Automorbit, Cars – The automotive establishment’s answer to Tesla’s mainstream-budget electric-vehicle offerings, the Model 3 and Model Y, is about to hit the market in the form of the 2021 Polestar 2.
For those of you who wouldn’t know a Polestar from a pole vault, the 2 is an all-electric vehicle from an upstart division of the Sino-Scandinavian conglomerate Geely Auto Holdings—better known as Volvo’s parent company.
The Polestar 2 is sized and configured to strike between Tesla’s compact sedan and SUV with a tall hatchback body and dual-motor all-wheel-drive performance that aims to land somewhere between the base and performance variants of the popular Teslas. Should Elon Musk be worried?
Is the Polestar 2 Faster Than the Tesla?
Tesla made its bones by showing electric cars can be fast as hell and not just dowdy golf carts. Everyone else has had to follow suit if they want to be taken seriously. As with most of these big-battery all-wheel-drive electric sleds, when you drop the hammer in the Polestar 2, it feels like all that sheetmetal is being yanked toward a giant invisible ACME magnet operated by Wile E. Coyote.
Combining the power and torque of the Polestar 2’s front and rear motors yields 408 hp and 487 lb-ft, for an 11.6-lb/hp weight-to-power ratio. That roughly splits the ratios of a Tesla Model 3 Dual Motor Performance (9.0 lb/hp) and a single-motor long-range 3 (14.4 lb/hp). It’s no surprise, then, that a plot of the Polestar’s acceleration performance lines up smack in between similar graphs of those two Model 3s.
Zero-to-60 flashes by in 4.1 seconds (0.7 ahead of the Tesla Long Range, a second behind the Performance), and the quarter-mile flashes by in 12.6 seconds at 110.9 mph—0.8 second and 6.0 mph ahead of the one, 0.9 second and 4.2 mph behind the other. Trust me, it’s plenty quick enough for freeway merging, and its passing power is impressively instantaneous.
How Does the Polestar 2 Drive?
Our test car was a fully pimped-out launch-edition model upgraded with a $5,000 performance package that includes adjustable Öhlins DFV (dual flow valve) dampers, gold Brembo four-piston front brake calipers and cross-drilled rotors, and meaty 245/40R20 Continental SportContact 6 summer tires on staggered 20-inch forged aluminum rims (8.0 inches wide in front, 9.0 inches wide in back).
So equipped, our Polestar stops and turns more like the top-dog Model 3, with 60-0 mph stops in 102 feet, as compared with 99 to 105 feet on a range of Model 3 DMP test cars. The Polestar’s lateral grip of 0.95 g is in line with the Model 3’s 0.94-0.95 g. Put simply, it’s similarly fun to hustle down a favorite twisty two-lane.
Polestar’s adjustable regenerative braking enables one-pedal driving, and the power/charge meter indicates when you transition from regen to friction braking, which (happily) was my only indication of this transition. Pedal feel is refreshingly “normal.”
About those Öhlins shocks. They are individually adjustable, providing 22 positions each, but adjusting them requires reaching under the car to twirl a knob on the bottom of each front strut and somehow sliding your hand up behind the splash shield to fiddle with a similar knob on the top of each rear shock. Nobody will ever touch these.
They were set in the middle for most of my drive, but being a scientist, I felt compelled to adjust them and repeat my handling loop. Without a jack or hoist, I could only adjust the fronts, but I cycled them through full-firm and full-soft settings. Firm rendered the suspension so unflinching on small bumps that it excited interior trim rattles, while the ride quality in soft felt indistinguishable from the middle setting. The emperor’s new adjust-o-shocks?
What’s the Polestar 2’s Range and Recharge Time?
The 78-kWh battery offers 75 kWh of usable energy. EPA results are currently pending, with Polestar targeting a 275-mile range (slightly less with the Performance Package’s summer tires).
Polestar also commissioned a third-party “run-until-they-die” 70-mph highway range test conducted in 85-degree sunshine, with climate controls set to 72 degrees. The Tesla Model 3 ran 234 miles, the Polestar 2 made 205 miles, the Jaguar I-Pace hit 188, and an Audi E-Tron just 187. Such a test may primarily be an aerodynamics face-off, and the Polestar 2’s 0.287 drag coefficient trails that of the Model 3 (0.23), but it boasts a unique aero feature: 30 percent smaller frameless side mirrors, where the adjuster moves the entire mirror housing.
A flat battery can be recharged to 80 percent in 40 minutes using a 150-kW fast charger; a Level 2 home recharge takes 8 hours at 11 kW, or 22 hours using a standard 120-volt plug.
