Review: The Volvo-Owned Polestar 2 Is an Electric Rocket to Challenge the Crossover Norm

Never heard of 'em? There are plenty of reasons to consider the EV newcomer.

June 1, 2021 7:47 am
The Polestar 2 EV driving down the road next to a lake
You probably haven't seen the Polestar 2 on the roads yet, but it's worth being the first in your neighborhood.

Volvo is betting big on an EV future. That wager extends beyond its in-house lineup of hybrids and battery-powered vehicles to include a full spin-off brand dubbed Polestar. After the shock-and-awe of the supercar-baiting Polestar 1 high-performance hybrid coupe comes this, the first all-electric model from the Swedish-by-way-of-Geely concern: the Polestar 2.

The 2021 Polestar 2 takes things in a more civilized, if very nearly as potent direction. The four-door, modestly sized hatchback checks in at well under half of its predecessor’s six-figure price tag, but maintains similarly stunning straight-line performance thanks to its gifted battery-powered drivetrain.

Polestar is targeting the same near-luxury buyers tempted by the promises of the Tesla Model 3, occupying a rare car-oriented EV niche that has remained popular in a world gone gaga for SUVs. But does the 2 deliver when it comes to the expectations of buyers shopping for a $60,000 premium car? More importantly, can its package overcome the cult of personality driving more and more buyers towards Tesla’s online showrooms?

A white 2021 Polestar 2 electric vehicle
Wow, a new car not giving in to the crossover and SUV craze.

An Electric Rocket

The meat of the Polestar 2 is the dual-motor electric drivetrain that comprises each and every “Launch Edition” made available for 2021. While a more affordable single-motor, front-wheel drive 2 will come online the following model year, this mighty all-wheel drive version will remain in the cards.

There’s a lot to recommend it. With a total of 402 horsepower and 487 lb-ft of torque available the moment your right foot even breathes on the accelerator pedal, the Polestar 2 is an absolute rocket. In fact, its ability to surge forward at a moment’s notice is one of its most impressive, and simultaneously problematic, characteristics. As fun as it is to rack up ultra-quick 4.1-second bursts from a full stop to highway speeds, the responsive nature of the vehicle’s electric torque wreaked havoc on my neck muscles until I learned to temper my enthusiasm.

Also contributing to the occasional seasick sensation of piloting the Polestar 2 is its one-pedal drive system. When set to the most aggressive of its three stages, lifting off the accelerator transforms the body into human spaghetti as the brakes greedily grab all of the regenerative energy they can, bobbling your brain in the process. Dialing down to the middle setting makes things much more bearable (the system can also be switched off completely for a traditional driving experience).

With a 78 kWh battery onboard, the Polestar is EPA-rated at 223 miles of driving range between charges. Thanks to regenerative braking, this is a number that can easily be extended, and during warm weather driving I was pleased with the amount of real-world juice I could squeeze out of the 2’s power pack. Its gauge cluster range estimate was also dead-accurate in terms of matching miles remaining with its original projection and the percentage of charge, which is not always typical of EVs — and certainly more impressive than the winter driving experience I had with the last electric Volvo product I experienced, the XC40 Recharge.

Yes, those 233 miles will do for the vast majority of commuters, and the Polestar 2 certainly met my city-specific needs during our time together. It’s worth noting, however, that all versions of the Tesla Model 3 beat the Polestar in the range category, and for less money, with the Long Range model adding nearly 120 extra miles to the equation. The Ford Mustang Mach-E crossover-hatch is also cheaper and more gifted in the range department, although a direct comparison is tougher given its options and trim levels. A $7,500 federal tax credit is available with each of these EVs, and state tax credits are out there, too.

The front dash of the 2021 Polestar 2 EV
Polestar calls their design minimalist, which may be less than you’re used to.

Plain Inside the Wrapper

Even with the tax credit discount factored in, my biggest disappointment with the Polestar 2 had to do with its interior presentation. For a vehicle that aims above the more pedestrian Mustang Mach-E, the cabin doesn’t feature any of the attention to detail one expects from a premium vehicle. The neoprene feel of the center console wrap caught my finger with the roughness of its edges, and the plain dashboard and door panels (again, upholstered in porous, recycled fabric that quickly gathered dust and dirt) did little to engage the eye.

It’s an interesting juxtaposition to the 2’s sheet metal, which is angular enough to invite attention without screaming its EV origins to the world around it. I had several motorists roll down the window to ask me what I was driving — the Polestar logo has yet to penetrate the pop consciousness — but the vehicle never felt ostentatious, which was a nice balance.

One last complaint about the Polestar 2’s feature set: the vehicle’s systems are based around an implementation of the Android operating system (which provides numerous downloadable apps such as Google Maps, Spotify and — surprisingly — “Brony Radio”). That means in order to fully access the 2’s systems and settings you need to sign in to the vehicle with a Google account.

Leaving aside the fact that I experienced a Maps crash that required me to log in and out of the system to regain that functionality, the idea of a car that treats drivers like smartphone users makes little sense to me. Vehicle functions should be quick and easy to interact with at all times, and certainly shouldn’t require a data connection as a core component. There’s also the risk of tying a car to software that may not be around for the long-term; think of how strange it would be to drive a vehicle from the early 2000s that asked you for your Yahoo account credentials to change the radio station and you get the picture of how poorly this strategy could age.

The 2021 Polestar 2 driving down the streets of New York City
You know you want to test drive this.

Worth a Drive for EV Fans

Would I like a more baroque interior and user-friendly set of infotainment controls? Definitely, especially considering the $59,900 starting price. It’s a factor that may drive potential purchasers away from Polestar and straight into the arms of Tesla where the Model 3’s extra battery life helps make up for its own uninspired design. It could also deter those more willing to take a chance on established luxury brands like Audi (which offers the $65,000 E-Tron crossover with a zero-compromise cabin).

Despite these stumbles, the 2021 Polestar 2 is an impressive first effort from a brand that’s taken the lessons learned by its Volvo/Geely corporate parents and used them to build a very effective electric car. Even without the optional Performance Package’s fancy shocks, Brembo brakes and gold-colored seat belts, most pilots will find the 2 entertaining to drive, and more importantly, easy to fit into their daily commuting habits. 

Any effort to resist the relentless dominance of the SUV set (especially on the still-nascent electric vehicle landscape) is to be applauded, and the Polestar 2 remains a must-try option for those tired of having to choose between one bulky crossover and the next.

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