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Polestar 2 review: Electric car superstar

(Pocket-lint) – The electric car revolution has come a long way in a very short period of time. Gone is the time when range was ultra-limited and charging networks barely existed. Pricing has also gone from supercar levels of ridiculous to approaching something that resembles sensible within just a matter of years.

While Tesla has largely been the catalyst to help normalise EVs, it has also effectively become ‘normal’ as a car brand on today’s roads. Whether you walk around, say, London’s or Los Angeles’ streets, neighbourhoods are littered with the Model 3 right across the globe (hats off Tesla, as that’s a surefire sign of success – and we do love that car).

But to sit behind the wheel of the Polestar 2 – the once Volvo venture, which has become an all-electric spin-off company in its own right – feels altogether more special. Not only because heads will turn and horns will honk – and they really will, more so than anything we’ve driven recently, including the Toyota Supra – but because there’s a class-leading in-car infotainment system, an environmentally-considered interior, and lots of other standout pointers besides.

In the electric car race for 2020 has Polestar just put the best EV on the road? There’s a few foibles to mention, but it’s otherwise close to top of the stack, no doubt about it.

Glorious GT design

Visually speaking there’s something very ‘EV muscle car’ about the Polestar 2. It’s got distinctive lines and rear haunches that see it hold a sporty stance. But it doesn’t go over the top – it looks altogether better considered than the Ford Mustang Mach-E, for example – its blend of angular lines and that cut-through rear brake light strip bringing everything together cohesively. There’s enough that’s unusual about it to turn heads, but it’s not off the wall.

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The whole project has been constructed with an environmentally conscious approach too: the Polestar 2’s interior is vegan leather as standard (you can have real leather if you pay an extra four grand), while everything to the interior wood is sustainably sourced and treated – so Polestar’s CEO tells us. Does any of that have any knock-on effect to quality? Not at all: the leather looks great, the ‘Swedish gold’ belts add some extra eye-candy (part of the Performance pack – an extra five grand), the wood dash integrates beautifully.

There’s only one thing we would change: the seat comfort. There’s an adjustable section to the lower base, and while electric controls allow for precise adjustment as suits your preference, there’s no way to quite remove that prodding-into-the-legs feeling from this section. Which, for something you’re going to be sat on most days, isn’t ideal.

When it comes to specifying a Polestar 2 the company has kept things nice and simple too – as in there aren’t several hundred tinkering options that will double the price of the car by the end. The entry model features 19in alloys, the infotainment system in full, safety and automated features.

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If you want special 20in alloys, Brembo brakes, that gold accent finish, and a high gloss black roof then you’ll need the Performance pack. Most paint jobs will add close to four figures too. But other than an optional tow bar, that’s your lot. No pricey stereo options (shame, as the Harman Kardon one here isn’t that well balanced), no tiered levels of interior finish, no repeat costs for tech subscriptions, no battery lease to concern yourself about.

On face value the £49,900/$59,900 asking price is more than the Tesla Model 3. But spec up a Tesla with the nicer wheels, extended range, all the performance elements, and the two rub shoulders at very competitive levels. No other maker has yet brought a premium EV to the market at such pricing, so it’s clear that Polestar wants some of Tesla’s prospective customers.

One-pedal driving

If you’re dropping such cash on a car – there are lease options, but of course – then you’ll want assurance that it drives like a dream. If you’re coming to the Polestar 2 from a fuel vehicle then there will be a short learning curve: because the company has gone big with the one-pedal driving mantra.

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To explain: electric vehicles can recoup energy that would otherwise be expelled by using regenerative braking. That’s a positive for extending the range potential. As such the Polestar 2 won’t let you coast; the ‘go’ pedal is, by default, pretty much the brake too – take your foot off the gas and the car will brake, right up to a complete stop.

So drive sensibly and you’ll only need to touch the actual brake pedal once in a blue moon, which is actually a breath of fresh air. Within half an hour we were pulling away and stopping with total smoothness, no juddery braking or transitions. And if you don’t like that one-pedal approach then it can be lightened or switched off entirely for a more conventional way of driving.

Then there’s the more radical bit: dump your foot on the pedal and the Polestar 2 will shoot off like a rocket. It can go from 0-62mph in 4.7 seconds – all in silence and without making a fuss. The high torque of the all-wheel drive system means that kind of acceleration is available at any point too; if you’re wanting to overtake someone doing 57 in a 60 then you will whizz past them no problems; and with a top speed of 130mph you’ll have no trouble making even high-speed jumps in acceleration – it’s mighty impressive. And if you do need to ‘look over your shoulder’, so to speak, then the frameless mirrors give a wide and clear view.

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Those with a penchant for comparing specs will be quick to point out that’s not as quick as the Tesla Model 3 with Ludicrous mode. This is true: pay the extra and the pricier Tesla will get you faster, quicker, and for longer. Do we think that really matters? No, the Polestar 2 is really fast.

