Polestar Wants to Make Electric Cars in a Way Volvo Can’t

Polestar is trying to take a Silicon Valley-esque strategy with its approach to building cars. The Polestar 2 gets the company some of the way there, but Polestar says its next will hit the mark.

When Polestar leapt into the world as progeny of Volvo’s marriage to China’s Geely, the results were immediately interesting. The company calls itself the guiding star of the Geely group, acting as a technological spearhead of sorts. With the retirement of the plug-in hybrid Polestar 1 at the end of this year, the company is shifting its focus 100 percent on battery electric performance machinery, blazing the trail for its elder statesman brands.

Polestar is intended to act as though it were a Silicon Valley startup, moving fast and breaking things on its way toward engineering advanced design and technology in an accelerated fashion that comparatively mammoth companies like Geely or Volvo can’t. In a way Polestar is positioning itself as a Tesla-type, but with the added economies of scale benefit provided by aligning its brand with massive multinational OEMs. So four years into this experiment, is it working?

Depending on the metrics you base your judgement on, Polestar could be doing great. In most ways it’s far too soon to tell. For example, Polestar had just three North American “space partner” dealerships in 2020, but aims to have 30 open by December. With just one eccentrically designed model in its lineup, the built-in-China tall sedan Polestar 2, the company is hanging out its shingle and grabbing eyeballs.

Obviously selling cars is the main objective of any automotive manufacturer, but Polestar has a purpose beyond its own four walls. Older sibling Volvo has committed itself to building one million battery electric vehicles by 2025, and says all of its cars will be electric by 2030. Beyond that the Swedes have promised to launch a new BEV every year for the next five years. Volvo will obviously be drawing from the well of Polestar experience to develop these new cars. In fact it already kind of has. The Polestar 2 is based on the same Compact Modular Architecture as Volvo’s XC40, which recently added an all-electric Recharge model to its lineup using Polestar’s battery and motor tech.

Polestar is quite proud of itself that it is the first company to install Google’s embedded infotainment system. This is one of the ways that the company says it is an innovation center for the larger group of automakers. It can make a shift like that happen quickly and easily. Instead of wasting time developing its own infotainment UI, it has found a way to plug and play with Google. As a result, the Polestar 2 has native Google Maps, excellent voice command that you can shout “Okay Google” at, and wireless Android auto.

One of the things, for better or worse, that sets Tesla apart in this space is its ability to iterate and shift on the flow. Tesla doesn’t wait for something as silly as a new model year to implement a major hardware change to its cars. Polestar is too Scandinavian for such loosey-goosey tactics. No, instead Polestar can only commit to occasional over the air (OTA) software updates. It’s a good thing, then, that Polestar’s hardware is on point from the off. The Polestar 2 is to quality materials and processes as Tesla is to gimmickry, grandiosity, and broken promises. If you said it was the Swedish Tesla, you wouldn’t be far off.

Whether it will admit it or not Polestar definitely wants to be the Swedish Tesla. From my perspective, that’s an incredible place to be. The company is small enough that it can still innovate, but every action the company makes will be examined under the watchful eye of Odin himself. It has some way to go to match Tesla’s marketing and sales successes, but judging by what is coming, expect exponential growth from Polestar in the next few years.

For the 2022 model year, Polestar has introduced a new long-range, single-motor, front-wheel-drive version of the Polestar 2 which achieves 265 miles from the same 78-kWh battery pack. There is a new optional mechanical heat pump which should help to increase range further, but by virtue of it being an option, can’t be included in the range estimate. By simplifying and streamlining the order sheet, building the single-motor variant, a new cloth interior as standard, and the company eating a little bit on the back end, the base price of the Polestar 2 has dropped from $59,900 to $45,900. The price of a dual-motor model has similarly dropped to $49,900.

There are two things I have come to consider absolutely imperative when considering a new car purchase: Apple CarPlay and adaptive cruise control. Stepping aboard a base-as-base-can-be Polestar 2 for a few hours on a hot New Mexico summer day, I was unfortunately treated to neither. While the latter is available as part of the $3200 Pilot Pack option—which also includes LED headlights, blind-spot monitoring, and a 360-degree camera—the former is not yet available for the PS2. Company representatives indicate that iPhone connectivity is coming OTA in short order, but didn’t have a release date for that update.

From a driving perspective, the front-drive Polestar 2 delivers a driving experience not that far removed from its sibling with all wheels driven. While sharing physically identical motors, the single-motor unit gets a slight power boost to 231 horsepower, up from 204 at each end of the dual-motor version. With some gearing trickery, the car still feels pretty darned quick. Allegedly the dual-motor runs from 0-60 in 4.5 seconds, while the single-motor makes the sprint in 7 seconds flat, but both felt a smidge jazzier.

If you’re looking for a mature and well-built luxury electric sedan, the single-motor 2 is a pretty great all-rounder. It’s quiet and comfortable, while providing a uniquely chiseled exterior. All of the same creative reasons one might come up with to justify purchasing a Volvo over a BMW, for example, similarly apply to buying a Polestar 2 over a Tesla Model 3. It does most of what the competition accomplishes, but with a certain level of quirk blended in. This is the kind of car a tenured college poetry professor drives, and that’s a huge compliment. But it’s not the California-style mega-tech and progress-at-all-costs machine that Polestar purports it to be.