2021 Polestar 2 Review: A Solid EV That Doesn’t Overcomplicate It

Sometimes you just want a car to be a car.

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2021 Polestar 2 Review: A Solid EV That Doesn’t Overcomplicate It © 2021 Polestar 2 Review: A Solid EV That Doesn’t Overcomplicate It

There are so many electric car startups to keep track of these days that it's hard to know if something from an established brand like Polestar can even carve a niche for itself. Will this offshoot of Volvo find security like Rivian, or struggle along like Faraday Future? If its first mass-produced and fully electric model—the 2021 Polestar 2—is anything to go by, this Sino-Scandinavian carmaker is well on its way to becoming a serious EV contender. Probably not for the reasons it intended, though.

Polestar seems to have meant the 2 to be an understated yet state-of-the-art EV—one that passes by almost without notice but packs a performance wallop. What it has built instead, however, is a car that doesn't push any technological or performance boundaries, but is still a fast, fun-to-drive EV; one that feels built to last as long as the impressions its looks leave on bystanders. Seriously, people can't stop staring at this thing.

The spawn of Volvo and one of its racing partners, Polestar is now a brand of its own, one with as thorough an emphasis on electrification as the rest of Geely. Unlike the low-volume, plug-in-hybrid Polestar 1, the five-door Polestar 2 fastback is the brand's first mass-produced and fully electric vehicle. Built on Volvo and Geely's Compact Modular Architecture—or CMA—platform that also underpins the Volvo XC40 and C40, the 2 is a small electric sedan that's currently available with all-wheel drive, though a rear-wheel-drive variant is coming later this year.

The former was the case for the Polestar 2 I drove, whose 78-kWh battery pack is good for an EPA-rated driving range of 233 miles. For the person who springs for the Performance Pack, they'll get golden Brembo front calipers, drilled rotors, adjustable Öhlins shocks, and fantastic, four-spoke forged 20-inch alloys. The 408 horsepower and 487 pound-feet of torque from all four wheels pull the Polestar from zero to 60 in under 4.5 seconds and culminate in a 12.76-second standing quarter mile.

  • 2021 Polestar 2 with Performance Pack, <i>Polestar</i>
  • 2021 Polestar 2 with Performance Pack, <i>Polestar</i>

Inside and lit by the Plus Package's panoramic sunroof, the 2 has an airy, stylish space, with room for six-foot-and-change passengers front and rear, plus their belongings. Build quality feels sturdy while the cabin's physical layout measures up fine—mostly. The center console's tiny, and the child lock is easy to hit by accident when opening the door, though these are nitpicks in what's otherwise a pleasant place to sit.

Its heated front seats, a standard option, are generously bolstered without being cramped and are by default upholstered in a vegan material (though Nappa leather is available). Chunky-feeling door handles and jet age-esque vents, both cast aluminum, fit in perfectly with the interior's tasteful collection of textures and patterns, most of them grayscale, save for those sunny "Swedish Gold" belts. Stretched across you chest, they feel a bit like a fancy sash, and perfectly contrast their surroundings. If anything, Polestar could've stood to be more generous with this color motif—maybe with colored stitching or badging—the latter of which might've been the only way the Polestar 2 could stand out more on the road.

Polestar may be its own brand, but its stylists haven't managed (or didn't try) to fully delineate their work from Volvo's. The 2's headlights, T-shaped running lights, and grille all echo the S90, as do the taillights, which despite meeting in the middle still resemble the brackets on the backs of Volvos. Its high roofline, sloping rear hatch, and stubby rear end remind me of older Saabs of all things; not my favorite designs by any means, but still shapes rarely seen on the road today.

Between its unusual silhouette and subtle badging, few recognized the Polestar for what it was, with more people than I can count approaching to ask about this striking EV (I lost track after a dozen). Reception to its styling and finish were universally positive, with even a Tesla owner stopping to remark on the Polestar's consistent panel gaps. I am not making this up.

Those who accepted my invitation to sit in the driver's seat, though, weren't as elated. There isn't anything wrong with the Polestar 2's insides; it's just that they aren't much plusher than those of a top-of-the-line Nissan Leaf. This was only compounded by that sensibly subdued Swedish styling, which will be familiar to those who shop flat-packed furniture.

Clicking the shifter fore for reverse or aft for drive is all that's needed to get the Polestar 2 moving and makes starting the car a seamless experience. Backing out from my dark, mountainside camping spot, I had to rely entirely on the backup camera, as rear window visibility is dismal, and it's not much better in the blind spot. Fortunately, the camera's low-light performance is laudable, though the lines predicting one's path could stand to be longer.

