Review: Polestar 2, the most direct competitor to the Model 3 yet

We take a look at the Polestar 2, 4 months before customers deliveries commence in Feb 22....

While Polestar may not be a brand familiar to many Australians, it’s time that changed. The company has created an all-electric sedan that is the closest competitor to Tesla’s Model 3 yet.

Australia is really lacking in good options for electric vehicles, that tick all the necessary boxes to be seriously considered, fortunately, the Polestar 2 gets a lot right and is ready to stand up and be counted.

The Swedish design turns heads, the range is generous and while the performance doesn’t take the top spot, it is snappy enough to delight any ICE owner who upgrades to it.

After having spent the past week in the driver’s seat of the Polestar 2 Long Range, Dual Motor, it’s time to detail how it stacks up against the market leader, and let you know if you should consider this EV, for your next car.

DESIGN – EXTERIOR

Absolute head turner

Front grill

As we move into electric vehicles, the front end of cars are changing dramatically in response to changed cooling requirements (no radiator) in the front that no longer needs airflow through the grill.

The front end design of the Polestar 2 is confident, without being aggressive, combining a chicklet-style grill, some seriously sexy headlights and of course that Polestar badge to top it off.

In terms of design, I experienced almost universal agreement that the face of this car, is more attractive than the Model 3 and I agree. When you look at the headlights of the Model 3 in comparison, they look like they were drawn on by a child, compared to the eagle eyes of a hawk stalking its prey in the P2.

While making that attractive front end, Polestar did accept a compromise on aerodynamic efficiency and ultimately range, due to higher drag created by the angles of the car, as compared to the smooth lines of the M3.

I think if you ask 99 out of 100 people if they’d give up a few km of range for a better looking car, the answer would be yes, but the answer may be different if you give up 10% range.

 

Headlights

Those headlights feature a Y design and when the car powers on, the owner is met with a light show animation from the headlights. It’s certainly not exclusive to Polestar, the likes of Audi has been doing it for years, but it is a welcome party trick, also complemented by an animated tail light.

When driving at night, you’ll have no worries seeing the road, these headlights are super bright and feature auto-dimming, but there were occasions where I had to manually dim for oncoming traffic.

 

Door handles

The Polestar 2 uses conventional door handles and after having to explain the door handles of the Model 3 to basically every person who enters the vehicle, having something familiar does have merit. This is a double-edged sword as that protrusion from the side body of the car, interrupts a key part of the air flow and creates drag which is why we see so many EVs come with flush door handles.

Interestingly the Polestar 1 (which was a hybrid and has just ended production), also had flush door handles, as does the Polestar Precent (a concept for future vehicles). This leaves me wondering why the Polestar 2 has Volvo-style door handles when the engineers clearly know they’re bad for EVs range ambitions.

 

Frunk

By not having all of the components of an internal combustion engine to deal with, a fully electric vehicle has additional space in the front end which is knowns as the front truck, or frunk. Given the long bonnet (or hood) of the Polestar 2, I  was expecting a fairly generous area for additional storage.

Unfortunately when I popped the hood, the area was fairly small, compared top the Model 3, and the surrounding area covered in a plastic shroud, is massive, so I’d love to know what lies underneath that resulted in this usable, but not exactly generous space.

There is a small area at the top, but I’m not entirely sure what the purpose of that is, it’s an odd shape and other than a couple of bottles, I can’t think of too many items I’d put there.

The frunk itself will hold a backpack and not much more, partly due to the shallow depth, created as a result of hiding an emergency roadside kit under a false floor of the frunk. This is a welcome addition that was in the early Tesla vehicles, but subsequently removed and then sold through their store as an option.

 

Boot

The boot appears to have a lot more attention paid to it, with a  number of great features back there that simply aren’t in the Model 3. To start with, there’s the boot divider that lifts up to segment the boot (or trunk) to prevent your groceries or purchases from moving around while driving.

It is touches like the elastic strap and grocery hooks found on the bottom side of the divider that really shows an appreciation of how owners will use this car day-to-day and the extra level of attention that’s paid to practicalities like this. There are some serious hinges combined with anchor straps to enable this divider to stand up at 90 degrees. Even with this raised, you could easily fit a suitcase behind it.

We then move to the sides of the boot which on one side offers a cargo net to hold any loose items at bay as you take roundabouts at 60km/hr. On the passenger’s side, you’ll find another elastic strap to secure even more items.

If you thought that was enough, think again, Polestar kept going and its a real credit to the engineers and designers who worked on the boot space. There are a number of anchor points in the boot, some used for the top anchor point for a baby seat, but others just put there in case you need them and for the price, it’s really welcome.

You can also forget about needing to buy any third party LED lights to increase the illumination of the boot, the included lamps are really bright, to ensure you can see and retrieve anything you need from the space.

When putting luggage, shopping, or purchases in the boot of the Polestar 2, the hatch-style opening made this a breeze, although the Model 3 boot does appear to be deeper. Like the Model 3, there is also another compartment hidden below, again afforded in an EV thanks to there being no exhaust system from an ICE vehicle.

This area in the Polestar isn’t rectangular, which suggests they are working around components, but it is plenty to store the 240v charging cable. Again, this feels deeper on the Model 3 and with the shape, is a bit more practical with some accessory makers even creating drop-in tubs that make taking cold drinks to a party a breeze.

