Polestar has worked very hard to make the new Polestar 2 EV available to reviewers in different cities across the country (despite the multiple early recalls). The result is that a few of our editors were able to test drive it. Rory, Norman and Justin have all driven the Polestar 1 hybrid as well, and here’s our overall look at the “new” Polestar brand as it tries to differentiate itself from its sibling company, Volvo.
Justin Westbrook, Reviews Editor: Both of you have driven the new Polestar 1 hybrid sports coupe and Polestar 2 electric car, the first two cars from the all-new Polestar brand. What do you think the new company is trying to accomplish that Volvo and others don’t already offer?
Norman Mayersohn, Deputy Editor: The context of Volvo never having fully embraced hybrid or electric vehicles until now is vital. They are late to the game [with Polestar] and arrived with a brand that no one has heard of. Volvo has the ideal demographic for this sort of car, but ignored it. And I don’t think that a new brand is a sure path to success. Didn’t work for Mercedes (Smart), or Mazda (Eunos) or many others.
Rory Carroll, Editor-in-Chief: I think parent-company Geely would tell you that Polestar is meant to be an entirely separate brand. The name Polestar has been associated with Volvo for a while, but I think probably not in the mind of the average buyer. But Norman is right — launching a new brand is really hard and expensive. It’s very hard to build a car with very obvious Volvo P1800 styling cues on one hand, and then try to say, but no, it’s not a Volvo on the other.
JW: The two new Polestar cars seem to have little in common for similar size cars from the same brand-new company. Is there any relationship in the character of both?
RC: While the Polestar 1 is technically the first car to be sold under that nameplate, it’s really a real life version of that Volvo Concept Coupe from 2013. We should really think of the Polestar 2 as the first actual Polestar. I’d bet the Polestar 1 is an evolutionary dead end for where the company is headed.
NM: The Polestar 1 offers the opposite of what the “simple” EV offers—fewer parts for the benefit of lower maintenance. Here we have a highly stressed internal combustion engine with a turbocharger AND a supercharger. It’s a bit of engineering overkill for the result you get.
JW: Speaking of the Polestar 1's complicated setup, it seems to me like a lot of fuss for very little benefit over the sports cars that aren’t so complicated. Does the somewhat unique powertrain add anything unusual or special to the driving experience versus other sports cars or GT cars?
RC: You can definitely get a sense for when you’re being propelled by the different motors, like front wheels versus the rear, and it’s weird. I wouldn’t call the experience bad, but it’s incoherent in a way. I remember going around a corner and feeling the front wheels slip a little, trying to pull me before the electric motor kicked in the back and pushed. It was fun. But it’s not quite the experience I expected.
After I’d driven the Polestar 2, what I wanted was a 1 with the 2 drivetrain. It has an EV-only drive mode that only powers the rear wheels, but the range is limited and in that EV mode it drives like it’s missing half its drivetrain.
NM: An all-electric Polestar 1 would be very cool. And maybe less than 5,000 pounds for what’s really a two-seater. The Polestar 1 styling promises a lot and does not completely deliver in performance. It comes with great tires but that’s a shortcut. And I couldn’t get that $150,000 price tag out of my head. For that money in a good looking coupe like this, I would expect much more fun.
JW: When I drove the 1 last year, I was very surprised with the car’s ability to absorb a lot of its weight in its suspension, which isn’t electronically adjustable like you might have come to expect from most modern luxury sports cars. Did either of you run into issues with the ride quality considering the Polestar 1 weighs 5,170 pounds, or around as much as a hunky Bentley Bentayga, or a Tesla Model S?
NM: The Polestar 1 had fine high-speed damping but the low speed stuff over small bumps was not well-managed. It’s a very stiff car as I drove it, which is at odds with it also pitching itself as a luxury car.
NM: The Polestar 2 is also pretty stiff. My objection is that it’s not stiff like a Mercedes-Benz, where you know you’ve hit bumps but aren’t upset by them. The Polestars both tried to make the bumps disappear altogether, a tune I don’t seem to like.
RC: I drove the 2 on the same roads that pretty much every Detroit or Ann Arbor car reviewer drives on. The car drove lighter than it is and held corners very well. As an “enthusiast’s EV,” it was satisfying, but not in the same way that a traditional rear-wheel drive sports sedan is. I pushed it hard in empty corners trying to figure out what its basic handling characteristics were and it would just pull itself out. I’d hit the throttle expecting oversteer or understeer and it gripped and ran away. It was cool, but in a normal sports sedan, part of the fun is figuring out how to attack a corner on your own. I’d say in 95 percent of performance driving though, it’s a hoot.
NM: An excellent point. Neither car, like many new cars, had particularly satisfying feedback through sound nor through the steering. That is what makes an enthusiast car. One of my Hondas is a very smooth VTEC V4 and it’s great, the other is a bit raucous V-twin and when I ride it, I want to be a jerk — it eggs me on to go very fast. Ultimately, neither of the Polestars had much of that encouragement for me, and the Polestar 1 certainly should have.
RC: Yeah, the 2 I drove had the performance stuff, looked the part and I was expecting a more raucous experience. What I got was good, it was easy to drive and fast, but it’s an entirely different experience than you’d get from a regular sports sedan.
JW: How were the looks and street presence of the 2 overall?
