Polestar 2 review – ride and handling
It goes, steers and corners well enough, but stopping is another story
Driving an electric car always feels odd for the uninitiated. The inherent lack of noise is constantly surprising every time you pull away, and when you are up and running the instant accelerative punch then hits you again. The thing that Tesla so cunningly tapped into was accentuating these alien first impressions by removing the traditional starting procedure and giving most models that trademark, and excuse the pun, electric punch. This is something the new Polestar 2 recreates, but with varying degrees of success.
Drop into the driving seat and the high scuttle and shallow windows make the cabin feel instantly enveloping, something very different from the open-air feeling of the Model 3. Like Teslas, Polestar has done away with any form of starter button, instead it’s as simple as stepping in and knocking the gear selector back (twice) into D and you’re off. There’s not even an electric handbrake, instead it automatically engages when you reselect P.
Models with the Performance Pack ride firmly, yet thanks to the underlying quality of the Öhlins dampers and some reasonable sidewall on the 20-inch tyres it doesn’t crash into intrusions on the road surface with quite the aggression you’re expecting it to. At road speeds, the Polestar 2 is about as undemanding as any modern passenger car too. It’s refined, but not eerily so, and easy to place on the road despite some less-than-ideal visibility issues behind you.
Push harder and the Polestar feels balanced and considered. Unlike the Tesla Model 3 (particularly in Performance spec), the Polestar 2 feels like a more in-depth interpretation of how to make an electric car feel dynamic and capable down a challenging road. That’s because it doesn’t seem to rely on a speedy steering rack or sticky tyre profile to ‘feel’ sporty, rather it relies on an inherent balance that’s surprising considering the Polestar’s XC40-derived chassis.
The steering is certainly an improvement on Volvo’s usually wooly rack so long as it’s in the firmest setting. This doesn’t exactly imbue the Polestar with anything resembling feel, but it’s accurate and confidence inspiring where so often many Volvo racks are not. It’s also set up to a calmer ratio than the hyperactive Model 3’s, and has a more reassuring weighting as the front axle loads.
The brakes are a point of contention as speeds rise though. Under normal driving circumstances a majority of the stopping power is drawn from regenerative braking, and so pedal feel is numb, but at least consistent. Get onto the brakes with force though and the blending between regen and friction braking is an issue. Push through the pedal travel with progressive force and both the feedback from the pedal and the braking performance itself doesn’t always correlate to your inputs.
An overriding issue with the Polestar 2’s driving experience remains the pointless slightly tall ride height that does nothing for the handling, and little else aside from an invincibility when it comes to nose-in parking kerbs. This extra few inches of height just makes you feel a few inches away from the action, even if the centre of gravity is still low thanks to the flat-ish battery pack. The Polestar’s weight – 2123kg – is also conspicuous compared to that of similarly-sized IC performance cars; inertia is a cruel and ever-present mistress in many electric cars.
In this application, there has to be an inescapable comparison with a Tesla Model 3, so from a driving perspective, it’s as simple as one car feels like it was designed by a tech company and given the hardware to impress through numbers, if not exactly feel. The Polestar’s approach is far more... Scandinavian. It’s not quite as outrageous on first acquaintance, but has a more considered depth that gently lets you know what it’s capable of, rather than shouting about it in ‘Performance Mode’. This dynamic self-assurance is at odds with its form however; I just can’t help but wonder if it’d be a better car if it sat three inches lower to the ground.