At the end of the day, the storage in the Polestar 2 is really adequate for a family with 2 adults, 2 kids to go away for a weekend. It’s certainly not SUV level that could support a week-long trip and many on-holiday indulgences, but it’s really accommodating.

 

Charging port location

When it is time to recharge the car, you’ll be able to charge at home, using the included charger, or head to a DC fast charger where the car is capable of charging at 120kW and recharging from 10%-80% in just over half an hour.

Given the vast majority of EV owners will charge at home day-to-day, DC fast charging may mean less to some or many potential buyers, however, it does mean that on road trips, you’ll be stopped longer than competitors like Model 3 which supports up to 250kW, or the new Hyundai Ioniq 5 which supports up to 350kW.

The charging door is in the rear-left (passenger’s side) panel and is manually opened by simply pressing on it to release. There is no on-screen option to open the charging door, or the truck, or boot for that matter, however there is a button on your keys for the boot.

When you wish to end your charging session, just press the button beside the charging connector to terminate the charge. Once the light changes, you’ll know it is now unlocked and can be removed. For the vast majority of chargers, this location will work fine, however there may be instances where you’ll need to park all the way on the back stops to ensure the cable reaches.

 

Big rims and big brakes

The base model of the Polestar 2 comes with 19″ rims, but the top model (reviewed) comes with 20″ forged allow wheels which actually feature a really modern, attractive design and are lighter and stronger than typical allow wheels. These aren’t your regular aero wheel to optimise for every last km, but rather have opted for a bit of form over function.

These rims also do a great job of allowing the world to see your very large four-piston Brembo brake calipers. With the additional weight of a battery pack, and rapid acceleration available, it is important to match that performance with the right stopping power. In the case of the Polestar 2, it feels like they may have gone a little overboard on the stopping power, but I’m really glad they did.

While there’s no track mode in the software, if you did take this to the track on the weekend, I suspect you’ll have much better stopping distances as a result. The gold brake calipers, gold valve stems and gold seatbelts all match to ensure everyone knows you paid for the good one (or at least the Performance Pack).

You’re likely wondering about the ride quality on 20″ wheels.. well thankfully there’s really good news here. The ride in the Polestar 2 is great, really comfortable and does not feature much body roll around corners at speed. There are a lot that goes into achieving this, but for Polestar to accomplish this, I suspect they definitely borrowed some time from Volvo engineers with years of experience and that shows.

 

Polestar branding on door

One other interesting piece of design is the decision to put a label on the door, which lets everyone know the performance specs of your car. The label reads ‘Polestar 2, Battery Electric Vehicle. 78 kWh / 300kW.

I feel some will hate this and will remove it immediately, which others may see it as a unique attribute that other automakers should replicate. Personally, I’d love it more if it wasn’t a sticker (or vinyl) and actually painted on the door, but understand the cost of doing so and that does mean it’s not being removed anytime soon.

Perhaps the best option here would be to give users an option at checkout, but there are some logistical challenges around deliveries that mean automakers don’t actually want vehicles to be unique, to enable them to be switched and avoid month-long delays while a new vehicle gets made and shipped, in the event something happens along the way.

 

2 windows instead of 3

While most cars have essentially 3 window sections in their side profile, the Polestar 2 has just two. The rear door glass is the end of the story, which makes for a cleaner exterior design and less cost, removing two panes of glass. Given these windows never really offered much visibility, their removal feels like a win here.

DESIGN – INTERIOR

A very different feel inside

Materials

The feeling you get when climbing inside the Polestar 2 is very different than any other vehicle I’ve been in. The combination of materials combines to give you a very welcoming feeling. Polestar has chosen to leverage sustainable materials in the construction of the interior of the vehicle and instead of plastics, you’ll find textured fabric in the door panels, across the dash and the centre console. The only real hard surfaces are the displays and the area around the gear selector.

Part of the move to EVs is to be more environmentally conscious, reduce emissions and this selection of materials certainly fits with that mission. These fabric items are more recyclable so, at the end of the vehicle’s usable life, much of it should be recycled (including the battery).

 

Seats

A massive component of how you feel when you’re in the car is the seats. They are really comfortable and have some bolster around you to hold you in place while cornering at speed. These certainly aren’t racing buckets found in something like the Focus RS, but they do a good job, holding you firmly, so you don’t slide around as the geforces come on when you get heavy on the right foot.

These front driver and passenger seats are heated, and electronically adjusted, complete with lumber control. There is also a manual adjustment to the length of the seat base, which can help to take pressure off the lower legs, to better distribute the weight, particularly useful for taller occupants.

The driver seat profile is stored in memory, using 1 of 2 physical buttons on the lower section of the driver’s door. It looks like Polestar are expecting just 2 drivers, rather than dealing with these driver profiles (and seat positions) in software, that would facilitate additional drivers. This may be possible to add with future software updates and would accommodate a teenager learning to the driver, or in a work context, multiple staff who regularly drive the vehicle and could be associated with each phone paired with a driver profile.

 

Steering Wheel

The steering wheel feels nice in the hands, giving you a commanding position over the vehicle. While there’s adjustments on the Y and Z axis, this is done manually, which feels like a backwards step, once you’ve used an electronically adjusted one, but if you’re going to save money, this isn’t a bad place to do it.

