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Polestar 2 first drive: Why Tesla might not be the competition for this particular EV

Pras Subramanian
·Producer/Reporter
·8-min read

Polestar, the one-time performance brand of Volvo that’s now branched out on its own as a fully-fledged automaker, took a big step forward in its mission to be a real player in the EV space with the introduction of its latest offering, the Polestar 2.

Now I was a fan of its first vehicle, the performance-hybrid Polestar 1, which is only being sold in minimum quantities, and at a price north of $150,000 here the in U.S.

Polestar 2 US Launch August 2020 Copyright Free
Polestar 2 US Launch August 2020 Copyright Free

The Polestar 1 got the brand (which is owned by China’s Geely [GELYF] group, which owns Volvo) off the ground into the performance EV landscape. The Polestar 2 is meant to get the car into the mainstream electric market, and it’s a very compelling offering at that.

Polestar says the all-electric Polestar 2 is designed as a premium vehicle within its segment, and unlike most cars in this segment - not just your Audi (VWAGY) e-tron, Jaguar (TTM) I-PACE and the like, but also the BMW 3-series and Mercedes (DDAIF) C-class - you will be able to fully order the car online, or go to a Polestar retail experience or ‘pop-up’ to have a more traditional experience.

Polestar 2 US Launch August 2020 Copyright Free
Polestar 2 US Launch August 2020 Copyright Free

I first saw the Polestar 2 in the flesh at the brand’s pop-up location in midtown Manhattan. As we are still in the midst of the pandemic, precautions were taken for us to have our media debrief in a socially-distanced way, and each of us the use of the Polestar 2 for the day.

A little more about the Polestar 2. It has a dual-motor setup, producing a combined 408hp and and robust 487 lb-ft of torque. This can rocket the 4-door sedan with a hatch-like trunk to 0-60mph in 4.45 seconds. At this time the Polestar 2 comes with a 78 KwH lithium-ion battery (75 KwH that is usable), which under the Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicles Test Procedure (WLTP) certification gives the car a 291 mile range. The EPA has not conducted its testing yet, but Polestar believes its range estimate will be a little less than the WLTP figure.

Polestar 2 US Launch August 2020 Copyright Free
Polestar 2 US Launch August 2020 Copyright Free

The Polestar 2 starts at an attractive $59,900 (and will include the federal EV credit of $7,500), and this gets you a “fully loaded” as Polestar calls it launch edition version.

This launch edition will come with a list of features, including a safety and assisted driving suite called Pilot Assist, Pixel LED headlights, WeaveTech interior materials (more on that later), Harman Kardon audio — and the premier of a highly anticipated rollout of Google’s Android Automotive.

The latter is a native operating system for the car (not mobile-based Android Auto) that is your primary way to interact with the car’s infotainment and general settings, but is also powered by Google apps and has services built-in. Google Maps, Google Assistant - it’s all baked in, and it offers a Google Play store to download apps like Spotify and Waze. Polestar has worked with Google on the design aesthetics to give it a nice cool, Swedish-inspired palette.

The drive

Polestar 2 US Launch August 2020 Copyright Free
Polestar 2 US Launch August 2020 Copyright Free

I only had the car for a few hours, so my review isn’t as thorough as I would have liked (which would have included real-life scenarios like charging, seeing what it’s like to live with the car for a few days, etc.) Though my time was limited, I was impressed.

Giving the car a through once-over on the outside, I found it to look more handsome in person than in the stills I had seen online. It’s very sensibly Swedish (with Volvo-looking cues like the front and rear fascia) in terms of style, but not at all in your face. You won’t be getting stares taking the Polestar downtown for dinner, but then again neither would a BMW (BWMYY) 3-series, or Tesla (TSLA) Model 3, either.

Polestar 2 US Launch August 2020 Copyright Free
Polestar 2 US Launch August 2020 Copyright Free

Now inside I found it to be a different story. Polestar took pains to make this car seem familiar, but also forward looking.

