Between 2010 and 2020, there wasn't a single automaker that matched the progress Volvo made. Freed from the thrall of Ford and the unmissed Premier Auto Group, the Swedish automaker started the decade with new Chinese owners and never looked back, rolling out a string of fresh and successful models that adopted plugs before they were fashionable.
Volvo is attempting to match that progress in this new decade, taking a similarly forward-looking approach to electrification by launching a dedicated EV brand, Polestar. While its first product, the plug-in Polestar 1, received rave reviews for its style and performance (even beating a pair of gas-only rivals in our modern muscle throwdown), the all-electric Polestar 2 is the first barometer for where the brand will land.
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Polestar is its own brand with a dedicated logo and unique messaging, but neither the PS2 nor its two-door sibling stray far from the traditional and minimalist design language of its parent. To the uneducated, this car is a Volvo and a cute one at that. Taut sheet metal complements the compact dimensions, while Polestar's designers made slight tweaks to traditional Volvo design cues at the front and rear.
The broadly hexagonal grille is only a slight departure from Volvo's traditional rectangular waterfall, but Polestar replaced its parent company's chromed slats with black, square inserts. The headlights retain the Thor's Hammer signature but adopt a slimmer and more expressive overall design that better suits the PS2's compact size. In back, a strip of LEDs join the lower sections of the skinny C-shaped taillights, giving the impression that the back of this car is taller than it is.
The PS2's cabin is something of a mixed bag. We salute the automaker's decision to fit this EV with upholstery and interior trim that's free of animal products, but we wish there was a little less from the petroleum industry. Hard plastic is the predominant material on the dash, the sides of the high center console, and door panels. The cockpit-like design, meanwhile, is pleasant and modern, riffing on modern Volvos while adding Polestar touches, like the fancy gear lever. The main touchpoints – the seats, wheel, and that shifter – are suitably premium, but they aren't impressive enough to overshadow the abundant plastic.
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Despite the PS2's height, slipping into the driver's seat involves a considerable drop. You sit low in this cabin, an effect that the high center console and beltline exacerbate. But the seating position itself is excellent, and those front chairs provide plenty of support. The cruelty-free upholstery feels like a premium wetsuit, but it's more breathable than similar materials offered by brands like Ford and Subaru – testing a car in a Michigan summer usually leaves us craving ventilated seats, but not here. The rear bench is a fine place for a pair of adults, with a fair amount of legroom and footroom.
There's 33.9 inches of legroom in back, down on the Tesla Model 3 (35.2 inches). That's certainly worth keeping in mind if you're regularly hauling passengers, but 1.3 inches isn't a huge difference in the grand scheme. A greater benefit in our opinion is how easy the Polestar is to get in and out of – that high ride height and generous roofline make the second row a cinch to enter and exit.
Our Polestar 2 didn't carry the Performance Package (Brembo stoppers, adjustable Ohlins dampers, and 20-inch wheels) but that was probably for the best. Even the standard suspension setup feels too firm and uncompromising. Potholes and imperfections regularly make their presence known in the cabin, jarring cabin occupants. The PS2's overall stability on rough roads is admirable, but there are more comfortable EVs out there. There are quieter ones, too. While the PS2 exhibits excellent control of wind noise, there's too much tire roar and slap, so your ears will suffer as much as your back does.
The PS2 claws back some points with ample space for stuff. There's a sizable center console, a pair of well-placed cupholders, a big change cubby that features a mostly useless wireless charge pad, and right-sized door pockets. There is a small frunk where you can stow a charge cord, while the trunk offers 14.3 cubic feet of space. That's slightly less than the Tesla Model 3 (15.0 cubes), but the Polestar's hold is easier to access thanks to the liftback design.
The Polestar 2 is the first product to use Android Automotive OS, a vehicle-specific version of the Android operating system found in millions of phones. Even as a staunch iPhone loyalist, your author came to grips with the system easily. But it wasn't all smooth sailing.
The day the PS2 arrived, I took a 40-mile drive, and at no point was the vehicle's GPS system able to figure out where it was at. Even after I parked, shut down, and restarted, the nav thought I was 20 miles east of my actual location. The next day, when I ran my usual 85-mile mixed route, the system was unable to find an LTE signal. This would have been a slight annoyance, but Polestar uses Spotify integration in favor of satellite radio (for now), and the service is useless without a cellular signal.
On day three of my four-day loan, all was well, though. The Spotify integration is quite good and easy to navigate, with minimal buffering while streaming. The nav is smart and accurate, too, responding to course changes promptly. Swiping through the various screens is lickety-split quick, and the graphics on the 11.0-inch portrait-oriented touchscreen are lovely. And finally, the overall level of organization from the various tiles is easy to learn.