The downside of not going with electronic adjustment is that the wheel position, which is ultimately another driver preference, is not able to be saved digitally and adjusted automatically every time a new driver enters. If you buy this vehicle and plan on being the only driver, you’ll have a great time and never need to worry about this, but if your car has multiple drivers, this could become annoying.

There is an array of buttons and some fairly regular stalks on the wheel, making it a fairly familiar experience which I’m sure many will appreciate. The buttons with labelled icons are fairly self-explanatory, like the voice button which launches Google Assistant which is ready to take your voice requests, but you could also simply say ‘Hey Google’ with no button presses which is actually one step-beyond what Tesla offers.

There are also a number of buttons on the wheel that took some trial-and-error to figure out. On the left and right side of the wheel, you’ll find a plus pad of buttons, up, down, left-right.

The left is focused on cruise control. It took a few drives to understand the different permutations of how adaptive cruise worked in the Polestar 2, but the basics are this. Press the center button (on left) to activate Adaptive Cruise Control which is set at your current speed. Pressing the plus or minus (top/bottom buttons on left) increment your set speed by 5km at a time.

While not labelled, you’ll find the right button activates Pilot Assist. This will be covered in more detail in the Features section of this review. The 2x buttons to the right of this, closest to the centre airbag (and horn) adjust the following distance between you and the car ahead. If at any stage you wish to disengage it, you can simply tap the brakes, or press the cruise control button again.

The right is really around controlling your audio, with up/down operating volume and left/right moving through tracks in your playlist.

On the lower-left of this button array, you’ll find a button that changes the appearance of the binnacle display ahead of the driver. This allows you to hide or show the map on this display and if you already have Google Maps on the larger display, it certainly doesn’t make sense to have the map on both displays.

 

Pedals

After posting some photos of the Polestar 2 this week on social media, I did have some feedback from people, amazed that a car at this price point didn’t have alloy pedals, considered higher-end than the generic black ones found here.

Playing at this price, does come with certain expectations, so I understand that point of view, however I do think your feet cover the pedals for a large majority of time you’re in the vehicle, so if there’s a few dollars to be saved and invested in batteries instead, that’d be my choice too.

 

Center console

As soon as you sit in the Polestar 2, you’ll notice that center console is high, higher than most cars, although fairly common by sports car standards. This extra height is a result of a decision that Polestar made to position the batteries in a configuration that is similar to a transmission tunnel.

This configuration has had a number of impacts, most of all to the foot space in the rear of the vehicle. The center passenger doesn’t get that nice flat floor experience, instead will have to straddle the battery tunnel which is unfortunate.

The center console has some nice tricks and some compromises. Firstly the amount of storage in the cabin is very limited as this console has enough room for phones, drinks and not a lot else.

I’ve detailed some issues around the drink holders in the Issue section if you want to know more, jump there, but ultimately the day-to-day driving experience is fine, but longer road trips where multiple people have drinks could be an issue. If you do happen to have a passenger in the center of the rear row, opening the armrest to support a passenger’s drink will then be resting on their lap, not a great solution, unless Polestar is really only expecting 4 occupants.

The door pockets support a skinny bottle, but only laying down horizontally, so that means anything like a Boost juice with a semi-secure lid is definitely out.

While the phone chargers on the Model 3 are angled in such a way that allows you to read the screen of your phone, perhaps to monitor notifications, Polestar takes the opposite approach removing all temptation to peek at your phone while driving.

While I appreciate the 2x USB-C ports for charging in the top of the console, I was disappointed there was only enough space for a single wireless phone charger. The only other storage (outside the glovebox) is the small slots in the sides of the console, about large enough for a phone, or face mask (modern times).

 

Driver display (12.3-inch)

After driving the Model 3 as my daily driver for the past couple of years, I never really missed having a display directly in front of me, but after having used the one in the Polestar 2, I really appreciated it. The glanceability was really convenient.

The reason Tesla can really get away without this expense is Autopilot. When I drive my car, it reads the speed signs and therefore can automatically set the cruise control speed to the current speed zone. This means the amount of time I spend monitoring my speed is very close to zero.

 

Center display (11.15-inch)

The main showpiece is definitely the centre display which is positioned in vertical orientation and runs Android Automotive (different to Android Auto).

While this is certainly the first vehicle I’ve experienced the software in, it can also be found in the Volvo XC40 Recharge and the upcoming Cadillac Lyriq, among a number of other ICE vehicles.

In recent times, those companies that own the hardware and software stack have done well in delivering an exceptional customer experience. When asked about this, Polestar says they have worked closely with Google on this, and describes the experience as more of a partnership, than simply being a customer.

The OS feels fairly rudimentary right now, with something like the settings button which I needed often, hidden away, while the PM (profile management) button appears at the top level and going home can only be done using a swipe up gesture, which would also be better served as a tier 1 button.

The good news here is that Google services work great, Google Maps, Google Podcasts, Google Assistant, all combined to offer a great experience and any Android users would be immediately comfortable here. When you venture into the Play Store, you’ll find a couple of dozen apps, many of which you’ve never heard of and would never install.

