Aren't you tired of start buttons and clunky infotainment systems?
In case you've missed the fanfare, the Polestar 2 is an all-electric fastback sedan from Volvo's tuning division-turned manufacturer. The cliff notes include a two-motor all-wheel-drive system cranking out 408 horsepower and 487 lb-ft, 233 miles of range, a clean and sharp exterior design, and a distinctly Scandinavian and vegan interior. Because Polestar's roots are in tuning and performance, the 2 is a fast car offering plenty of grip from a balanced chassis.
However, that's just half of its appeal. Polestar put a lot of thought and work into it being an easy car to live with, as well as offering a polished overall experience. After spending a week with the Polestar 2, we've concluded that a lot of automakers would do well to take a look at how Polestar has approached the all-electric vehicle as a chance to tune the user experience. It's not quite perfection, but it's getting pretty damn close.
Polestar just announced a single motor version with about half the dual-motor's output, but we suspect the Polestar 2 will be best served with that two-motor setup. The company has delivered an incredibly well-refined electric vehicle off the bat, and some of that refinement is in the tuning of the power delivery. When it comes to putting that power down for say, overtaking, there's no big jolt. Instead, you get a super smooth surge that comes in a whoosh as you leave whatever you're overtaking behind. Passengers aren't suddenly sitting bolt upright with white knuckles and are, instead, just left to experience the kind of refined and undramatic excess of power you typically expect from something seriously upmarket like a Rolls-Royce or Bentley.
Regenerative braking uses resistance from the electric motor(s) to slow the vehicle, sending that charge back into the battery. Typically, this is set to happen when you lift off the throttle, and there are several levels of regen you can set. That's the case with the Polestar 2, but it can also be set up in one-pedal driving mode. That means you only need to use the throttle pedal - when you lift off the vehicle slows greatly - unless something happens and you need to stop in a hurry using the mechanical brakes. Polestar has done a wonderful job tuning the single-pedal experience, and it takes little practice to come off the throttle just enough to start braking, and then more off to increase the amount of stoppage. Stay off the pedal, and the car will come to a complete stop.
The ECU works out how you are driving and manages the levels to suit the situation. For example, coming off the throttle at 65 mph requires a different level of braking than driving in stop-start traffic, reaching just 30 mph at a time. After a couple of days, passengers won't even realize you've made a whole journey without touching the brake pedal.
Imagine walking out to your car, opening the car, getting in, putting your foot on the brake, shifting into drive, and pulling away. No start button required. Then, when you reach your destination, you just put the car in park, get out, and walk away. Polestar has achieved this by replacing the start button with a sensor in the driver's seat, and when you pull the door handle, it wakes the infotainment system from its sleep mode. Touching the brake pedal initiates the start sequence, and off you go. When you leave the driver's seat, the car goes into its first state of sleep. Its sleep modes are designed around typical use, including a "suspended state" overnight that engages all the security features and wakes the next morning instantly when unlocked. Over the weekend, it will enter a deeper sleep to save the power it needs to be ready, and if the car is left longer than 72 hours, at an airport, for example, it will go even deeper and take a few seconds to wake when the owner returns.
It's rare we give a glowing review to an infotainment system. Part of that is because we use smartphones every day that react to input instantly and perform all tasks smoothly and quickly. Therefore, when you get in a car and see a touchscreen, you expect it to respond and operate with the same simplicity. It rarely does, and we know we're not the first people to wish a car company would hand over the creation of its infotainment to a smartphone OS designer.
Polestar has, and it's the first car to feature Android Automotive OS. It's fast, simple to operate, and behaves like a phone OS. That means it instantly feels familiar despite being completely new and features Google Assistant for voice commands and the Google Play Store to download apps. On top of that, using a phone's Bluetooth connection, different drivers can use the car and get in to find their preferred driving position and their customized home screen fired up and ready to use on the large tablet screen.
We're still a long way from charging stations being as common as gas stations. That's why Google has optimized Maps on the Polestar 2's infotainment system for electric vehicles. When you choose a route, Google Maps displays how much range you'll have left when reaching the destination. If you will need a charge, it displays charging points on the way, or you can configure the route to stop at one on the way. At any time, you can also ask Google to show you the nearest charging points. You can also have either the full map displayed on the driver display or just the turn-by-turn directions.
Polestar is promising Apple CarPlay, but we suspect the pre-installed Google Maps will make Apple's equivalent redundant. We can't think of an onboard navigation system we've experienced before that we can say that about.
We always enjoy Volvo's interiors, and the relationship is clear in the Polestar 2. Hints of Scandinavian architecture are in the lines, and materials like recycled wood are attractive and on-brand. There will no doubt be scoffing in the comments about the vegan materials. We'll disregard those because excellent materials are excellent wherever they come from. The upholstery is refreshing against the typical fake leather with real leather trim in the majority of upper-level and premium brand vehicles. It's good enough that we wouldn't option the perforated leather upholstery. To us, the fact the interior is animal-free and uses sustainable materials is just a happy byproduct of a fresh, tactile, and inventive interior.
The Polestar is not perfect, but it's probably the best all-electric vehicle in its segment right now and a contender for the most important car of the decade so far. The Tesla comparisons are inevitable, and the Polestar 2 eclipses it in build quality, style, and innovation of the driving experience. The Polestar 2's 233-mile range comes up short in comparisons, but the reality is that it's enough for the average American to only have to charge once per week. If you look at range against performance, we found it to be an excellent balance. We ran into issues in inland California finding and using chargers, but that's not Polestar's fault. The infrastructure is growing, and when we found a ChargePoint charger owned by the company and network Polestar partners with, it was painless. Other charging points, not so much.
One frustration with the Polestar 2 is when it comes to having passengers that want to stay in the car while charging and the driver goes for coffee. The car shuts down, and the passengers are left without the infotainment system to use and operate things like the HVAC or windows. Depending on how the car is used, that could become anything from an occasional annoyance to exasperating. The upside is that the Polestar is a crazy easy car to live with as a daily driver, and every other automaker should be taking notes moving forward.