and costs a few thousand less. If it’s a DC fast charging station, you can fill the battery to 80 percent in about 40 minutes, which is pretty much par for the course. On a home wall charger its 8 hours to full.
Unfortunately, Polestar has had its teething problems. The Polestar 2 has already been recalled twice due to an inverter issue that led to a loss of power in some cars.
And then there’s the price. Even after the federal tax credit, the Polestar 2 is nearly $7,000 more than a Model 3 Dual Motor All-Wheel-Drive Long Range, which is quicker and can go 353 miles per charge.
Of course, if you wanted one of those, you’d probably already own it. For those looking for an electric alternative, the Polestar 2 isn’t a hole-in-one, but if you skip the long drive contests it may be a winner.