The Polestar 2 bests the Tesla Model 3 in drivability and enjoyment

I enjoy driving the Polestar 2 more than the Tesla Model 3. The Polestar 2 is more comfortable, seemingly better built, and has a better infotainment system. In all the traditional automotive metrics, it’s a better car, and yet I find it hard to recommend over the Tesla Model 3.

The Polestar 2 often excels where the Tesla Model 3 falters. The fit and finish of the 2 are on par with anything from BMW, Mercedes, or Volvo as Polestar is a close partner to the Swedish luxury brand.

However, while the Polestar 2 is fantastic, the car lacks the appealing Tesla ecosystem. Polestar does not have a network of their EV charging stations, and it’s unknown if the company will roll out novel features through over-the-air updates. Tesla has a culture around its brand that’s exciting and enticing and deserves to be considered when shopping for a vehicle.

Review

I spent a long morning in the Polestar 2, navigating suburban traffic and racing around the dirt roads near Hell, MI. I drove the EV on the highway, took it shopping, and lived with the car. After driving the car for a few hours, there were still 120 miles left on the battery.

The EPA has yet to announce the range rating on the Polestar 2, but Polestar itself says it can go up to 275 miles on a charge. I experienced something a bit less — more like 250 miles. That said, during my short time with the vehicles, I drove it hard and fast. The winding dirt roads loved the AWD system and 49/51 weight balance.

The Polestar 2 is a lovely vehicle, and the build quality is superb. The doors close with a resounding thud, the seats are supportive and comfortable, and the dash is constructed of several recycled material that is simultaneously upscale but responsible. It feels like a car from a mature car company.

I cannot stress enough how well built the Polestar 2 feels, and that’s likely due to its close ties with Volvo.

Started just three years ago within Volvo and Geely, Polestar was quickly spun out as its own automaker though retains close ties to both parents. As such, Polestar is considered an automotive original equipment manufacturer (OEM) just like Volvo, General Motors, and BMW. Polestar is independent of Volvo and Geely with its VIN numbers, manufacturing facilities, and executive team.

Polestar 2 is the second vehicle from the young automotive startup. The company started with the Polestar 1, a $155,000 hybrid grand tourer that’s limited to 1,500 cars with only 450 coming to North America over three years. I drove a production Polestar 1 a few weeks ago and found the powertrain to be fantastic. The hybrid system is tuned in a way that makes it an excellent driver’s car on the same level as the best tourers.

Polestar says it’s designing its cars to be enjoyable to drive, and the company is two for two. The hybrid Polestar 1 is lovely to drive in a powerful, masculine way. The all-electric Polestar 2 is naturally different from the Polestar 1 and is still tuned for the driver’s enjoyment.

Like said at the top, the Polestar 2 is a better car to drive than the Tesla Model 3.

The Polestar 2’s electric motors deliver power with restrained control. Instead of being jerky or quick, the electric Polestar 2 is smooth and refined. When massing the gas pedal, the Polestar 2 gradually lays down the power, starting slowly and accelerating quickly. Don’t mistake what I’m saying. The Polestar 2 is still quick, able to hit 60 mph in less than 5 seconds, which is fast enough for any family vehicle. In my experience, the Model 3’s electric power delivery is tuned to deliver a lot of power at the moment of acceleration. The Model 3 is very quick, but it’s too fast to some, even in standard modes.

The difference between the Polestar 2 and Model 3’s acceleration is subtle but essential. The Model 3 can smoke the Polestar 2 in a drag race, and yet that’s not relevant to most drivers. To me, the slightly slower, but still quick, Polestar 2 is more enjoyable to drive.

The Polestar 2 turns in with confidence and has nary an understeer. It’s controllable like the best four-door sedans. This is due to several things. One, the car has a nearly perfect weight balance with 49% in the front and 51% in the back. And most of that weight is on the bottom of the car, where the batteries are located, reducing body sway. Second, the electric motors on each axle provide fantastic traction through an AWD system.

How is it to live with the Polestar 2 and drive it every day? I can’t say. I was only in the vehicle for a few hours. The backseat seems roomy enough for a mid-size car, and the floor area feels more substantial than a Tesla Model 3. The hatch area is large, and there’s a small storage compartment in the front.

The driving range is a downside with the Polestar 2. In comparison with the Tesla Model 3, the Polestar 2 comes up short. The Model 3 can go up to 322 miles fully charged while the Polestar 2’s is around 275 miles. Interestingly, the Polestar 2 has a larger battery pack than the Model 3. But it’s also heavier as the Polestar 2 is built on a Volvo/Geely platform also used for gasoline-powered vehicles.

There are hints of Volvo’s design language throughout the Polestar 2. To me, the design is futuristically chic, and I love it. The Polestar 2 has presence and poise. It’s angular while being fluid. Inside is more of the same with solid lines and sharp curves.

Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath is a long time car designer, and his influences are evident. The design seems paramount to the Polestar experience. Before Polestar, he was Volvo’s Senior Vice President of Design after holding similar positions within Volkswagen Group at Audi and Skoda.