We took the Polestar 2 onto the track and Millbrook Proving Ground – a series of tracks and circuits in Bedford, UK – and while its heft can certainly be felt around sharp bends, it’s deft enough to continue to excite. However, the dampers and 20-inch wheels of the Performance model do make things feels rather stiff – which you’ll also notice over speed bumps.

What about the range?

The all-important range question is inevitable for an all-electric car. The Polestar 2 has a 78kWh battery which can deliver 500 kilometres or 310 miles per charge (that’s the WLTP standard – which stands for Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure).

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Is that accurate? We got the car with 95 per cent battery in the ‘tank’ and it claimed a 260 mile range was feasible – so foreseeably 275 miles at 100 per cent charge. Interestingly, with mixed driving, the range – assisted by Google’s navigation system – was within three per cent of its expectations each time. We suspect you’ll have no trouble getting 250 miles out of this beast during the summer.

When it comes to charging there’s up to 150kW available – and the car handily shows you in plain English (or whatever your native language is) what that means. So the driver’s screen will say “100 miles/hour”, for example, so you would know that two hours charging would mean 200 miles available on the road. We were on much slower charging speeds at Millbrook – just the 24 miles/hour there – which does go to point out that Polestar doesn’t have its own Tesla-like dedicated charging system. Not necessarily a biggie, but until more charging infrastructure is in place there’s a slight hurdle for EV sceptics.

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One other thing we noted about recharging is that over the 80 per cent margin the battery must run hot. Just as, say, your phone would when fast-charging to its upper capacity. That’s not a problem, per se, but the Polestar 2 does then need to kick in the fans to cool, which results in some resonance on the pedals and more noise than we had expected – and this on a 25 Celsius summer day in the UK.

Class-leading tech

Having all the mod cons in modern cars is seemingly half the attraction to new customers. There’s considerable proliferation, too, with all manner of systems delivering results of varying degrees of success. The Polestar 2, however, totally bosses it – delivering arguably the best standard in-car system that we’ve used to date.

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The reason is simple: it’s Google. Not Android Auto (that is available though), rather Google’s fully embedded system. That means Google Maps for navigation. Google Assistant for voice activation – actual, reliable, voice control. Google apps are plentiful, too, so download Spotify for your favourite tunes no dramas.

All this is hoisted front and centre on an 11-inch touchscreen that looks like someone’s put a floating tablet into the centre column. No, it’s not as large as the Tesla setup, and there aren’t amusing Easter eggs to be found, but we don’t care.

Having Google Maps on board massively simplifies navigation. But it’s not just a taped-over-the-top kind of system; this is fully integrated so that Google can handle information that’s directly relevant to the car. Ask it to go to your nearest hardware store and it’ll tell you how much battery to expect left over, for example. It knows where chargers are, too, and whether you should be going for a top-up. And Google Assistant is the first reliable voice system we’ve had in a car.

If you use an iPhone, no need to panic, it’s not going to lock you out of anything. And CarPlay will be coming as an app in 2021 to satisfy any concerns.

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There’s a lot of additional tech that extends to safety features too. While full automation isn’t available upon purchase, it’s something that Polestar is working on – so you can expect what it calls ‘Pilot’ in the future (Thomas Ingenlath, Polestar CEO, tells us it’ll be “Not as quick as we thought – but faster than never”).

Even as it stands now the pre-Pilot features are embedded. Keep your hands on the wheel and the Polestar will more-or-less drive itself, by keeping distance from the car in front, keeping in lane, steering automatically, making collision avoidance manoeuvres, and braking automatically. Which all makes for a rich cruise control experience – one that we used a whole lot going up and down the M1 motoryway and when on the A406 ring road (especially when fixing to the specific speed limit to avoid any issues with average speed cameras).

Verdict

All considered the Polestar 2 has got strong potential to rock Tesla’s dominance in the premium EV space.

Sure, there are some foibles – that lower seat adjustment comfort, some fan noise, less range than an equivalent Tesla Model 3 – but these minor points don’t detract from the considerable whole that Polestar offers.

We love the simplicity of options and that even a base model will deliver a fantastic standard; the eco-friendly mantra is very on-point for today’s consumers; the integrated Google infotainment system is class-leading; and the one-pedal driving and range is solid.

Wrap that all up into one and, especially for a relatively young brand, the Polestar 2 is one eye-catching electric car superstar.

Also consider

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Tesla Model 3

The obvious contender has greater range and starts for less money. Spec it up, however, and you’ll end up spending more. It’s more aggressive than the Polestar 2 – but that could be read as less refined, depending on your point of view.

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Jaguar i-Pace

Looking for an electric SUV? This is the one. Yes, it’s pricier, its range is altogether similar, but if you want those classic Jag looks with a modern twist then it’s a very accomplished option.

Writing by Mike Lowe.

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