The Elephant in the Car…
Long-range electric cars all carry big, heavy batteries, with the Polestar 2 and the two Teslas each providing 75 kWh of usable capacity. So why won’t the Polestar go as far? Tesla slashes weight with a lot of expensive aluminum, but the Polestar 2 relies on trusty steel. As a result, the smaller Polestar weighs a lot more than either the Model 3 or Model Y. Our test car tipped the scales at 4,720 pounds—that’s 634 pounds more than the heaviest Model 3 Dual Motor Performance test car we’ve weighed, and about 300 pounds more than Tesla says the Model Y weighs. That’s where your range went. Will the Polestar 2 have a better crash rating? We’ll have to wait for NHTSA and IIHS to test them.
How Does the Polestar 2 Work as a Car?
The drive experience is quite Tesla-esque in that you just approach, get in, and go. There’s no start/stop button. The user interface of the Polestar 2’s big vertical touchscreen differs from what we’re used to seeing in Volvos by being connected to the world’s first full Google/Android infotainment system—so if you’re an Android phone user, your car doesn’t have to mirror your screen, it becomes a cloned extension of it.
Navigation is by Google Maps and the “Hey Google” assistant is native—a boon for those who routinely chat with their machinery. I don’t, but the traditional controls for everything are easy to figure out—there’s even a volume knob on the console. What the Polestar 2 needs is better screen views for monitoring energy usage, coaching efficient driving, and displaying energy use over time like Tesla and Ford offer on their plug-in vehicles. As is, the energy scoreboard shows in a temporary display in the instrument cluster, which covers up crucial gauges when it’s active.
The front and rear seats offer expected Swedish levels of comfort, thanks in part to Polestar’s decision not to use a uniform flat battery pack. Instead, cells are stacked high along the center hump and under the seats, with none beneath the footwells, which then preserves comfy seating positions.
One disconcerting Tesla feature mirrored in the launch-edition Polestar 2 is a standard all-glass roof with no sunshade. It’s a scalp-scorchingly bad idea made slightly worse by front center A/C vents that are positioned on the dash top; the vanes are very nearly shut when pointing straight aft or at your face. Polestar (as of now) doesn’t offer ventilated seats with the standard gray or charcoal-colored vegan WeaveTech upholstery (which frankly looks and feels cheap in a $60,000 car). Upgrading to the $4,000 beige Nappa leather brings seat ventilation and a warmer overall ambiance. Speaking of colors, black is the only free exterior color—the five other variations on white, silver, and gray cost $1,200.
Polestar 2 vs. Tesla, by Size
Polestar 2 rides on the Volvo XC40’s compact CMA architecture, stretching its wheelbase by 1.3 inches and its overall length by 7.1 inches. The Teslas are both longer—the Model 3 by 3.5 inches and the Model Y by 5.7 inches. The Polestar’s height splits the difference between the Teslas, standing 1.2 inch taller than the Model 3 and 5.9 inches shorter than the Model Y—yet Polestar manages to provide more front and rear headroom than either Tesla.
More numerical weirdness: The Polestar 2 is wider than both by 2.5 to 5.3 inches and yet offers less shoulder room than either (by 1.4 to 1.8 inches). Nevertheless, interior passenger volume ends up within a cubic foot of both Teslas in front, and of the Model 3 in back (the Y’s 6.1-inch wheelbase advantage delivers 6.6 inches of added legroom). Polestar’s 14.2/38.7-cubic-foot cargo volume (seats up/down) trails the 3 by a little and the Y by a lot.
Should You Buy a Polestar 2?
Just like when a new Tesla comes out, savvy buyers will wait for the rush to die down and for more affordable variants to arrive. I personally want nothing to do with a car in which I have to wear a hat while driving, so I’d hold out for a version with a solid roof.
Base cars will eventually offer two big options packages that bundle luxury items (Plus trim) and driver assistance gear (Pilot trim) to better match specific drivers’ needs. I’d also wait to see if any actual colors are added to the exterior palette—some that don’t cost money would be nice.
Waiting a while should also broaden the dealer network, which starts out with a handful of Polestar Space showrooms in Manhattan, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, each of which will deliver and pick up new or service vehicles within a 150-mile radius. You can order online, as with Tesla, but all Polestars are delivered and serviced by franchised dealers that also handle Volvo.
Buy the Polestar 2 if you fret about child laborers mining the cobalt in your EV—Polestar uses blockchain technology to certify its cobalt is responsibly mined. Another bonus for EV startup Polestar—its $7,500 federal tax credits will last a long time at its “tens of thousands per year” anticipated sales volume.
That relatively limited volume, by Tesla standards, means Elon Musk shouldn’t have to worry too much about Polestar—even if the Polestar 2 turns out to be a better vehicle. But as more competitors line up and start chipping away at Tesla’s market dominance with capable EVs, Elon may have to start coming up with new ways to skin his electric cat.