As we mentioned above, the wireless charging pad is basically useless. That’s because even the slightest bump or jostle, of which there will be many, disrupts the delicate connection between phone and car. We couldn’t get more than two minutes of charging out of the pad before a message flashed on the center display warning us we were no longer charging. Combine that with USB-C ports that are tough to find – they’re canted toward the front of the car and wear rubberized covers, making them impossible to see from the driver’s seat – and the PS2 is surprisingly unfriendly to the modern smartphone.
While Polestar is introducing a single-motor 2 (we'll be testing it in a few weeks), the only model currently available packs an electric motor on each axle. You'll find 408 horsepower and 487 pound-feet of torque here, which is enough to scoot the PS2 to 60 in 4.5 seconds. Tesla fanatics might scoff at that figure, as both dual-motor Model 3s are quicker (4.2 seconds for the Long Range and a blistering 3.1 for the Performance).
The PS2 feels far quicker than any 4.5-second car we've driven. There's a crush of torque immediately off the line (which we expect in any EV) that doesn't really fade until you're well north of highway speeds. A friend driving an Audi TTS struggled to shake us coming away from a stoplight or during highway pulls (much to our amusement and their annoyance).
Polestar's decision to give the 2 such a tall ride height has a noticeable impact on cornering behavior. We're presuming the decision to fit an ultra-stiff suspension was to try and mitigate the higher center of gravity, but the result is a punishing ride that still rolls too much, with little overall benefit in the bends. There's very little feedback from the suspension or the steering, and the latter is too light. On the upside, squat and dive are tolerable despite the ride height. Still, if it came down to a cornering contest, we'd opt for a Model 3 (and we'd be a lot more comfortable to boot).
Our PS2 comes standard with the well-regarded Pilot Assist suite of active safety gear and it's just as capable here as in any Volvo we've previously tested. Activation is a cinch: tap the directional pad on the right spoke to switch from standard cruise control to Pilot Assist, and then press up or down to set a speed and make adjustments. From there, the computers lighten the load considerably.
On the highway, Pilot Assist is one of the industry's leaders, staying in the lane with a natural feel and applying the right amount of throttle when accelerating. This combination of predictable behavior and ease of activation are exactly what we want out of an active safety system.
The EPA rates the dual-motor Polestar 2 at 233 miles of range and a combined 92 mpge. Our 85-mile test route saw us go from that starting figure to around 150 miles of range in rainy conditions and comfortable, 75-degree temperatures. That said, the PS2's Driver Performance screen offers limited information on efficiency, with a graph that’s difficult to read. Figuring out how efficient the 2 is can be challenging.
Charging it, though, isn't. The 78-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery (75 kWh is usable) can guzzle down electrons at a rate of 150 kilowatts with a DC fast charger, which will get the car to 80 percent in about 40 minutes. Our Grizzl-E Classic charger and its associated 240-volt/40-amp socket charged to full in roughly eight hours.
The PS2's range and charge rate are, to be frank, thoroughly average. That's good enough for your author, but it's worth pointing out that the Model 3 has a 120-mile range advantage and can charge at a rate of 250 kilowatts with the latest version of Tesla's Supercharger. Likewise, the Ford Mustang Mach-E – again, not a direct competitor, but close enough – is available with all-wheel drive and up to 270 miles of range.
While a more affordable PS2 is on the way, for now, the car's starting price sits at $61,200 (including a $1,300 destination charge). You'll also need to chuck in a $500 deposit when you place your order. That said, this four-door EV is eligible for a $7,500 federal income-tax credit, in addition to any state or local incentives. But no matter how you slice it, the PS2's price is rather high.
Once again, enter Tesla. A dual-motor Model 3 Long Range starts at $49,990, and so far as we can tell, it doesn't come with any sort of destination charge. Tesla ran out of income-tax credits a long time ago, but the Model 3 is still the more affordable choice than even the incentivized PS2. Equally compelling are the Mustang Mach-E and Volkswagen ID.4, the latter of which will introduce a dual-motor all-wheel-drive model later this year. A Mach-E Premium that covers 270 miles starts at $56,400 (including $1,100 destination charge) before incentives, while the dual-motor VW will cost $44,870 (including the $1,175 charge).
The PS2 is a fine four-door EV, but its relatively high starting price and limited range make it a rather poor value. Hopefully the upcoming single-motor model will manage a better mix of price and range.
Polestar 2 Competitor Reviews:
Gallery: 2021 Polestar 2: Review
2021 Polestar 2