RC: The exterior design, and really the interior too, hits the intended buyer square in the forehead. It’s minimalistic in that quirky Scandinavian way but really crucially it communicates that the car is something different. It straddles CUV and car, leaning more toward the car end of the spectrum, and it doesn’t look like it’s trying too hard to be futuristic. You don’t get a lot of dumb lights and grafted-on plastic, so it’s more conventional in a sense. It’s upright, but fun. With the practicality of a hatch, and I think that’s exactly what the buyer for this car wants. It works, though I would have aimed for less Volvo. There are much prettier Volvos, like the current V90 wagon, but I think to the person this car is for, the 2 looks just edgy and modern enough.
NM: The 2 is well matched to the market and is definitely un-Tesla. I imagine there are plenty of folks who want an EV but don’t want to be thought of as Tesla people.
It is an awkward design, though thankfully not overdone. But first, it violates what should be the Volvo family credo — you can’t easily see out of it. That’s unforgivable.
It has almost no tumblehome, and I don’t like that much. I can live with the shape of the front and the rear, but the roofline and the C-pillar are needlessly blocky, and the side sculpting tries too hard. The result has a strong presence, though, and maybe it’ll grow on me, but those design studios have done much better. (Says the guy who is on his fourth square Volvo wagon, a ’98 V90, the last of the rear-drives.) Not being able to see out — having to depend on the rearview camera — annoys me. It’s so easy to park my wagon. It’s like driving a greenhouse.
JW: Speaking of greenhouses, what’s the 2 like to sit in?
NM: The 2 is nice inside and consistent with the exterior — no gratuitous flash. I like the “vegan” upholstery (though I hate the name). The very worst part is the huge donut pad in the center of the steering wheel. I had to retrain myself on the center display often but I must admit it’s pretty easy to figure out each time. Long-term, I do think this move to the new native Android infotainment system will work well. Unless the U.S. Justice Department breaks up Google.
RC: I think the interior is perfectly matched for the buyer of the 2, just like the rest of the design. It’s spartan, and it doesn’t have the same supercar flair of the 1, but I think the vegan thing and the finishes overall manage to feel straightforward in a good way. It’s premium, but the textures are really unobtrusive. Like a good wool coat. I think it’s what Tesla was going for with the Model 3, but this time realized by people who know how to build cars.
NM: It’s a lovely contrast to the shoddy Tesla interiors. The last Model S interior was like a bad Dodge from the 70's, with cheesy materials and sloppy workmanship. By contrast, I remember thinking the 1 had some visible carbon fiber which wouldn’t work so well in the 2 — not the type of considerations I’ve made about Teslas in the past.
RC: The two Polestar interiors were totally different. The 1 has a lot of expensive leatherwork and sporty details. The 2 has a lot of soft fibers, nothing really stood out as particularly expensive, just nice and well made.
JW: These cars are expensive any way you slice it, so are they worth it?
RC: The Polestar 1 is a show car you can buy, and at $155,000 it sold out, so I think it was priced correctly. From a look and experience standpoint, I would have thought a lot of buyers would want more flash. But to some, the car is special enough, feels special enough for the money, and again, it sold out.
The 2 I drove was something like $60,000, which I think gets a lot of these sold— at least in EV terms. It feels like the exact right product for the person who would say they live an “active lifestyle,” is environmentally conscious and relatively well-off. The Patagonia buyer, or whatever. My hometown is crawling with those people now and if they had a Polestar store up there, it would stay busy. It’s just the right amount of different and just the right amount of expensive where you can plausibly claim you’re not showing off.
NM: Remember that the 1 is a declaration of capability, an announcement that Polestar is here and its stuff costs a lot of money. It carries some very apparent conceits (we don’t need a stinkin’ back seat) but has plenty of show-and-tell for that sort of buyer. It’s different! There are plenty of other ways to spend that money, but not so many on something so distinctive yet uncommonly understated at its level of price and performance. For the few that actually got to purchase a 1, I hope they like it.
Rory nails it on the 2. It has out-of-the-mainstream attraction, not following the herd, without going too weird like Scion did. Polestar will have to be quick with offering different variants targeting performance and longer range. But I do think it’s at just the right spot for an EV family. Not all of them are showoffs and the Polestar 2 marks we’re past that. Basically, it’s sober and delivers. That’s a good niche. That said, the sell on a new franchise is tough — we’re Volvo but we’re not. I hope they find the people that this car is a good match for.
Justin Westbrook: What about taking on the established coolness of Tesla?
Norman Mayersohn: I don’t think the base Musk worshipper will be converted, no. That’s fine; there are probably plenty waiting for something less trendy or just, something else. EVs are a tiny slice of the market, so there’s plenty of internal combustion engine buyers to draw from out there. On the coolness factor, it’s not gonna happen. But that could be a strength for the Polestar 2 — the appeal of a base Lexus for the aspirant step-up Accord/Camry buyer, hopefully from more than just Volvo customers.
Rory Carroll: Yeah, I think the buyers for these will want to tell people it’s a Polestar and yes, it’s an EV. I don’t know Tesla is for “cool” people. Teslas are for nerds who want to be the alpha nerds. Which is great, nerds are wonderful, but I don’t know that normies are really excited about Tesla. The early adopter period is over, the Tesla was the big cellphone you wear on your belt when nobody else had a cellphone, and this could be the iPhone. A cellphone for regular people. Well, maybe it’s an Android.
Regardless, the Polestar 2 is the perfect EV for someone who wants to try an EV but doesn’t want their bumper to fall off in the rain.