The pieces of the puzzle are here, but will only yield the desired outcome with a lot of work to stimulate the developer community and that requires potential revenue streams. There are some developers that go after new platforms early, like A Better Route Planner and Pocketcasts to name a couple. Both of these apps are in beta and at times did suffer crashes, so by early next year when this vehicle is expected to ship, I would expect these early issues to be resolved.

Overall the touchscreen is fast and responsive enough, with the standard panning around a Map test working really well. There is even has a single game, which yes, does disable when you’re car is in motion.

In the main interface, the apps are divided into 4 quadrants, with the lower-left dedicated to the Phone, however, there seems to be a complete lack of messaging support while driving right now. With the smarts and power of Google Assistant, this seems like a feature that should be leading the industry.

With both the car and my Android phone (Pixel 6 Pro) listening out for ‘hey Google’ I did find them both responding to requests at time, so that should also be worked through, I guess that is one issue iPhone owners won’t face.

 

Brightness wheel

With not just one, but two digital displays in the cabin, there’ll be times where you want to adjust the brightness. Adjusting them one at a time would be pretty cumbersome, and chances are you’ll want them adjusted in parallel. To address this, Polstar includes a traditional dimmer scroll wheel in front of the driver’s right knee, which is a nice solution. I do wonder if this should also be a digital option in the center touchscreen.

 

Drive selector

Changing gears in this car is done through a fairly unique Polestar shifter. It’s like a hollow diamond that is positioned in reach of your left hand. To get started just sit in the car (close the door, belt on), place your foot on the brake and switch gears. From here you’re ready to accelerate away.

Selecting between Drive, Nuetral and Reverse is easy and 3-point turns feel really natural after just a couple of days of use.

I did find my brain expecting that to go forward, I would need to push the gear selector forward and backwards to reverse, but it works (and is labelled) the opposite. While not the most intuitive, this works well and placing the car in reverse reveals the reverse camera feed to the display.

 

Panoramic Roof

Drivers and passengers alike get a fantastic view of the world around them in the stunning glasshouse available in the Polestar 2. Inside it’s always light and bright in the vehicle and having a panoramic glass roof, you’ll get to experience more of the world around you.

In the city, you’ll get to see the architectural designs of skyscrapers around you, in the country, you’ll get to experience green canopies that overhang the road and at night, you’ll enjoy the twinkle of planets, stars and the moon above.

PERFORMANCE

How does it perform ?

Speed

This top model, the Long Range AWD variant, is capable of accelerating from 0-100km/hr in a snappy 4.7s, while the lower tiers take 7.4s. While those performance numbers won’t threaten the best from the Model 3 (0-100km/hr time of just 3.3s), they are still likely to leave most transitioning from ICE vehicles absolutely blown away.

Driving range

When it comes to range, the Long Range FWD Polestar 2 comes with a very healthy 540km of WLTP rated range, compared to our version with the Dual Motors and more performance, estimated at 480km and the entry-level offers 440km of driving on a single charge. Something any buyer of an EV will quickly realise is that the rated range almost never reflects real-world driving.

While some testing standards are better than others, given we all drive very differently with a different mix of city and highway driving, different speeds, different climate control settings and different locations (ambient temperature matters) your milage may vary is an understatement.

What I can tell you is that the moment I got into the Polestar 2, I took a photo of the display which read, 98% charge in the battery and the estimated range was 398km. It’s possible that you could get closer to the 440km advertised if you drove more cautiously, but I’d bet most who buy this model enjoy a bit more than the minimum pressure required on the right pedal.

Personally, I take trips back home to see the folks who live in a regional town about 130kms away. With the range available in the Polestar 2, it would be possible to drive there and back on a single charge.

Another trip that I take a couple of times per year is from Wodonga to Melbourne. This journey is around 350km in length and for that, it certainly would require a stopover in Euroa to recharge in both directions, adding a little bit of time to the journey. Given humans are likely need to stop and refresh, grab a coffee, have lunch or a snack every 2 hours, chances are the car would be done and waiting for you.

While there may be scenarios people can dream up that challenge the range of this car, practically most of us drive less than 50km per day and the range here is plenty to accommodate 95% of driving on a daily/weekly basis.

When it comes to the cost of recharging cost, you can generally think of it as around one third, to one half the cost of refuelling and charging at home on off-peak rates could have you recharged for as little as $12 (based on an energy price of around $0.20. Even the fastest charging options at $0.40 per kWh, are still dramatically cheaper than petrol or diesel, helping to achieve those far lower ongoing costs with an EV.

 

Charging

When it does come time to recharge, you have essentially 3 options. The most common will be a trickle charger overnight, using the supplied 11kW/hr charger. This is the slowest option, but also the cheapest, given there is no cost to install the charger in your garage. When travelling, you take this with you as a backup, enabling you to charge at any power outlet in the country.

The next step up is fast charging and thankfully the story in Australia is changing rapidly. Third-party charging networks like Chargefox and Evie Networks, NRMA and others are rolling out charging locations that charge at up to 50kW and in many locations, charging is free.

The third is really designed for road trips where you need recharging done as fast as possible. Each electric vehicle has a maximum charging rate, so even if you roll up to the fastest 350kW charger, you can’t hurt the battery. The Polestar 2 supports 120kW DC-fast charging, which means the car can recharge in around 40 minutes using the CCS2 port in the rear quarter panel.

