Car Reviews

2021 Polestar 2 First Look: Scandinavia’s Tesla Model 3 Challenger?

Upstart brand from ABBA-land seeks to steal Tesla 3 sales

Upstart brand from ABBA-land seeks to steal Tesla 3 sales

Elon Musk has bottled some lightning, and so far nobody’s successfully reverse-engineered his formula—the precise “it factor”—that earned Tesla 80 percent of the (admittedly still tiny) market for fully electric passenger vehicles in the U.S. in 2018. Legacy and startup manufacturers alike are trying their gol-dangdest, though, and upstart Sino-Scandinavian brand Polestar appears to be following most closely in Musk’s footprints.

Polestar “came out of stealth” with the low-volume $155,000 USD 600-hp plug-in hybrid Polestar 1 that folks aren’t paying much attention to, echoing Tesla’s original Lotus-sourced Roadster. Next comes the mainstream Polestar 2, pitched directly at the Tesla Model 3 with a 27-module 78-kW-hr battery good for 275 miles (442 km) of range (EPA estimated), all-wheel drive, and a fully loaded price tag of around $63,000 USD for the first year’s “launch edition” models.

Here’s what we know so far: The tall-riding four-door hatchback architecture is adapted from Volvo/Geely’s CMA (XC40) tool kit. The lithium-ion battery pack is integrated into the floor, contributing considerable stiffness and reducing road noise by a reported 3.7 dBA compared with its platform mate, the XC40. Front and rear electric motors provide a combined output of 400 hp and 487 lb-ft of torque—enough to scoot to 60 mph in less than 5 seconds.

Clearly Polestar owners won’t win many Tesla pink slips, but CEO Thomas Ingenlath is fine with that. “Obviously we want to be competitive in range and performance, but we don’t need to win by a tenth. That’s an old-fashioned approach. How the car feels in the bends is much more relevant, and that can’t be expressed with a stopwatch. We are putting a lot of effort into setting up the suspension and steering the right way. It’s not about lap records, it’s about being engaging to drive.”

Toward that end, Polestar 2 Launch Edition cars offer just one option: Polestar’s Performance Pack, which improves driving dynamics with Öhlins dampers, Brembo brakes with gold calipers, and 20-inch forged wheels wearing sportier rubber. Completing the visuals are Polestar’s signature gold seat belts and valve caps.

Teslas are also about spare design and That Screen. The Polestar 2 counters with Scandinavian heritage that’s unmistakable inside and out, and Volvo’s beloved Sensus screen grows to 11.0 inches here. But unlike its Volvo cousins, Polestar’s infotainment system is powered by an Android operating system running Google Automotive Services—a claimed industry first. This is said to enable unprecedented levels of natural-speech voice command and artificial intelligence, and Ingenlath points out the safety benefit: “Having a navigation system that’s better than your phone’s means you don’t have to use the phone.”

Although Nappa leather will be available for traditionalists, Polestar (like Tesla) will feature a vegan interior with fabrics and materials are inspired by sports gear. Ingenlath explains, “We are not trying to make manmade things look like animal things. We are being honest about the materials—making a high-tech modern product a desirable object. Like electric mobility, it’s the right thing to do for the environment, but we don’t want to preach to people. We want them to want this because it’s great to drive. Similarly the vegan interior needs to be desirable on its own.” Polestar takes its carbon footprint so seriously that it staged the global reveal of the 2 via webcast, saving the carbon expense of flying journalists in from around the world.

We’re promised the way users interact with the Polestar will be novel. Approach your Polestar with a registered phone or the key fob, and when you touch the door, the front, rear, interior, and welcome-mat lighting comes alive, the doors unlock, seats and mirrors adjust to the user, and the battery status is displayed large on the screen so it’s visible from outside. Once anyone sits down inside, the screen’s infotainment and climate control functions can be used. When the driver sits down, the car is “started”—there is no stop/start button. And we’re told to expect other ways in which the Google-brained car will anticipate driver and passenger needs and desires.

Customer interaction with the brand will be Tesla-esque—retail storefronts provide the opportunity to check out the car and arrange a test drive, but all orders will be taken via the web portal (and orders are being taken now). Concierge services will handle pickups/drop-offs for service, which will generally happen at (unseen by the customer) Volvo dealerships, and this relationship gets Polestar around the dicey dealer franchise laws that have bedeviled Tesla in many states. Subscription and leasing options are expected to dominate, but outright sales will also be offered.

It remains to be seen whether any company—especially one without a notorious billionaire at the helm—can tap Tesla’s sales success, but at least this one promises a very similar aesthetic and customer experience.

2021 Polestar 2
BASE PRICE $63,000 (est)*
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front/rear-motor, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan
MOTORS 2-200-hp/243-lb-ft AC permanent-magnet electric, 400 hp/487 lb-ft combined
TRANSMISSIONS 1-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT NA
WHEELBASE 107.7 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 181.4 x 72.8 x 58.2 in
0-60 MPH 4.9 sec (mfr est)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON Not yet rated
ON SALE IN U.S. Early 2020
*Launch edition, before applicable tax credits