Being short on sleep, I tried to wake myself up with the Harman Kardon audio suite, though this was complicated by the under-developed infotainment. It's not so much a problem with the native Android OS—which is responsive and simple (neither of which should be taken as high praise)—but the lack of support for Apple CarPlay at launch. Polestar says it'll come in an over-the-air update later this year, but that morning, I had to deal with the infotainment treating my device like a recently divorced spouse: curtly loading the music library, but not strictly mirroring the phone's menu flow, loading album covers, or offering any obvious shuffle option. At least volume is still controlled through a knob.

  • 2021 Polestar 2 infotainment, <i>Polestar</i>
  • 2021 Polestar 2 infotainment, <i>Polestar</i>

Out on the road, the Polestar 2 works fine driven like a conventional car with its one-pedal mode off. Given EVs' ability to mimic manual cars' engine braking with it on, though, I mostly drove with it active, enjoying the balance of its twin motors, whose regenerative braking blends impeccably with the friction brakes. Though its accelerator is perhaps under-weighted and can make these modes twitchy near the top of pedal travel, that's not unwelcome if you have to suddenly lift for wildlife crossing the road. 

If you do, and you jam on its Brembo brakes, you'll find its stopping power outrageously good for a car that, laden with three people and their camping gear, easily weighed over 5,000 pounds. Likely, this comes down to the tires, which despite being modest 245-section Continental SportContact 6s, were no doubt part of the Polestar's astonishingly good cornering.

  • 2021 Polestar 2 with Performance Pack, <i>James Gilboy</i>
  • 2021 Polestar 2, <i>Polestar</i>
  • 2021 Polestar 2 with Performance Pack, <i>James Gilboy</i>

Tested elsewhere (no tongue in cheek, I don't want to emulate Jeremy Foley), the Polestar 2 showed agility that leads me to call it a ready-made autocrosser or hill-climb car. Take that as a suggestion, Polestar. Crank the wheel and the car's weight—concentrated in the under-floor battery—transfers without hesitation. Though the front suspension consists only of McPherson struts, its adjustable Öhlins dampers mean travel is finely tuned, and consequently that front-end grip feels almost limitless.

It'll whip its way into a hairpin, wring passengers off their oh-shit handles, and—even with stability control off—claw its way back out under full power almost perfectly composed. Its differentials may fight to distribute that power, but they pretty much always succeed. Only a whiff of understeer hints that you may be approaching the car's limits, which comes as a welcome advance warning in light of steering feel that is—even on the heaviest weight setting—pretty lacking.

Floored from a stop, the Polestar accelerates with the smooth yet savage whip characteristic of performance EVs. While acceleration tapers off above highway speeds, it just means the bulk of performance is where you can legally access it.

  • James Gilboy
  • 2021 Polestar 2 with Performance Pack, <i>James Gilboy</i>
  • 2021 Polestar 2 with Performance Pack, <i>Polestar</i>

Unfortunately, though, you'll notice the road and wind making themselves heard. They're not fatiguing, but also not ideal for longer highway drives. This can also be said of the Öhlins dampers' factory-tune: They're not jarring but definitely firm and could maybe use some tweaking for different drive situations. These have to be manually adjusted, however.

While setup advice will surely spread via owners' forums, suspension adjustment feels like a job that adaptive dampers should do for you. They're not exactly rare at the Polestar's price point, after all. It feels like an oversight in a performance EV that's still fully capable on the highway, with ADAS to help pass the miles safely, and enough range to make stops infrequent.

DC fast-charging up to 155 kW means those stops won't be long, though they could be shorter, as charging from 56 to 95 percent before my trip took 55 minutes. This also required hunting for charging kiosks that weren't occupied or broken—I found three such chargers in a 16-hour span. Charger availability, admittedly, isn't yet competitive with Tesla's, though this could cease to be a point of comparison if the Supercharger network becomes available to other makes.

I started this journey by asking you guys to ask me about the Polestar 2. Let's get to answering!

Q: "I'm surprised no-one has commented about how ugly it is. Does it look better in person? I'm just so baffled by how it can look so different from the incredible V60." — Bryan Journey

I'm not sold on the rear end myself, but it seems we're in the minority here.

Q: "I'm curious about the build quality—especially the details that are easy to overlook or cut corners on. This is a Chinese-built car that is supposed to live up to and even exceed Volvo's standards. I love the S90's design and execution, especially the interior. I'd like to know if China has finally reached the point Japan did in manufacturing." — MotoRider

It's solid. I'd be less worried about this car falling apart than anything made by Tesla or BMW, who are all Polestar needs to beat in this segment right now. It bodes well for the Polestar 3 crossover, which'll be built in the States.

Q: "What is it actually like when road tripping it? I'm thinking along the lines of the charging network, autonomous driving features, comfort etc." — Bummerhummer

Not my first choice, but not my last. It's spacious, the seats are fine, and range and charging are adequate. But the firm ride, road and wind noise, and unremarkable audio system don't make it a standout.