While this maximum charging rate is far shy of new vehicles like the Hyundai Ioniq 5, generally it’s adequate and won’t be an issue, with a 10 minute longer stop here or there, hardly a deal-breaker.

 

Audio

The Audio system in the Polestar 2 sounds great, thanks to a 13-speaker by Harman Kardon. It’s hard to say that it’s as good as the Model 3’s well respected audio system, but it’s right up there and any owner would certainly be happy with it. The system consists of full-range 150 mm speakers in each rear door, 100 mm mid-range speakers in each front door, 19 mm tweeters in each front roof pillar, a full-range 100 mm speaker in the dash and finally a 200 mm air woofer under the bonnet.

Most of my audio experience was using Spotify, with playlists and songs called up using Google Assistant, it was a really nice place to listen to music, but also podcasts sounded great. For those looking for the best audio quality, that’s likely achieved with the Tidal app, but that said, from what I know, none of my friends or family subscribes to that service, most are on Spotify.

One of my favourite demonstrations of audio quality is to fire up a movie trailer from the latest Hollywood blockbuster on YouTube, but surprisingly while Google makes Android Automotive that runs this car’s infotainment, and also YouTube, there is no YouTube app available. There’s also no Netflix, and if there were, it’s possible that the vertical screen starts to feel a little awkward, with giant horizontal black bars at the top and bottom of the video.

At the end of the day, the audio sounds great in the Polestar and you’ll likely be insanely happy, with one caveat. The indicator noise.

I’m not sure how regular automakers create the ticking sound when you turn on your indicators, but Polestar are doing something very different than any other car I’ve been in. When you turn on the indicator, it sounds like the noise is simulated, produced through the speakers and at first I thought the speakers were popped, but has now been in two different Polestar 2’s with the same indicator sound, this is clearly by design. There is almost a distortion on the clicks and not something that feels futuristic or refined, in fact, I think a traditional sound, using a traditional approach would have been a better outcome. If it is indeed produced through the sound system, it’s possible they could add some configurability to this in a future update, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for that.

FEATURES

Stand out features of this vehicle.

360 camera

There’s a lot of premium cars that offer a 360 (or really top-down) view of the car and the Polestar also offers this feature. Clearly, there is no magical drone that flies above the car to create this, it’s a bit of technology magic to assemble the various video feeds from cameras around the car and create a simulated 360 view around the car.

What I noticed from week of using it, is that the car loves to enter you into this view whenever you reverse, despite having previously selected the rear-camera view. In the top-down, birds-eye view, it is possible to see what’s beside you, behind and in front of you, but the video feeds are stretched so severely that objects are not at all clear in the footage. When backing out of our driveway, I knew my wife’s SUV was behind the car, but in this view, all I seen was a black rectangle on screen, so while I knew there was something solid I didn’t want to hit, I had no idea from the 360 camera that it was a blue SUV that could have been a car waiting for me to move.

Switching into the rear camera immediately solves this issue. The camera’s quality is amazing, the field of view is fantastic and it was very clear the object behind was a blue SUV. The other cameras on the underside of the mirrors and one in the front grill are also available to switch to. Personally, I don’t need the side mirrors to park, but appreciate this may help some avoid curb rash on the wheels. It does take a second or two to tap the 360 camera, then select the appropriate camera, so hopefully, you’re not in a rush. A more intuitive operation would have the camera automatically be shown based on your turn signal.

The front-facing camera is great to see directly in front of you, but with a big window available to look through, there are very few times where this would be used. I suspect the most common use case is when you return to the car after shopping and you can’t remember if there’s a parking stop in front of you, so you use the camera to confirm, then drive forward out of a space you otherwise would have reversed from. It is nice this is available, but I could equally live without it.

 

Blind Spot Indicators

Something many new Tesla owners have reported that they miss from previous cars, are Blind Spot indicators in the side mirrors. Polestar have borrowed Volvo’s tech here to include the Blind Spot Indicator System (or BLIS) in the car. This angled line on the outer edge of the mirrors lights up when there’s a car in your blind spot, when grabs your attention as you glance in your mirrors ahead of changing lanes. This technology has saved many side-impact collisions and will be a welcome inclusion by many.

Tesla went in a very different direction with this, offering auto-lane change as part of their FSD upgrade package (an additional A$10,100). This uses computer vision from the cameras to determine if there is enough available space to merge into and only does so where it is safe. This ultimately moves the responsibility of changing lanes from the human to the computer and having used it, it is reliably accurate, essentially removing the need for BLIS, albeit at an extra cost.

 

Pilot Assist

Polestar’s response to Tesla’s Autopilot is Pilot Assist. This uses a combination of camera and radar technology to key the driver within the lane and automatically adapt to the cars ahead. I’m really thankful I had the car for a week, as my assessment of this after a couple of days would have been quite poor, but after using it more, in more scenarios, I’m actually really impressed. Pilot Assist tracks the lines fairly well, with a bit of ping-pong still occurring, on the highway it worked exceptionally well. It is more than capable of handling many turns, however, I never came to trust it as much as I do with Autopilot.

Some of this remaining doubt comes from some inconsistency in the locations where Pilot Assist is available. At times it wouldn’t engage on roads that were seemingly the same structure and speed of roads I successfully used it on just a few minutes earlier (dual-lane carriageway at 80km) with well-painted lane lines).

