Preview drive: Is the all-electric Polestar 2 really going to be a Tesla killer?
Should Elon Musk be worried about the Volvo Group’s first fully electric car?
Eric Adams is an automotive, aerospace, and technology journalist/photographer for titles including Wired, Gear Patrol, Popular Science, Men's Health and DriveTribe.
Like many of you, I’m pretty tired of headlines that claim this or that new electric car is going to be a “Tesla-killer”. At this point, it’s a cliché, so I’ll spare you – though my editors might overrule me on that.
And frankly, it is a little tempting here. After all, the Polestar 2 deliberately targets the Model 3 Performance’s approximate capabilities, and my sneak-preview drive of the car at Volvo’s Hällered Proving Grounds in late October certainly suggests that while the initial production version may not toast the mighty Musk machine in a straight line – with an anticipated 0-60 time of 4.7 seconds against the Model 3’s 3.2 – it will certainly give it run for its money on virtually every other metric.
That includes, critically, handling. The Polestar 2’s 78 kWh battery pack provides enough of the good stuff to the dual motors to produce 408 horsepower and 487 pound-feet of torque. That gives it the oomph needed to power out of turns, but it’s the distribution of the power, along with the car’s suspension and braking, that keeps everything calm and collected no matter how hair-raising the conditions.
On my drive on a track still wet from morning rain, it felt ridiculously composed and agile, registering just a hint of entirely expected body roll — though its center of gravity is low because of the battery, it ain’t no F1 car — but it never exhibited anything approaching a lack of grip. Power application was satisfyingly linear and the pedal perilously deep. I never felt wanting for more, nor did I sense any unwelcome tippiness given the Polestar 2’s generally upright sedan bearing. (Again, compared to a proper sports car…)
Chassis engineer Joakim Rydholm took it out later and drove the point home, demonstrating the bleeding-edge performance of the car thanks to his intimate knowledge of both the track and the vehicle’s mechanical adhesion capabilities. Even in the wet, he didn’t hold back — and the Polestar 2, here equipped with the 20-inch wheels and Brembo brakes in the optional $6,600 Performance Pack, soaked it up. It was a revelatory ride, and one that teed up high expectations for the car’s final form.
Ultimately, however, there’s not a lot of sorcery going on here, or mystery — the all-wheel-drive power balance sits right at 50/50 between front and rear-axle motors, the traction control system is tuned to keep things controlled while still spirited when you want it, the configuration takes full advantage of the low-slung battery pack in its handling, and the chassis errs toward accommodating the power available to more aggressive drivers while still absorbing the ups and downs of daily driving. Lest you forget, Polestar is still a Volvo brand, so it’s going to have a degree of, shall we say, sensibility baked into its products, no matter how sporty.
That’s the Polestar gestalt. You’re going have fun, but it’ll be a safe and smart kind of fun, for sure. That said, it’ll be absent some of the constraints Volvo is placing on its main lineup in pursuit of truly unimpeachable safety, including a 112-mph speed limit. Polestar hasn’t announced the top end for the 2 yet, but engineers tell me it will be much higher than that.
To catch you up more broadly, if necessary, the Polestar brand is now a wholly-owned property of Volvo, tasked with making performance-tuned versions of its lineup and nudging along its electrification efforts. The first product as a stand-alone carmaker is the Polestar 1, a luxury performance coup with a 600-hp plug-in hybrid powertrain and a limited production run of just 1,500.
The Polestar 2 EV is the Volvo Group’s first fully electric car, and it’ll be priced from $50,000, compared to the hefty $155,000 of the Polestar 1.
Its powertrain is headed straight for mass-production there and elsewhere: the parent company recently announced its Volvo XC40 Recharge, and engineers at Polestar tell me it will include the same powertrain as the 2, with hardly any alteration. The lessons learned here will similarly manifest themselves widely as part of Volvo’s overarching ambition to have half its lineup be fully electric by 2025. We’ll be seeing the 2’s DNA for quite a long time.
There are certainly much worse fates to contemplate. For a debut EV, the 2 is, at first blush, a home run, delivering performance and range (275 EPA, the company estimates) that will place it on solid ground under the intense microscope of the EV marketplace.
Its gorgeous styling on the outside and welcoming, distinctly Scandinavian interior bode equally well, as does its industry-first inclusion of Google’s Android-based infotainment system, which will unite both vehicle functions and connectivity under a single system, with natural-language control in addition to activation through the large center screen.
Will the whole package “kill” the Tesla? Well, you’d certainly never hear such a cliché from me...