First Drive: Polestar 2

If you’re looking at this Polestar 2 and thinking it looks rather like a Volvo, there are good reasons for that. Polestar was the performance arm of Volvo, but was spun off to be a brand in its own right.

As its own brand, it takes Volvo cars and improves the performance, but they’re badged as Polestar Engineered. However, it also builds its own cars now, starting with last year’s Polestar 1 plug-in hybrid performance car. For its difficult second outing, it took the Volvo Concept 40.2 concept car from 2016 and turned that into something real.

Polestar 2 review

Clear? Good. The bottom line is that your friends will think you’ve bought a Volvo saloon and you’ll have to spend way too long explaining to them that you haven’t.

What it is, however, is a rival to the Tesla 3, and it might just have enough style and ability to make life difficult for the American model. It starts off by building the car on the same platform that underpins the well-liked Volvo XC40, but throws away the engine and replaces it with a pair of electric motors that produce a total of 408hp and 660Nm of torque.

Polestar 2 review

With one motor at the front and the other at the rear, it’s all-wheel drive. With 245mm wide tyres on 20-inch wheels, advanced traction control systems and instant torque powered by a 78kWh battery pack, acceleration is brutal. Officially, it’s 4.7 seconds to 62mph but, as is the way with an electric car, the initial take-off is proportionally quicker, which means your neck snaps as your head is thrown into the restraint.

It still reacts sharply at motorway speeds, ensuring any overtaking manoeuvres don’t need quite as much planning as they might do in a conventionally powered car. Leave your foot down and it will eventually give up at 127mph.

Polestar 2 review

Straight-line performance is strong then, but this is a sports saloon (it’s not, by the way; it’s a hatchback but has a strong saloon-style) so needs to handle and ride well. We’re out in a model with the optional Performance Pack (£5,000) which adds adjustable Öhlins dampers, Brembo brakes, a set of Continental SportContact 6 tyres and some truly awful gold seatbelts. There’s no increase in speed or acceleration, with the pack aimed squarely at on-road behaviour.

With 22 different damper settings, it’ll be easy to get lost in setting up the car, but Polestar will deliver the 2 as you want it and then come out and adjust the suspension for you one more time. On the basis of this drive, err towards the softer end of the scale as it never settles over the constant pitter-patter of UK roads.

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Polestar 2 review

Still, it keeps the body under control through fast cornering and rapid changes of direction, with virtually no roll. Point the car along a specific vector and it’ll simply go there, the balance and grip available being exemplary. It doesn’t provide much in the way of feedback, and the steering is lifeless if precise, but I can’t imagine there’ll be many quicker ways of making it across country from A to B.

The cabin is a mixed bag. It borrows, again, from Volvo with a relatively minimal design that looks sharp. There’s a lot of plastic on show, although it’s mostly recycled and both looks and feels fine. The high centre console creates a good looking but very narrow area for your legs, which immediately makes you notice the hard, shiny and, frankly, cheap-looking plastic there, mostly as I spent the day banging my left knee against it. Some of the mouldings and fitments weren’t what I’d expect from a £49,900 car either, but that might be, in part, due to the materials being used and their environmental credentials. Even the seats are covered in a vegan-friendly fabric.

Polestar 2 interior

Ahead lies a digital instrument panel that can be set to take minimalism to a new level. It’s fine, but there’s little wrong with traditional dials and over-complicating simple tasks doesn’t justify the design work.

What is more convincing is the infotainment system, although that’s doing it an injustice. Running on Android, just like half the phones in the world, it’s got Google Assistant built in, allowing you to talk naturally to the car for everyday tasks. “Hey Google, take me home” should have the navigation set to your house in an instant. Frustratingly, this was disabled on this test model – I didn’t want to go to somebody else’s home – but, as a convert to using voice assistants like Google, I can see it working well and proving useful. Anything not covered by Google is little more than a few prods or swipes away.

Polestar 2 gold seatbelts

Space for four adults is fine, with enough head, knee and legroom for all to travel together. The boot measures in at 364 litres, with another 41 litres under the boot floor. There’s also a small boot at the front,  adding another 35 litres of storage, although that’s the most convenient place to store the cables to recharge the car.

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Recharging can be done at up to 150kW, which means an empty to 80% charge could be carried out in under 45 minutes. With a WLTP range of 292 miles, that would add a handy 230 or so miles to the virtual tank. There’s a growing number of suitable chargers that can pump out that much juice too, although none currently in Scotland. At home, with a home charger unit, an empty-to-full charge will take more than 11 hours, but you’ll never leave it empty anyway and most cars are sat stationary from 9pm through to 7am. In other words, you’ll be fine.

Polestar 2 front boot

With strong performance, a great near-300 mile range, and interesting if sometimes flawed design, there’s a lot to like about the Polestar 2. The Tesla Model 3 can go a bit further and is a bit quicker, but the design is divisive and a lot of owners will talk at great length about build quality. The Tesla is roughly £100 a month cheaper to lease though, which brings it right back into contention, and people know what that is.

I’d take the Polestar 2 though. Despite the criticisms, it’s a more complete car than the Tesla, and won’t announce your green credentials to the world in such a boorish manner. You can quietly, and very quickly, get on with your day without bothering anybody and with nothing more than a small cushion for your left knee.

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Phil Huff

Phil Huff has been writing for national newspapers, magazines, regional titles and countless websites since 2003. Specialising in travel and the automotive world, Phil is happiest when exploring foreign lands in foreign cars.