There are two schools of thought to EV “culture.” One says you have to make the electric car look “space age” and un-carlike, appealing to people who are perhaps agnostic about gasoline cars or even hate them. The other says make a thing that you already manufacture, just electrify it.
And then there’s Polestar. This Swedish brand started life as a performance tuner within the walls of Volvo, then evolved into an experimental pod for all things EV, but still with a performance bent, then became independent. Its CEO, Thomas Ingenlath, was at one time the head designer at Volvo. That should tell you a lot about how Polestar is decidedly not like Tesla, trying to plant a certain kind of exclusive flag, and also not like, say, Ford, building the Lightning electric pickup in a costume that’s exceedingly close to the dress code of a gas-powered F-150.
Why care about looks and EV “culture?"
For one thing, because if you care about what you drive—and you likely do if you’re reading this story—but you want to update to an ecological stance and yet aren’t Birkenstock Topknot Dude, then finding your lane is delicate. Which makes Polestar appealing, since its design doesn’t scream surgical device or a spaceship, but rather, pragmatic sports car, minus the vroom-vroom.
Then clamber into the cabin and the ethos says exactly what you think it will from the exterior: Yes, it’s spare, but den-of-a-superstar architect clean, rather than cold. There are some physical controls, but not to a cluttered extent. The surfaces aren’t lab-coat stark—they have texture, including woodgrain and woven surfaces (all of which happen to be eco and even vegan, with no petroleum derivation, and hence, no off-gassing).
The tech is also mellow and morph-a-able. And that’s because for that back-end Polestar has partnered with Google on the car’s operating system.
You’re not sure what the heck that means, right? Basically that Polestar knew they were smart at safety, design, shock absorbers, and motors. Google? They’re rocking tech. So the car’s infotainment system, mapping, and voice guidance all come from Google’s Android Automotive OS, which amounts to tech updates that change at the speed of your iPhone, not of your Maytag, with updates constantly beamed to your car through the cloud and evolving far more quickly—without any need for a dealer visit.
This will become the norm for all EV carmakers, but Polestar got a jump on rivals by embedding with Google, which in live mapping alone has far more data to harness than all other automakers combined. That has enabled not just guidance, but the ability to anticipate (via live traffic) rerouting more quickly, and also small but important details, such as road conditions and knowing far ahead of time when to adjust cruise control for an upcoming kink in the road.
Yeah, about that: This baby rails. Remember that bit at the top about Polestar starting out as the performance tuning division of Volvo? That’s still in their DNA, and any buyer can add more performance, both in terms of power and handling, to their Polestar 2. Sure it’s a four-door hatchback with room in row two for tykes and (decent but not astounding) cargo capacity. But this is the practical dad car that can also fly to 60mph in 4.5 seconds. Not too shabby, all without burning a single drop of fossil fuel.
Ah, and you should be aware that range is pretty dang good, too. The long-range Single motor, front-wheel-drive model yanks down 270 miles. The more powerful AWD Dual motor can cruise for 260 miles per charge.
Are there drawbacks? Sure. When aren’t there? But this ledger argues the upside far more than the down.
It’s Safer, Right Down to the Metal
The Polestar 2 hasn’t been rated by either NHTSA or IIHS, but scored five stars (the highest score) in Europe’s rigorous NCAP standard. And here’s where the Volvo DNA comes into the mix, since Volvo and Polestar collaborate on all safety tech, using Polestar as the leader. Here are a few shorthands just so you’re clear on some of the facets of how the Polestar 2 keeps you and your family safe:
- Polestar mixes incredibly stiff boron steel for the car’s safety cage, where you don’t want the vehicle to bend, because it’s protecting passengers, with softer steel and aluminum, where deformation is critical so that an area like the front of the car or the exterior panels absorb energy. Mixing metals like this is smart, but costly, so it’s relatively unique to see what Polestar does, using five different strengths of steel throughout a single car, plus aluminum.
- Active safety tech is easier to use. In a lot of cars, you’re constantly wondering how to engage certain safety features and it can get dizzying. Get behind the wheel of the Polestar and start driving. The safety tech is already on. The car’s Pilot Assist works like most other vehicle’s advanced cruise control and includes speeding up, braking, steering, and also passing (signal and the Polestar’s sensors will “look around,'' to make sure it’s safe to pass and then execute the maneuver for you).
- The Polestar 2 will also avoid pedestrians and cyclists by warning you about them and steering away from them if you fail to; likewise, it’s always sensing the proximity of your car to other vehicles on the road.
- Polestar 2 is the first car on the road to feature inner-side airbags as well as front and side ones. The idea is to prevent the kind of pinballing of your body that can cause soft-tissue injuries.
Where We Tested
On the streets and surrounding mountains of Santa Fe New Mexico, as well as on two-lane freeways in Northern California.
The Best Reason to Get a Polestar 2
This car just happens to blend tech and engaging driving in a way that’s relatively unique at the moment. You can find something sportier—but it’ll jar your bones. You can get an EV that’s roomier, like the Ioniq 5 we just recommended, and while that Hyundai is very cool, it doesn’t ooze luxe-ness like the Polestar 2.
That special quality begins with the fact that your phone unlocks the car. Not with an app, either. Just walk up and the car unlocks. Walk away and it shuts down and locks the doors. You’ll never need a car key (though a fob is included), and that makes you feel badass.
Get the textile woven seats and these, too, seem like perches swiped from an Italian villa, cool to the touch in summer, and ridiculously comfortable. Even the wheel has a chunkiness that foretells the car’s planted steering, and exceptionally intuitive steering wheel controls let you access features like audio volume and cruise control without tabbing through 50 menus. Oh, and remember Google? Just say “Hey Google,” and issue forth with commands.
Luckily, driving is still up to you, since the Polestar pretty much rips around corners. The distinction between the AWD and FWD cars almost evaporates here, by the way. Yes, the AWD car is quicker to 60mph (the FWD car takes 6.8 seconds vs. 4.5 for the AWD model), but both are dynamically superb, with very sharp steering, but none of the punishing ride quality you (and especially, your passengers) might tire of. That best-of-both-worlds playfulness is hard to find, and one very good reason to want this car.
View From the Backseat
To be blunt, the second row is fine for toddlers and pre-teens, but this isn’t an ideal road-tripping machine, since 33.9 inches of backseat knee room would leave a gangly-limbed 15-year-old bellyaching.
Also, the 14-cubic feet behind the rear seats is reasonable for fitting in some models of strollers, but you won’t have a lot of capacity left over for other belongings. An additional cubic foot can be used up front, in the “frunk,” beneath the hood, and that’s handy for a few bags of groceries, but the argument for the Polestar 2 is as a runabout and “second car” option, not as a soccer parent's primary donkey cart.
At $48,400 for the front-wheel-drive model and $51,900 for the AWD edition, the Polestar 2 isn’t cheap. Federal incentives of $7,500 and possible state incentives of several thousand more bucks can lessen the cost hit of wanting the Polestar 2, but this is still a luxury car.
The Bottom Line
Polestar for now has an “it” factor that once accompanied every Tesla. When you see one, you notice it. What IS that car? The resonance, fortunately, goes way beyond the skin and exterior design. Polestar benefits from Volvo DNA, which truly does shine through, inside and out. There’s an understated beauty across the board, but with an edge of sportiness that’s missing in Volvos and emphasized more highly here. And if the Polestar 2 might be too tiny for you, a Polestar 3 SUV is coming in October. If you’re looking for more room, get that down payment in ASAP. Or get the Polestar 2 right now. Either way, it’s an easy win.