A new electric car from a new premium electric performance brand. Does the Tesla Model 3 finally have some serious head-to-head competition?
On the road
On the road
While some of the main players continue in the lengthy process of getting their act together on electric cars, it’s created an opportunity that Tesla has been only too happy to fill. But the radical American firm at last has some competition to its fast-selling Model 3 – the first prestige electric vehicle to tick boxes for exec-level attainability as well as the required range and performance.
The Polestar 2 is priced head-to-head with the Long Range version of the Model 3, with both sliding just below the £50,000 boundary above which cars don’t qualify for the £3000 Government grant. Tesla had to adjust the price of its car downwards to get under £50k – it was £51,435 this time last year, before the rules changed – but Polestar claims that it priced the car to the right level, and lucked out with the list price being £100 under £50,000.
1. There’s surprisingly little branding on the car. Great for owners wanting to fly under the radar, but people spotting that it’s different may still be none the wiser as to what it actually is.
2. The car doesn’t have a start button; the sensor on the driver’s seat detects a bottom and primes the car ready to go when you select drive.
3. The change from USB to USB-C gathers pace, and the Polestar employs four of the latter, but no regular ‘old-style’ USB sockets.
Either way, they’re clear nose-to-nose rivals at a time where none of the German premium brands yet has an electric car anywhere near, with the exception of BMW’s baby i3.
It is, for now at least, a very simple line-up because there’s just the one model to choose from. It comes fully loaded with equipment and minimal dalliance in the options list available. Apart from paint colour, the only cost extras are the £5000 performance pack that adds adjustable dampers, uprated brakes, larger alloys and some visual tweaks, a £4000 interior upgrade, larger wheels and a towbar. But everything you could wish for kit-wise in a premium electric vehicle is certainly here, including panoramic glass roof, heated front and rear seats and steering wheel, keyless entry and smart boot opening, powered memory driver’s seat, 360-degree camera, front and rear parking camera and sensors, LED lights and a 11.5-inch touchscreen display. There’s also the suite of safety systems that you’d expect from a company affiliated so closely to Volvo.
The key figure with any electric vehicle is the range, and the Polestar has that well and truly under control. Its 292-mile official figure means 250 is a logical daily expectation, which leaves plenty in hand for the majority of journeys.
After price and range, the next important numbers are the ones that illustrate what the powertrain can do, and these are also favourable. The Polestar 2 gets a pair of 150kW electric motors – one powering each axle – that equate to a total of 408hp, giving the car a ludicrously fast 4.7-second 0-62mph time that’s a couple of tenths of a second quicker than a comparable Tesla Model 3. And the Polestar feels every bit as fast as the numbers suggest, with migraine-inducing levels of instantaneous acceleration.
Less impressive is the ride quality, with the car failing to hide even the most minor of road ripples; it’s a much less cosseting ride than would be ideal. The acceleration and firm ride should imply a car with a high level of sporting intent, but the rest of the feedback errs towards the neutral in terms of body control, steering, braking and all-round driving experience. Which is fine for embracing the masses in day-to-day usage; it’s not designed as a super-sporting electric car, just one that’s very fast but has an unfortunate harsh ride quality to it.
The Polestar 2 has the look of a high-riding hatchback, straddling the conventional hatchback or crossover segments.
The Volvo association is obvious to anyone familiar with the Swedish brand’s switchgear, although the cabin is a step up in quality from even that offered by Volvo at the moment, a brand that’s at the forefront of high-quality interiors. The Polestar 2’s use of wooden strips and different textures and depths of materials makes for a cabin that feels of the highest quality. There are also some handy stowage spots, most notably the little pockets either side of the central stack, as well as a slightly larger area underneath the level that the neat minimalist gear lever with the glowing Polestar logo in the middle is mounted upon.
The touchscreen does have the similar iPad-stuck-to-a-dashboard look of the Tesla, rather than the screen appearing integrated into the cabin. It’s running the much-heralded new Google operating system that is not without issues, for those trying to connect using a rival platform at least. Until the middle of next year, when Apple CarPlay is due to be added as an over-the-air update, the system is flawed in terms of trying to play media from an Apple phone. The car is capable of using apps via the Google Play store, of which there are currently around 20 with more being added all the time, so media playback via that is easy, but drivers wanting to play any media stored on some phones or phone apps may find it frustrating.
But apart from the multimedia elements, the touchscreen system is otherwise logical and the touch-sensitivity is, well, sensitive and it’s easy to find a way through the menus.
Interior space is reasonable rather than good for rear passengers, with taller ones rubbing their heads against the ceiling. Meanwhile, the boot offers both good news and bad. Good is that the hatchback tailgate allows for easier loading and unloading of bulky objects than a saloon such as the Tesla Model 3 would, but the bad news is that overall boot space is just 405 litres. That’s only 14 litres more than a Renault Clio. There’s also a 35-litre storage area under the bonnet, which is perfect for stashing the cables away from the rest of the luggage.