The good news is this isn’t just available on highways, it can be used around town and I successfully used it even in 50km/hr zones where painted lines were available. What I loved about the system is that it doesn’t disengage the second you turn the wheel, you can almost guide the car if it isn’t positioned exactly where you want it in the lane. One of the best attributes is when you change lanes, you have it engaged, simply indicate and make the change, and it then automatically resumes. This is in stark contrast to Tesla’s included Autopilot that makes you disengage, change lanes, then manually re-engage. On longer journeys where you need to overtake slower cars, this gets old fast and Tesla’s only answer to it is to buy the FSD package.

Overall I was really impressed with Pilot Assist in the context of a level 2 driver assist package. While Polestar is delivering over the air updates to the vehicle, it seems unlikely we’ll see much improvement to these capabilities over the life of the vehicle, so you need to be comfortable with what’s on offer today. For long trips down the Hume Freeway, this will be a lifesaver, making a laborious drive into something much more relaxing. This is all about reducing the cognitive load on the driver so that if an incident does occur where they need to launch into action, they’re more alert to do so because they haven’t spent the past 3 hours maxing sure a 2-tonne death machine doesn’t drift out of its lane into oncoming traffic.

 

1 pedal driving

One of the first things you should do when getting in this, or any other EV, is to enable 1-pedal driving. This uses the car’s regenerative braking to slow the car and as it reduces the inertia, it captures that kinetic energy and pushes it back into the battery. If you’re driving around town this will certainly help extend your range. I found the regen setting of the standard was comfortable and effective in slowing the car and unless you have another driver do something unexpected, you can basically drive this car with just the accelerator and almost never use the brake. For those who don’t car some much about optimising range, there is an option to lower the regen braking amount, or turn it off completely.

This has another benefit, which is that your brake pads get far less use than a regular ICE car, which again means fewer maintenance costs with the brake pads lasting longer between replacements.

While 1 pedal driving does take a couple of days to get used to, humans are amazingly adaptable and once you make the move, it’s hard to drive using the legacy technique, which then becomes the foreign experience.

 

Android OS

For an automaker, you face a really difficult choice, do you commit to going with a 3rd party solution like Android Automotive from Google that has the capability to keep pace with the innovation happening in the mobile space, or attempt to own the whole stack. Each approach has merit, but clearly, Polestar believes that their capacity to value add in the ownership experience isn’t building the OS, rather than the design of experiences that runs on top of the platform. Polestar says they work in close partnership with Google on Android Automotive and they have been able to customise the experience for Polestar customers.

When you do commit to using someone else’s software, you do accept a certain release schedule from them, so if Polestar wanted to make a change at a low level, like how the networking or Bluetooth stack works, then they may need to wait for an update from Google, then re-apply their customisations before testing and shipping to customers. Vise Versa, if Android Automotive becomes a popular platform across a large number of manufacturers (much like the phone clone Android Auto and Apple CarPlay have), then Android will have a release, with features the consumers will want to have and then have to wait to see how long the OEM takes to apply their config and updates.

It is a delicate balance to strike, but as a consumer, the experience today works, the Play Store offers the ability to install 3rd party apps (albeit a small selection), this is a step forward to what Tesla offers today. Apps like A better route planner, or Pocketcasts may find success by being on a platform like this, which is being adopted by multiple auto brands. Once there’s a large enough audience and a proven revenue stream, Android Automotive could indeed be a great platform.

I do wonder how many iPhone users will be scared off by this concept, although they shouldn’t be. Android Automotive will connect to your phone via Bluetooth in the exact same way as an Android. Given most Apple users are also likely to have a Google account (via gmail or YouTube), this won’t be a problem for many. For those brand new to Google Services, signing up is free.

Google Assistant is really the star of the show here. You can simply get in and say ‘hey Google’ and basically ask it any question you’d ask your Google Home, or Android phone, as well as some vehicle-related questions and commands. The integration with the car is pretty good, with the ability to do things like adjust the climate control temperature setting using ‘hey Google, set the temperature to 20 degrees’. I really love not having to push a button to launch Google Assistant, although you can using the button on the steering wheel. ‘Hey Google’ is just more convenient and also available to all passengers, great if you’re parked and the kids in the back want to change the music.

I would like to see them speed up the time between pushing the button or saying ‘hey Google’ and the system responds. It feels close to a second delay before you hear the beeps and see the visual prompt to indicate the car is now listening for your command. By that stage, you may already have started feeding it a destination to navigate to. If anyone at Polestar has been in a Tesla, you’ll know, the instant you press the right scroll wheel, the car is ready to accept your command, so let’s speed things up Polestar, it’ll make take this feature from being great, to being fantastic.

The core premise of Android OS in the Polestar 2 centers around a 4-pane design. Navigation (and game) in the top-left, Google Assistant and Range Planner in the top-right, My Phone (no messages app yet) in the lower-left and in the lower-right your currently playing music app. Many of these feature shortcut buttons to deep link you into the app, like charger locations on the Maps tile, or Contacts on the phone app.

What I do find strange is the icon selection at the very top. Driver Profiles is available in the top-right, but it’s something you almost never use, so it feels like someone from that team had a red bull and a half before that decision meeting. The settings get buried away in the lower bar of the Apps screen, which I think should be switched with the DP shortcut.

