There's good and there's not so good, but it all points to a much bigger goal.
"Oh yeah, that's the one from the Super Bowl ad," people said to us as we drove around the 2022 Polestar 2. What we assumed would be a quiet week driving a car no one would recognize quickly became a rolling experiment of a newly formed brand gaining its foothold in the US market. For the unfamiliar, Polestar is a Swedish brand that was spun off from Volvo and now produces electric cars. The company only has a few years of production under its belt, first building the Polestar 1, a low-volume plug-in hybrid coupe, and now the Polestar 2, a battery-electric four-door sedan.
While driving the Polestar 2, we had some thoughts about where this car stacks up in the current EV market and where the Polestar brand is headed in the future. There's a lot we love about this car, a few questionable choices we'd change for the next model, and a lot to look forward to from this brand. Here's the good, the bad, and the ugly, but importantly, why Polestar is a brand to watch.
We'll be honest, the Polestar 2's styling is not our favorite feature. It's not ugly, however, and we like it more than the faceless Tesla Model 3, but the exterior design looks mostly anonymous to us, like it could have been a Volvo in a past life. That's not to say there aren't elements we enjoy - the Thor's hammer headlights, wrap-around taillights, and those gorgeous frameless mirrors to name a few. While the design doesn't get our blood pumping, it certainly drew attention wherever we went.
Perhaps it's because you don't see many Polestars on the road, but onlookers were interested to find out more about this car. "Who makes that?" people would ask us. "Polestar," we'd respond. They'd stare back in confusion until we explained it's a spin-off from Volvo. A young driver in a Honda Insight rolled down his window to tell us it was the first Polestar he'd seen on the road and several Tesla owners at a Wawa Supercharger station came over to ask us about during a lunch stop. People clearly want to know more about Polestar. Brand awareness is half the battle won.
Just two models into its standalone existence, Polestar's brand positioning is a bit confusing. The Polestar 1 was a six-figure flagship but the Polestar 2 is one-third the price. In fact, Polestar sent us what is essentially a base model (except for the paint and dual-motor setup) with none of the available options. Unlike well-established luxury brands in the US, Polestar presents customers with the opportunity to order a no-frills car. Our tester came with no adaptive cruise control, no blind spot monitors, no sunroof, and no upgraded sound system. Leather doesn't even come standard, nor do fully-powered front seats.
This is a vastly different approach than automakers like BMW or Lexus. It's more similar to Porsche, where almost everything costs extra, but as we'll go into further detail, Polestar goes its own direction with regards to option packages. We appreciated the raw simplicity of our tester, giving us a chance to experience the car without distraction. It also gives us a chance to tell readers what the affordable versions are like rather than over-specced models. But, as we're about to point out, we aren't sure if this is the right approach for a US audience.
It may come from a premium brand but the Polestar 2 is practically priced like a mainstream car. It starts at $45,900, which Polestar loves to point out can quickly drop to well under 40 grand with tax credits. We'd quickly remind readers that the $7,500 federal tax credit is not a discount, but a refund you receive later based on your eligibility. The Polestar starts reasonably, but as we mentioned before, there are many packages available... and they are pricey. Porsche is guilty of offering costly options, but they are available a-la-carte, so buyers can choose exactly what they want. Polestar bundles them in chunky packages.
The Pilot Package costs $3,200, adding important safety features like a 360-degree camera system, adaptive cruise, blind-spot monitoring, and parking assist. It also includes more aesthetic features like pixel LED headlights, lightning sequences, and cornering lights. The $4,000 Plus Package is more focused on luxury, bundling more premium WeaveTech seats, panoramic sunroof, full power memory seats, a wireless charger, and Harman Kardon Premium Sound. Those are great additions, but that package is pricey and it's the only way to get a heat pump, heated rear seats and steering wheel, and a grocery bag holder.
Simply opting for those two packages pushes the price up to $53,300, and that's before even looking at the $4,000 dual motor upgrade or $5,000 Performance Package. If you want Nappa leather with ventilated seats and reconstructed wood deco trim, that's an additional $4,000 on top of the Plus Package. A fully-loaded single motor Polestar 2 is nearly a 60 grand proposition by the time you add all the options. We personally like driving around the no frills Polestar, but customers trading out of an Audi, BMW, or Mercedes will not be satisfied with the level of equipment offered as standard.