For anyone looking to use their EV for towing, although it’s not the technology’s forte, the Polestar offers a claimed class-leading unbraked trailer capacity of 750kg, or 1500kg with a braked trailer.
Although the Tesla Model 3 is quite rightly the rival to the Polestar, other premium electric models that involve a stretch of £10,000-£15,000 include the Audi e-tron, Jaguar i-Pace and Mercedes-Benz EQC. All of these are larger and more SUV-shaped, and none can match the range of the Polestar 2, but given the lack of depth in electric vehicle availability at the moment, they’re the next best thing to a competitor.
Those cars are also more established than Polestar, and therefore might be easier to get hold of in the short term. Polestar is not yet on the books of all the top leasing companies, partially because of its digital selling model where it doesn’t have traditional dealerships. It has what it calls ”spaces”, generally in shopping centres where there is high passing traffic, but prospective buyers can’t purchase the car from there, instead going down a digital route with a price that includes delivery to an address of the buyer’s choosing. It’s an extra layer of complication for a new brand that will take a while to iron out, but the firm is already concluding direct fleet deals as well as through leasing companies. Servicing is less of an issue as Polestar is using Volvo’s retail network, as well as offering a collect and deliver facility.
All of which adds to the novelty of the brand in the short term, but will need to work flawlessly in order to make the company a success, especially once the likes of Audi and Mercedes-Benz start adding more direct rivals in the EV arena. And there’s no suggestion Polestar can’t make it work, especially as it ramps up from smaller numbers than even Tesla is doing with its Model 3. But the Polestar 2 is a great, if not perfect, start. It’s a car that looks classy inside and out, is almost mind-boggingly rapid for a mid-sized hatchback and has a range suitable for everyday use. The harsh ride quality is a particular downside, and more boot space would have been handy, but it’s certainly a successful development at a time where zero company car Benefit-in-Kind taxation is driving canny fleet drivers into the electric world in their droves.
Polestar may be new as a standalone car maker, but the brand has been around since the late-2000s, where it began as an independent company engineering Volvos for touring car racing.
It became an official modification partner to the Swedish brand in 2009, with the C30 Polestar Concept being the first model revealed – a 451hp version of the Volvo hatchback.
The first production Polestar model was the Volvo S/V60 Polestar in 2013, a 350hp range-topper.
Volvo acquired the company in July 2015, and in October 2017 Volvo and its parent company Geely Holdings announced that Polestar was to become a standalone brand focusing on electric cars; or a “design-focused electric performance car brand,” according to its website.
The first model was the Polestar 1 (pictured), which hit roads last year as a 600hp plug-in hybrid model being built in a limited production run and costing £139,000, ahead of the 2’s arrival as the first mainstream offering.
There will also be a Polestar 3 in the future, said to be a larger SUV model, while the Precept concept car – a low-slung electric four-door GT model – has also been confirmed for production
What they said
What They Said
“At Polestar we treat the retail and fleet customer the same, so the latter benefits from our Connected Services, free servicing and concierge-style pick-up and delivery, as a retail customer does."
“We’ve priced the Polestar 2 below £50,000 so it qualifies for the Government grant, and residuals benefit from our fixed price. We’re also committed to making it easy for potential customers to experience the Polestar 2 by offering regional test drives and our dedicated corporate demonstration vehicles especially for fleet customers to try.”
Jonny Miller, Head of sales, Polestar UK
Need to know
Three things we like...
The little front stowage area is perfect for stashing charge cables
The rear lighting is dramatic, and stands out at night
The pockets on the centre stack add useful stowage space in the cabin
...And one we don't
It’s a shame there’s not more boot space
The powertrain is neck-damagingly swift and responsive in a very addictive way.
An official range of almost 300 miles gives plenty of reassurance, and from a smaller battery than the Jaguar i-Pace, illustrating the Polestar’s comparative efficiency.
Boot space isn’t sparkling, although the hatch makes for easier loading of larger items. Rear space is adequate.
The Polestar 2’s sole trim level is loaded to the gills with kit that’s optional on more expensive cars.
File the styling as understated and classy. Plenty of cues that reveal a Volvo link, though the rear light cluster is distinctive.
Comfort and refinement 6/10
The ride is surprisingly solid and harsh, given this isn’t an all-out sports car. There’s also more road noise than might be expected.
Volvo has become something of a market leader for plush and attractive cabins, but the Polestar 2 builds on that and takes it to another level.
The jury is well and truly still out on the new Google system that debuts on the Polestar 2. Compatibility is an issue for anyone used to plugging into Apple CarPlay, at least for now.
Whole life costs 9/10
The price scrapes the car under the limit for the £3k Government grant, and residuals, insurance costs and fuel cost all stack up.
CCT opinion 8/10
A subtly good and incredibly rapid new electric entrant.
Not perfect, but as the only real rival to the triailblazing Tesla Model 3, the Polestar 2 is a high-quality first effort from the fledgling car maker and well worth considering.