Polestar owners adjust to the driving range and charging times, and especially appreciate the luxury amenities and surprising power.
You’re forgiven if, during the social, political, cultural, and epidemiological fever dream of 2020, you didn’t notice the swarm of electric cars and crossovers that have become available. Before the pandemic, plug-in hybrids were all the buzz, but within the year, pure electric cars seem to appear almost everywhere. It’s as if consumers who were dipping their toes into electrified cars, but after a year of forced seclusion and reconsideration of their life choices and long-term outlooks, have finally gone all-in.
Fortunately for them, electric cars have quietly been cropping up from many corners of the market, some from established companies, others from unfamiliar brands. The Polestar 1 and Polestar 2 are the first offerings from a brand you’ve never heard of, but it’s backed by a company everyone knows and, importantly, trusts: Volvo.
I know what you’re thinking: Why didn’t Volvo just call these cars Volvos? Well, while Volvo is on a tear with a range of stout and stylish sedans, wagons, and SUVs — most of which are offered as plug-in hybrids and one of which, the XC40 Recharge, is a pure EV — it may take a while before Volvo is regarded as a competitive electric car maker at the level of Tesla. Gaining that level of credibility will take more than simply building a family of high-tech, sustainability-focused electric cars, particularly with the early adopter/influencer set that has flocked to Tesla and made its CEO, Elon Musk, tens of billions of dollars richer.
The Polestar 1 is the first and last car from the brand that will consume gasoline.
Indeed, Tesla’s popularity despite the high prices and lack of character of its products underscores how EV customers are not only looking for cars that swap gasoline for electrons, they want evidence of fresh thinking behind them.
To that end, as an established company whose cars are regarded first and foremost as safe — Is anything less sexy than safety? — Volvo knows it will not be the first brand customers expect to offer satisfying EVs.
Fortunately, Volvo had a trick up its sleeve in the form of Polestar, a former racing and performance development team that Volvo brought in house in 2015 and which, until recently, had been tasked with sportifying workaday Volvos with fancy wheels, snappy suspensions, and sassy gold safety belts. Volvo christened Polestar a standalone brand in 2017 offering products that would be more than rebadged Volvos, flush with new thinking, a fresh name, and the innate ability to ping on EV customers’ radars.
Polestar 1: The Proverbial Rib of Volvo
Polestar’s premier product is a luscious, stately coupe none-too-cleverly called the Polestar 1. Its name lacks creativity, but the big, wide, carbon-fiber-bodied coupe makes it up in sheer beauty. My favorite elements are the voluminous rear haunches, the delicate creases along each fender, and full-length glass roof. Honestly, there is nothing I dislike about this car’s styling. It is utterly, spectacularly, loin-stirringly gorgeous.
And kind of familiar looking: You’ve seen most of its styling elements on all the cars Volvo currently sells. The Polestar 1’s design actually pre-dates them all, first shown back in 2013 as a concept car — specifically the Volvo Concept Coupe that previewed the styling of Volvo cars to follow. That car seduced me with its proud, almost forward leaning nose, long hood, nifty E-shaped taillamps, and “Thor’s Hammer” headlamps.
And so crestfallen was I with Volvo’s decision not to build it, citing a shrinking luxury coupe market that made its business case impossible. A few years later, the coupe reappears wearing a slightly different grille and a Guiding Star badge, and it’s the first product sold by Volvo’s new electric-focused brand.
Put another way, if Polestar was crafted as an extension of Volvo, the plug-in hybrid Polestar 1 may be considered Volvo’s proverbial rib.
Interestingly, the Polestar 1 is the first and last car in the line that will consume gasoline; the Polestar 2 and each future Polestar product will be pure EVs. This fact may prevent the 1 from earning Tesla-level green cred among the hard-core enviro crowd, but with its generous, 34-kWh battery, it boasts a spectacular 52-mile electric-only range, among the best in the world for hybrids. And with a total of 619 hp, about half of which comes from the front gas engine and the other half from electric motors at each rear wheel, acceleration is rocket-like yet utterly composed, belying the car’s considerable, 5,000-plus-pound weight.
The downside is Polestar 1’s eye-watering $156,200 price, and the fact that it looks so much like Volvos costing a third as much. But with only 1,500 to be built ever, only a few hundred of which are coming to the United States, it will be rarer than most Ferraris.
Polestar 2: The True Polestar
If the Polestar 1 is the brand’s ethereal flagship, the more practical five-seat 2 represents Polestar’s essence. Conceived as a Polestar from the outset, it appears fresh and original, if vaguely Volvo-like and, ironically, even boxier. Its hatchback-masked-as-a-sedan body is neither flashy nor staid, and it adequately conveys fresh-thinking character that sells well to the green-minded driver.
More color choices would be appreciated, but if it was my car to redesign, I wouldn’t change a line anywhere, from the projector headlamps to the full-width, rectilinear tail lamps.
Inside, environmentally conscious materials like discarded scrap wood are applied tastefully and artfully; the soothing mix of colors and textures remind one that minimalism has long been a Swedish specialty. The tablet-like device planted in the center console looks slick and features the first-ever built-in Android/Google interface, which I found eminently logical despite being an Apple guy. If you, as did I, find the wetsuit-like WeaveTech seat upholstery a bit subpar for a $61,000 car, a $4,000 upgrade offers ventilated Nappa leather. Other options include a $5,000 performance pack and metallic paint, but everything else comes standard, so even with all option boxes checked, prices don’t creep far past $70,000.
Once inside the 2, you needn’t insert a key or even press a button; it’s ready to go as soon as you (and the key fob) are: Just select drive or reverse and go. While that part took some getting used to, that’s the only aspect of driving this sure-footed, all-wheel-drive, two-motor-driven fastback that was weird. Indeed, it is stunningly quick and surprisingly engaging in corners. And theoretically, it can go a long way between charges: Polestar 2’s range calculator estimates the 78-kWh battery pack under the floor could enable you to drive anywhere from 186 to 292 miles on a full charge, depending on temperature, wheel size, and traffic conditions, with stop-and-go traffic helping to extend your range, along with warm weather and the smaller 19-inch wheels.
Taking frequent advantage of the car’s prodigious 408 horsepower, however, can drain one’s electron reserves alarmingly quickly. One late-night, traffic-free, 108-mile jaunt from Hollywood to Palm Springs at 85-plus mph, the 200 miles of range indicated on departure had dwindled to 30 miles as I approached Cabazon. Slowing to 65 mph got me to Palm Springs with an indicated 25 miles left. Whew! Recharging the battery was a two-hour affair at a DC fast charging station, but a subsequent experience at one of the slower facilities took more than 12 hours.
The Polestar 2 goes from 186 to 292 miles on a charge, depending on variables.
Fortunately, the hatchback’s cargo area accommodates a bicycle, so I could park at a charger near a destination and bike the rest of the way.
To be fair, range fluctuations and recharge times aren’t unique to the Polestar 2, but they do underscore the point that some lifestyle accommodations must still be made when going all-in on electric cars. Fortunately, the learning curves are neither long nor steep, especially as one installs a car charger at home or becomes familiar with the charging facilities sprouting up all over the Coachella Valley. The big payoff comes every time you pass a gas station and think you may never have to stop there again.
How to Catch a (Pole)star
At this point, only a few Polestar retail locations — known as Polestar Spaces — exist in California to facilitate test drives. The closest is on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, with an Orange County location set to open as well. The good news is that most arrangements can be made through polestar.com. Once delivered, Polestars can be serviced at local Volvo dealerships. As for a Coachella Valley Polestar Space, it’s all but inevitable once the cars’ solid reputations are established.