For future models, we'd like to see Polestar change up this pricing structure. Offering a base model is fine, but if the goal is to compete with exclusive brands like Porsche, there needs to be more customizability. A customer living in a cold climate may want a heat pump, but not everything else that comes in the Plus Package. And features like adaptive cruise control come on a base Toyota Corolla; they need to be standard at this point. Porsche and BMW are equally guilty.
The entry-level single motor Polestar 2 produces 231 horsepower, yielding an 'OK' seven-second 0-60 mph time. We tested the dual motor model, which significantly ups the output to 408 hp with a 4.5-second 0-60 mph. It's not the quickest EV we've ever tested, but it feels like a silent rocket ship through traffic. The power doesn't jolt you, but rather smoothly nudges your head into the seat. Trust us, your passengers will be wide-eyed every time you hit the throttle. This car can make passing maneuvers with ease, far better than many gas-powered cars priced at under $50,000.
It's genuinely fun to drive too. The steering is more playful than a Volvo, and includes three different weight settings for those who like to adjust it. Handling is neutral with a low center of gravity that helps it stick to the road like a sports car. Driving enthusiasts should consider the $5,000 Performance Package, which includes gold four-piston Brembo brakes, 20-inch wheels, performance summer tires, gold seatbelts, and manually-adjustable Ohlins Dual Flow Valves shock absorbers. This is truly the enthusiast's EV option for buyers who can't afford a Porsche Taycan.
We've alluded to the fact that Polestar lets customers order a bare-bones car if they want it. This is great news for the small contingent of M3 buyers who opted for cloth seats while BMW still offered them but the vast majority of luxury shoppers may be disappointed by the Polestar 2's cabin. In base configuration, the interior is a dreary sea of grey cloth and recycled plastics. We are all for eco-chic and minimalist design, but Volvo does it better with vehicles like the C40 Recharge. Hoping into a Polestar 2 for the first time, most of our passengers said the environmentally friendly materials felt cheap, not premium.
You can dress up the Polestar 2 with nicer cloth or expensive leather, but some of the interior surfaces (like the dashboard and door cards) feel like they belong in a cheaper car. We are glad Polestar is trying to offer a luxury car without leather, but on the next model, it needs to convey a sense of elegance that didn't translate here on the 2.
Among Polestar's best features, we love the Google-powered Android Automotive infotainment system. It's so good, we almost didn't miss having Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Almost. The user interface is quick and responsive and features over-the-air updates with downloadable apps to keep users up-to-date. Google Maps is superb, automatically discovering charging stations along the route and calculating how much battery the car will have when it reaches the destination. Even the base audio system sounds fantastic, making us wonder how great the Harman Kardon system is.
There are a few issues though. As we mentioned, not having Apple CarPlay is a bit annoying, especially if you use Apple Music. The Google Play Store has streaming options like Spotify available, but not Apple Music. More apps will come as Android Automotive becomes more common, and we'd like to see streaming options like Netflix and Hulu to watch during charging sessions.
With regards to range and charging, the Polestar 2 is competitive but far from industry-leading. The single motor model travels up to 270 miles on a charge, dropping to 249 miles for the dual-motor model. Close competitors like the BMW i4 and Tesla Model 3 have greater ranges and quicker charging speeds. After a software update, the Polestar 2 can charge at a peak 155 kW speed. That will get it from 10-80 percent battery in around 40 minutes. For comparison, the Kia EV6 and Hyundai Ioniq 5 can charge at 250 kW, getting to that 80 percent mark in just 18 minutes.
Though the Polestar 2 is outmatched on charging speeds, the brand has plans to offer quicker charging on future models. Polestar is working on 800-volt architecture, which should be able to match the best speeds from the Hyundai Motor Group cars.
Looking at what Polestar has accomplished already with its first two models, we're hugely optimistic about where this brand is headed. We already know what Polestar has in store for its next three models. The Polestar 3 will be a mid-size SUV to rival the Porsche Cayenne, the Polestar 4 will be a smaller Macan-sized model, and the Polestar 5 will be a stunning coupe-like sedan based on the Precept Concept. Polestar also teased a sexy convertible concept that we pray reaches production as the Polestar 6. All of these vehicles should improve on the Polestar 2's somewhat anonymous styling, bland interior, and average charging capability while keeping the enthusiastic driving experience.
The Polestar 2 isn't perfect, but for a company's first attempt at an EV, it gets a lot of details right. It's a great starting point on which to build, and it won't be long before Polestar becomes a household name for EVs.