The Polestar 2’s interior is more minimalist than most vehicles but still busier than the Model 3. There are few physical buttons: hazard lights, radio power, rear defrost, front defrost, and a knob for volume (volume should always be on a spinning knob). The two stalks on the steering column control their normal functions, and the steering wheel is sourced from Volvo’s latest cars and features media controls and cruise controls.

The large center screen is easy to read and is in a great location. I didn’t experience an offensive glare during my few hours with the Polestar 2. Please note, in the picture here, the center screen is dim because as soon as the front seats are empty, the car dims the screen to save battery.

In the end, the build quality speaks to confidence. The Polestar 2 doesn’t feel risky, like a Model 3, which has had countless design and manufacturing issues. The Polestar 2 doesn’t feel like a startup’s second vehicle.

Android Automotive (not Android Auto)

Polestar is the first company to offer Android Automotive. Different from Android Auto, Android Automotive is the primary interface for Polestar 2. It controls everything from the radio to climate to vehicle settings and maps, apps, and connected services.

Android Automotive is impressive. The interface is clean and as responsive as the best smartphone. To take advantage of all the features, users need to be signed in to a Google Account. Some users might opt to sign in to their main account or create another just for the Polestar 2. Either way, once signed in, the system connects maps, apps, and the rest of the person’s services, including devices connected to a Google Home account.

Android Automotive can still be used without signing into Google. By skipping this step, users will have access to most connected features, but some personalization options are unavailable.

Google Assistant is built into Android Automotive, and it’s the first in-car voice service I’ve used that worked well. Just say, “Okay, Google, turn on Spotify,” and it turns on Spotify. Say a location, and it pulls up the place. Ask it to change the temperature, and it will change the temperature since Android Automotive also controls the in-vehicle climate control. Some features depend on a data connection, while others, most in-car settings, work without a data connection.

Android Automotive impressed during my time in the Polestar 2. It has a logical layout and is easy to use. The system is coming to other vehicles soon. Polestar is just the first automaker to deploy the system.

Android Automotive works with iOS devices, too. The Polestar 2 will soon gain CarPlay through an over-the-air update, and iPhone users can pair their devices to Android Automotive through a Bluetooth connection, too.

Polestar or Tesla?

I walked away from the Polestar 2 impressed, yet it’s hard to issue a complete recommendation. To me, even with a shorter range, the Polestar 2 is a better vehicle than the Model 3. But the Model 3 has something missing from the Polestar 2: The Tesla factor.

For all its quirky faults, Tesla has a history of bold innovation that’s resulted in a nationwide network of chargers, constant new features delivered from over-the-air updates, and fun quirks that delight and impress. Like Pet Mode. After a suggestion on Twitter to Elon Musk, Tesla quickly rolled out a mode that lets users keep their pets safe while displaying an informative message on the center screen. It’s a small but telling detail about the Tesla experience, and it’s unclear (and unlikely) that Polestar will offer the same experience.

Polestar isn’t selling against the Model 3 but rather selling against Tesla. When a person buys a Tesla, they’re buying into an ecosystem of services that complement the vehicle. Tesla knows better than most that a car is often a lifestyle choice, and the company built an impressive culture.

Polestar executives seem to know they’re fighting an uphill battle.

On one side, the company is battling Tesla’s ecosystem, and culture and Polestar is seemingly following in Telsa’s footsteps. The car company is forgoing selling cars in dealer’s lots and is opening storefronts like Tesla’s company stores. These locations are in high profile areas like marque shopping areas alongside luxury brands. Like Tesla showrooms. However, to help get vehicles in buyer’s hands quicker, these locations will be owned by Volvo dealerships who will facilitate sales and service.

Polestar sees itself selling against luxury mid-size vehicles from European brands rather than Tesla itself. At least that’s what the company says publicly. It makes sense to a point. The build quality of a Polestar vehicle is superior than that of a Tesla and on the same level as the best from Europe.

So is the Polestar 2 better than a Tesla Model 3? Yes. But deciding which one to buy is a complicated question.

The Tesla Model 3 can drive farther on a charge and is seamlessly integrated with Tesla’s Supercharger network. That’s a significant factor that buyers should consider. Tesla’s commitment to continue rolling out new features should also be a consideration for buyers as it keeps the vehicles fresh and exciting.

The Polestar 2 carries a higher price than the Model 3, but they’re in the same range. Well equipped Polestar 2 vehicles start around $60,000 while similarly-spec’d Model 3 cars go for around $50,000. In the United States, both cars are eligible for a $7,500 tax credit.

Tesla, aside, Polestar built a fantastic vehicle in the Polestar 2, and that should be applauded. The car company is three years old, only has 800 employees worldwide, and has yet scaled to the point of making world-class vehicles. Few other car companies can make those claims. And the company has big plans for the future. Polestar says it’s on track to deliver the SUV Polestar 3 in 2022, which will feature an all-new platform and a lot longer range.

Polestar built the car, now it needs to get the word out.

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