The materials and fit and finish are top notch — as you would expect for a car pricing it at around $60,000 — but everything felt even more dialed-in and premium. The WeaveTech material is vegan, meaning no animal products were used at all, and it uses a high-degree of recycled materials. WeaveTech is durable and lightweight, but also gives you a soft feel that has some grip. That’s important when you’re hustling this car around the curves and need stay glued to your seat.

Polestar 2 US Launch August 2020 Copyright Free
Polestar 2 US Launch August 2020 Copyright Free

The Harmon Kardon sound system is excellent, and Polestar engineers were able to hide the speaker behind dash and trim materials, giving you a very uniform look inside. The digital dash under the cockpit hood, and your Google-powered tablet-like center console, were both fast, responsive, and easy to use.

However, there were some hiccups with pairing my iPhone via Bluetooth and using some of the software in the Android Automotive suite — but this was not surprising given that these cars were near-production models and some software issues were still being worked on. And yes, the Polestar 2 is compatible with Apple CarPlay.

Polestar 2 US Launch August 2020 Copyright Free
Polestar 2 US Launch August 2020 Copyright Free

Getting behind the wheel and getting going (there’s no start button or key fob that needs be placed somewhere, as the car is always ‘on’) is always refreshing in any EV. You push the gas pedal and it moves straight away, with a really futuristic digital whirring sound.

Coming out of a traditional internal combustion vehicle into something like the Polestar 2, you’re reminded that this really is the future - and I’m someone that loves a high-revving, naturally-aspirated engine.

Polestar 2 US Launch August 2020 Copyright Free
Polestar 2 US Launch August 2020 Copyright Free

The Polestar 2 is like entering another planet if you’re coming from a gas-powered car. The torque and low-end power is immense (like most electric cars), but what I really enjoyed about the Polestar 2 was the chassis and the tuning.

Polestar made sure the car was sure-footed and balanced (the car has a nearly perfect 50/50 weight distribution), and our launch vehicle came with race-inspired Öhlins Dual Flow Valves dampers (as part of a $5,000 performance package that includes Brembo brakes and 20” forged alloy wheels, among other things), which kept this car flat in high-speed corners.

The car felt light where it needed to be, steering was firm, and it could get you out of trouble quickly with a stab of the accelerator.

But I did have some complaints with the Polestar 2. That firm steering at times felt a little vague, but this is drawback of most electric cars with fly-by-wire electrical steering. At 6’ tall I found rear-seat headroom was decent, but legroom was a little tight when I climbed back there to check out the surroundings. Most people would likely live with these shortcomings, so I can’t fault the car too harshly here.

Polestar vs. the competition

Polestar 2 US Launch August 2020 Copyright Free
Polestar 2 US Launch August 2020 Copyright Free

Now - the question everyone is asking is can this car compete with the 800-pound gorilla in the room: Tesla.

On the face of it I find the Polestar 2 a VERY compelling competitor to the Model 3, which is a great car. Tesla will have the advantage at least right now in the range and performance department (with the Model 3 performance edition), but the Polestar 2 is no slouch and I think tops the car in interior creature comforts and styling.

But when we asked Polestar about Tesla, the company said its data and research pointed out that Tesla wasn’t its real competition. It turns out Tesla owners and buyers interested in the brand only want one thing — a Tesla. They are not interested in cross-shopping when a Tesla is the only option in their mind.

It turns out most of the people interested in a Polestar 2 were actually owners of other traditional luxury cars like BMW, Mercedes, Audi, and Lexus. These owners are now looking to get into EV ownership, and it turns out Polestar is coming up in their decision-making process.

So here’s the big opportunity for Polestar- to “conquest” existing luxury car owners looking at electric cars. It won’t be easy, but as a relative first-mover here, there aren’t many options for these luxury car-buyers to go, save Tesla, Audi with its e-tron, and Jaguar with the I-PACE.

Polestar is hoping its retail experiences and online-ordering process will get these buyers in a new Polestar 2 this coming fall, when sales start here in September.

Polestar 2 US Launch August 2020 Copyright Free
Polestar 2 US Launch August 2020 Copyright Free

——

Pras Subramanian is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. You can follow him on Twitter and on Instagram.

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