What is it?
Polestar — a spinoff of Volvo that's somewhat confusingly co-owned by the Swedish car maker and its parent company, Geely — is still relatively new to the scene; the world is still familiarizing itself with the brand's mission of delivering cool, technological electric vehicles to complement Volvo's warmer, more traditional cars and SUVs. Its first car, the Polestar 1, is many things — powerful, gorgeous, comfortable — but as a plug-in hybrid, it's hardly the best example of that mission. The new Polestar 2 sets the stage for the company's future.
Is it new?
What makes it special?
Well, there's that whole business about being an electric car with usable real-world range. Polestar commissioned an independent third-party to test the 2 alongside the Audi E-Tron, Jaguar I-Pace and Tesla Model 3 Performance, the three vehicles it sees as the 2's primary competitors, by running all of them on a closed course at 70 mph until they couldn't hold that speed any longer.
The Tesla came in first, perhaps unsurprisingly, traveling 234 miles at that speed; the Polestar 2 wasn't far behind, however, coming in at 205 miles in normal form and 197 with the Performance Package's stickier tires. The Audi and Jaguar were basically tied, at 188 and 187 miles, respectively.
Granted, 205 miles may not seem like a lot in a world where Ram sells a truck that can do 1,000 highway miles on a tank of diesel. But for EVs, being able to knock out as long a stretch as possible at highway speeds is the sort of feature needed to win over reluctant buyers. Add in the fact that it can gulp up electrons at up to 150 kW from a Level 3 DC fast charger —a rate matched by Audi and beaten only by Tesla and Porsche, albeit in rare conditions — and the Polestar 2 has what it takes to be one of the best EVs for road tripping on the market, at least for now.
There's also the fact that the Polestar 2 marks the production debut of Android Automotive OS, Google's homemade infotainment system. (Not to be confused with Android Auto, which mirrors some Google smartphone functions on a car's infotainment screen a la Apple CarPlay.) This system — which will be rolling out in many brands' cars over the next few years — is the answer to a question many of us have wondered while cursing antiquated infotainment systems over the years: why don't carmakers just leave this stuff to the tech companies?
With Android Automotive OS, many Google services, such as Google Maps and Google Assistant, are directly integrated into the vehicle. In practice, that means many of those tech features you may not have used in cars before, like the built-in navigation and the voice commands, finally operate with the ease you'd like. You can project your Google Maps directions straight onto the all-glass instrument panel, or turn on the seat heaters or change the radio by saying "Hey Google" and issuing an order like Captain Picard.
You can even sign into the car with your Google account so the car knows your favorite places and routine, though you don't have to be logged in for the Android features to work. (Polestar's PR reps said many early buyers are likely to create a second account just for the car, which seems like a logical middle ground.)
How does it drive?
It's a lot of fun. Every Polestar 2 packs all-wheel-drive courtesy of electric motors on both front and rear axles, producing a total of 408 horsepower and 478 pound-feet of torque. The latter figure, for the record, is more than a new Corvette — and unlike a gas-powered car, it's all instantly available the moment you brush the throttle, even at a dead stop.
All of which is to say, the Polestar 2 books it. Slam down on the accelerator pedal, and you'll be shoved back into your seat in a giddy, instantaneous rush as the car picks up speed. There's no gearbox to interrupt the flow, no engine revving up over and over again to build power — just an addictive burst of acceleration, whether you do it from a dead stop or at 50 mph. (The acceleration isn't quite as astounding once you're already at highway speeds, but by that point, you probably don't need to be picking up much velocity anyway.)
The test cars Polestar brought to Manhattan for our socially distanced first drive event all came with the Performance Package, which adds manually adjustable Öhlins dampers, 20-inch wheels clad in Continental SportContact 6 tires, and 4-piston Brembo brakes up front. A bit of spirited driving on upstate New York's back roads revealed that the car remains very much conservatively tuned; any attempts at powersliding or other immature behavior were quickly quashed by both suspension tuning and stability control. Still, stay within the car's limits, and it proves an agile beast, though the mass of all those batteries means it'll never feel as nimble as, say, a Lotus.
What’s it like inside?
Modern would be a good way to put it. The steering wheel will feel familar to anyone who's been in a new Volvo recently, but the large center console that rises up to separate driver from passenger gives the interior a sportier feel than any S, V or XC. Instead of leather, the seats are upholstered in a fabric called WeaveTech, available in gray or black; the carmaker says the material is eco-friendly, thanks to the use of recycled materials, while still wearing well over time and being easy to clean. (Polestar points out that the 2 is entirely vegan in stock form, which is a novel way of saying "leather optional.")
If the people up front are tall, the back seat will likely be a tight fit for adults, but no more than in other midsize sedans. Either way, those in back will benefit from the standard glass roof that lets light into the otherwise slightly drab interior.
What’s it cost?
The base price for the 2021 model is $59,990, and options are few; the Performance Package costs $5,000, elegant brown Nappa leather trim is $4,000, and both upsized 20-inch wheels and any paint color besides black are $1,200 each. (Keep in mind that Polestars, unlike Teslas and Chevys, are still eligible for the full $7,500 federal tax credit, and state credits can knock even more off of that; New Yorkers and Californians, for example, will save an additional $2,000 on a Polestar 2.)
If that's still a little rich for your blood, Polestar says the 2021 version represents a de facto "launch edition" — which is to say, it comes fully loaded with standard features that will likely become options later on down the line in order to bring the price down. If you can live without features like a premium stereo, semi-autonomous Pilot Assist driving aids and a giant glass roof, you'll probably be able to score a Polestar 2 for closer to $50K in a year or two — again, before federal and state tax incentives knock a bit more off that. For a fast, tech-packed EV that comes as close to any as being able to replace gas-powered vehicles as your primary ride, that's not bad at all.