Q: "I will be curious though if its range is good enough to get you up to the top of Pikes and back, assuming you live somewhere in the Denver area. Mileage should be fine but does mileage get affected if you are just sitting in traffic for a long time like is common now on I-25?" — nothingtosay

Negative on both counts. I left Louisville (near Boulder) with an estimated 220 miles of range, took a short detour, and arrived in downtown Colorado Springs with 110 to go—charging en route was a must. Traffic jams aren't a problem for EVs, though, as they don't keep an engine running at idle. It only takes a small amount of current to keep accessories like AC and music going.

Q: "What's the 'point' of this vehicle? I don't mean that in a disparaging way, as every vehicle has a reason for existing, even if they don't achieve it. Is this a sports sedan? A technological showcase? A Swedish version of luxury? How does it compare to not only Tesla, but Ford and Audi's versions of electrified transport? What thing most surprises you about this vehicle? And would you put four people with luggage in there?" — George Darroch

Good questions, my dear Curious George. It's definitely not a luxury car, not with Volvo aiming for that market itself. It's more of a sports sedan attempting to be a technical showcase, though as I hope I've made clear, it's not cutting-edge enough for that to be a selling point. Comparing it to Audi or Ford doesn't make sense yet, as neither offers an analogous EV, though it doesn't have the whimsical flair or sheer performance of a Model 3. The biggest surprise by far was how much attention it got, and yes, four people and their travel bags definitely fit.

Q: "I'd love to know how it handles, since it is a heavy-ish car. Electric cars have a low center of gravity I'm assuming it won't be too bad" — SuperShep

Quite well, if you ask me. I've heard other people complain of understeer, but I think you have to be really moving to find it—and I can't but wonder if they were fiddling with its adjustable shocks. It bears mentioning, though, that I have a strange point of reference for what constitutes understeer.

Q: "I almost leased one of these but the lack of center storage, usable cup holders and America's horrific EV charging network made me second-guess myself. Was I wrong?" — jpk325

If those are your top priorities, no.

Q: "I want to know how the aero is in freefall...lol... Blue Skies. (when the people look like ants...you have time... when the ants look like people... its too late.)" — O_OBilly

I'm afraid you'll have to test this one in BeamNG. Doubt Polestar'd forgive me for figuring this out on my own.

Standard 2s come with 19-inch wheels, a panoramic roof, a 13-speaker Harman Kardon sound system, a 12.3-inch digital driver information display, an 11.15-inch center display, and a suite of driver-assistance systems such as forward collision warning, lane-keeping aid, and adaptive cruise control. The test car came in a shade of Snow white paint ($1,200) and included the Performance Pack ($5,000). Total vehicle price landed at $67,550.

The 2's stats admittedly do not measure up to the performance and (estimated) range offered by the 2022 BMW i4 M50, or, as someone brandishing a referral code will tell you, a Model 3 Performance. Spec sheets never tell the whole story about a car, though, and it'd certainly be a mistake to conclude any comparison there. But if a spec sheet is enough to sell you a car, the Polestar 2 ain't for you. If a car's other traits also matter—like build quality or distinctive styling—a Tesla can't compare.

Alongside the Polestar, the ubiquitous Model 3 might as well be a Corolla, and when it comes to build quality, legacy carmakers still have the advantage. Fresh approaches like Fremont's should never be discounted, but neither should decades of manufacturing experience. 

Though the Tesla is brisker and longer-legged, the Polestar is by no means slow; it's perfectly capable of delivering a thrill. And once its infotainment acknowledges Apple's existence—or its buyers cease to—its tech ecosystem will become competitive too. The 2021 Polestar 2 makes a solid enough case for itself as-is, and its case will only become stronger with the looming 2022 model.

Later this year, dual-motor Polestar 2s will gain range and become cheaper, starting at $51,200, allowing them to undercut the Model 3 Performance by nearly $5,800. Single-motor models will launch later on, with a hair more projected range than the Model 3 Standard Range Plus, and a starting price of $47,200. Subtract federal EV tax credits from the price, and it drops to an advertised $39,700 for the single-motor 2, including the $1,300 destination charge. Just be sure to check that you're eligible for the full tax credit.

It's easy to get sucked up into the thinking that EVs are an arms race, where each new model must outdo the last, but viewing the Polestar 2 from that perspective misses the point of the car completely. Rather than court headlines with whoopie cushion sound effects or oversold ADAS features, Polestar has built an uncomplicated EV that fits together properly and drives well. It's still not what I'd call cheap, but for the money, it's hard to find an EV that makes a bigger impression in your driveway.

Have any questions about the Polestar 2? Send them here: [email protected]

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