The other thing is there is no Home button, which will confuse many, so if you are looking for this, just swipe up from the bottom of the display. This does give you access to climate control, heated seats, heated steering wheel settings and more. Swiping down from the top of the display takes you to your notifications, many of which will require authorisation before being useful (i.e. playing your text messages).

Overall, Android Automotive shows promise and flexibility for multiple aspect ratios and on this vertically oriented screen from Polestar, it works well, just needs a lot more apps.

 

Polestar mobile app – Digital key

Unfortunately, this is one area of the product I didn’t get to test, as the car isn’t officially on sale in Australia until early 2022, however the features listed with the Polestar app are fairly obvious and I expect will work as advertised. You can connect your phone to your Driver Profile and that means unlocking the car with just your phone, checking the car’s charging status and more.

When I started driving an electric car, I also stopped carrying keys. In the past 2 years, payments have really moved to my phone and so have my keys, which frees up my pockets (just need the digital ID in Victoria and the wallet will follow). I’m really glad to see that Polestar understand the experiences of owners and going down the list, ticking off as many items as they can to deliver a great ownership experience and digital keys is certainly a big one.

There are plenty of driver preferences savesd against your profile and when you unlock the car with your Polestar app, (basically walk up and get in) your car remembers you, returning to the playlist, apps, volume, and settings you chose previously.

 

Pass-through tunnel

Here’s a trick I wasn’t expecting. If you fold down the drink tray in the rear seat, raise the centre headrest, then fold up the curtain of fabric, you’ll find a door. If you enter the boot, you’ll find you can open that door and expose an opening between the boot and the second row. This tunnel can be used for longer items (presumably to accommodate the skis of the designers as they finish a hard day on the Sweedish alps), In Australia, we’re much more likely to carry items like this on roof racks, particularly in a nice premium vehicle like this, I doubt anyone is doing a run to bunnings for some 4×2.

 

12V in the rear seat and boot

The final feature I want to discuss is the 12v power options in the rear seat and in the boot. While some will wish these were more USB ports, 12v accessories are plentiful and I could see myself using the one in the boot to charge my drone while driving between locations. The one in the rear seats is located underneath the vents, and I could see the length of the 12v adapter used here could be a problem if you do have a 5th occupant, but again it seems like Polestar are really expecting there to usually be 4 at most. The 12v connections are a great inclusion overall and it surprised me there’s not another in the trunk.

ISSUES

Not everything’s perfect

Design

It is clear that Polestar has done an exceptional job in the design of this vehicle, with virtually everyone who sees it commenting how nice it is. That said, it’s not perfect.

While most of the design makes a lot of sense to me, there is one aspect that I think could be resolved a little better. This is the area where the hood meets the front door. The body colour runs into the black surround of the door window frame which could look a lot better if the hood curved its way down to meet the top of the door. This is certainly not a deal-breaker but is a strange resolution to these components coming together.

 

Seat Adjustments

After living with the car for a week, you do notice things that are not immediately obvious. This is absolutely a small difference, but worth noting. As you adjust your seat position, there are really two aspects – the horizontal position of the base, and the angle of the backrest. In the Model 3, I can adjust both of these simultaneously, while in the Polestar, these need to be done one at a time. When you think about this, the button press is ultimately a call to the software to command the actuator to make the adjustment, so what is it about the way Polestar have structured their programming, that means that these requests need to be sequential, rather than parallel?

Practically this also comes into play as you switch between driver profiles, the chair moves forward or backwards first, then the backrest adjusts accordingly. While this may never come up for some, I have actually used these controls simultaneously in my model 3 on a semi-regular basis, to move the passenger seat and backrest forward to avoid my daughter kicking the seat in front. This simply takes longer in the Polestar and I’m not sure why.

 

Cup holders / Seat position

In the center console, you’ll find just a single cup holder unless you open the armrest to access a second for the passenger. While this approach does address those times where the driver and passenger both have drinks, it does feel like a massive compromise. The arm rest folded back, not only means the rear passengers loose space (particularly anyone in the middle), it also means you lose the center arm rest.

This is in contrast to almost every other vehicle, which begs the question, why would anyone design this into their vehicle?

After sitting in the car one night during the week, I noticed the seats were actually inbound from the door by some margin, which I expected was positioned this way for additional safety. Then I started measuring. It turns out the edge of the seat, to the door was around 4cm in the Polestar 2. Then I measured the Model 3 which does have 2 cup holders and was blown away to find it actually had 5cm of gap.

I also measured the distance from the center of the console to the outside of the door, with both cars being almost identical, around 90cm. This means there really isn’t a great reason for this design decision, which is really puzzling why anyone would choose form over function for this fairly essential aspect of livability.

 

Battery tunnel

If you ever sit in the middle of the back seat, you can expect your comfort will be compromised, that’s just the reality in most cars. That was of course until we started to see completely flat floors in electric vehicles using the skateboard design.

Polestar’s approach to laying out the battery is quite different and use a battery tunnel that runs basically the full length between the electric motors. This explains why the console is positioned a lot higher than other cars and also why the bump in the rear floor is still there. If you’re upgrading from a car that has this, it’s probably not a massive deal but does feel like a missed opportunity.

The battery capacity of the Polestar 2 is 78kWh, while the Model 3 LR/Performance is 75kW and those extra cells do need to go somewhere. When it comes to cleaning your car, a flat floor in the rear is fantastic, allowing a regular vacuum cleaner head to fly straight across the surface.

Again this points to this car really being a 4 seater vehicle in most instances.

PRICE & AVAILABILITY

How much and when can you get one ?

Polestar will copy one of Tesla’s other great attributes, with direct to consumer sales, skipping on dealers. That means you will be able to customise your Polestar2 on the website.

When it comes to pricing, the Polestar will land with some very competitive pricing.

  • Standard range, single motor (FWD): $59,900 +on road costs
  • Long-range, single motor: $64,900 +on road costs
  • Long-range, dual motor: $69,900

Costs will vary by state, but the online design centre is now live on the Polestar website, and as a reference the Victoria driveway figures are:

  • Standard range, single motor (FWD): $64,617.20
  • Long-range, single motor: $69,827.20
  • Long-range, dual motor: $75,163.20

Both single motor variants fall under the threshold for the $3,000 Electric Vehicle Rebate in New South Wales and Victoria, as well as significant stamp duty savings.

There are also 3 option packs available for the Polestar 2:

These prices are really competitive, particularly compared to the market leader, the Tesla Model 3. Prices alone don’t tell the whole story, with range, acceleration, technology and charging options all playing a part in the decision process.

Make no mistake about it, this car would be far less appealing without the technology like Pilot Assist, so I’d strongly recommned that, while the Performance Pack may be a little too steep for some buyers, it certainly changes the car visual too, with the larger wheels and brakes.

It is a shame that things like the panoramic roof aren’t included by default, as that alone could be enough reason to upgrade to the Plus Pack and wireless charging should certainly be included.

If money is no object and you max out the car with all 3 option packs (like our review unit), you’re then looking at an increase from the Long Range, Dual Motor price of $69,900 + 5,000 + 6,000 + 8,000 taking the total starting price to A$88,900 before on-road costs.

In comparison, Tesla’s Model 3 Long Range goes further and costs A$79,047 drive away with Autopilot included. This makes the decision to go for a Polestar 2 over a Model 3 LR, a choice of design, rather than one of performance and range.

If you do decide to get the base price option, the standard equipment includes:

  • LED Headlights
  • Retractable frameless mirrors
  • 19″ 5-Double Spoke Alloy Wheels
  • 11.2″ vertical screen running Android Automotive
  • Heated front seats
  • High performance audio (Upgrade required to get the 13-speaker Harmon Kardon system)
  • Polestar digital key

Colour options

When it comes to colours, our review unit was the white, which Polestar calls ‘Snow’ and reall does look quite different based on the ambient lighting. The Polestar 2 also comes in Magnesium, Thunder, Moon, Midnight and Void.

Inside the car, the interior choices include Charcoal Embossed Textile with 3D Etched deco, Zinc Embossed Textile with 3D Etched deco, Slate WeaveTech with Black Ash deco, Charcoal WeaveTech with Black Ash deco or Ventilated Nappa leather Barley with reconstructed wood deco.

Polestar will offer an option to add a towbar which is good for up towing up to 1500kg payloads.

OVERALL

Final thoughts

There is no doubt in my mind that what Polestar has assembled here with the Polestar 2 will appeal to many. The Polestar designers should take one giant step forward as what they have created is seriously impressive. Not since I drove the Mustang, have I seen so many people turn and point at a review vehicle. Even my Model 3 doesn’t get that kind of attention.

What is clear to me after a week behind the wheel, is that this is easily the closest thing we’ve seen to a Model 3 competitor and while it doesn’t take the performance or range crown, it offers up a very different design, while being competitive on all the important metrics.

From the bold exterior, to the minimal interior, the technology, and reasonable price (by today’s EV standards), the Polestar 2 is ready to stand up and be counted.

When it left on a truck, I felt strangely weird, like I was going to miss the car, despite having a faster EV still in the garage. I really believe that if the Model 3 didn’t exist, this would be my next car.

There are people out there that will never buy anything made by Elon Musk and others who will be drawn in by the pedigree of Volvo. Once a family has made the decision to go electric with their next vehicle purchase, the list of available EV options is still small in Australia, so I’m really thankful this is coming in Feb 2022.

Whatever the reason that motivates you, the Polestar 2 is absolutely worth consideration for your next premium sedan purchase. I expect the Polestar 2 to do well in Australia and I look forward to seeing more of them on the road in early 2022.

For more information, head to https://www.polestar.com/au

9.2
Review: Polestar 2, the most direct competitor to the Model 3 yet
The Good
  • Design
  • Features
  • Performance
The Bad
  • Cup holder position
  • Design
    9.5
  • Features
    9.0
  • Performance
    9.2
  • Value
    9.2
Categories
GeneralReviewsVehicles

Creator of techAU, Jason has spent the dozen+ years covering technology in Australia and around the world. Bringing a background in multimedia and passion for technology to the job, Cartwright delivers detailed product reviews, event coverage and industry news on a daily basis. Disclaimer: Tesla Shareholder from 20/01/2021
One Comment

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  • Gary
    19 November 2021 at 8:05 am

    Hi Jason, thanks for another great, very detailed review. BTW with the upper small space in the frunk, it seems that in some markets a scissor jack gets supplied and is stored in there.

    Regards

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