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The Polestar 2: My Electric Yardstick

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I arrived at the dealership, my partner alongside me, on our way to see if the electric future was really going to be bright. I sat down at the desk inside what was a Fiat and Alfa Romeo dealership. A well-dressed man with a haircut as sharp as the razor that was likely used to trim his beard, shook my hand, handed me some paperwork, and then, handed the keys to the first ever electric vehicle that I have ever driven.

And ain’t she a beauty!

This is a Polestar 2, a car made by what was once a performance tuner directly owned by Volvo, and then before that, a racing team that successfully raced Volvos in the WTCC. This is a fully battery-electric powered car based on the Volvo CMA platform, shared with the C40 and XC40, produced in Geely’s factory in Luciao, Zhejiang… So, China. Our test model was a Standard range with both the Plus and Pilot packs equipped.

A Swedish performance car, derived from Volvo, but made in China? How bad could it be?

Turns out? Pretty bloody good. In fact, in all honesty? It was one of the most incredible driving experiences i’ve ever had.

Part 1: Getting used to the future.

So, I’ve been a stalwart gearhead for many, many years. My first car was an R31 Skyline. My current cars are a Holden Commodore Ute and a Hyundai Getz. I’ve owned a rather ratty rustbucket of an MX5, as all petrolheads should, and i’ve owned a Hyundai Tiburon, my weirdo unicorn car. I’ve also owned a shitbox Holden Rodeo in between jobs to try and score work, as well as another Getz, the last car I bought brand new back in 2008.

One thing that obviously all of these cars have in common is their gasoline powerplants. The fact that you have to build power, by means of picking the right gear, revving the engine up to the right rev range, and then planting the throttle to go anywhere in a hurry is part of the fun of gasoline cars. However, there is almost always a delay between when you command the power and when you receive that power.

This Polestar drove quite unlike anything I had ever driven before.

The silence is the first thing you notice when you drive an EV. The steering, at first, felt incredibly “video-gamey” as it was set at its lightest setting. The very first thing I did was to switch the steering into its firmest setting to get as close as possible to a hydraulic steering rack as I could. In its firmest setting, it felt like the sort of steering you’d get from a Holden Commodore or perhaps a Lexus LS400. Slightly overboosted, but firm. Then, you take off as if it was a normal car, only when you tap on the gas, there is absolutely no noise at all.

Should I call it a gas pedal? I mean it’s more like an “electric” pedal. Whatever. It’s the one on the right that makes you go.

The car itself has an Android Automotive based operating system. No, not Android Auto, Android Automotive. Yes, this is Google back at it again with the confusing project names. Android Automotive is a dedicated Operating System for cars designed to compete against the offering provided by Tesla with its dedicated car-centric OS. It has wireless connectivity, the carrier of which I have no clue about, but it is only an LTE connection, which is fine for maps and video streaming, the latter of which will be important for charging. Yes, it has a YouTube app… and Digital Radio, which is nice.

This car also feels wide, this not because of the fact that we had just come out of the Getz and into a car double its size, but its dashboard gives you a sense of width with its parallel lines, as well as the fact that the centre console rises high out of the floor. It uses a conventional-ish looking shift selector which will make it a lot easier for those transitioning from gas-powered cars and into electrics.

Driving out onto Scarborough Beach Road, I decided to program the GPS to send me to where all Swedes go, the local IKEA. At this point I was still driving this as if it was a regular car. Going over speed bumps, the car feels comfortably sprung. Not too soft and squidgy, but at the same time, not too jolty either. I hear the Performance Pack models are quite crashy with their Öhlins suspension. Driving out into traffic, it felt… Normal. Incredibly quiet, almost Rolls-Royce level quiet, but nonetheless, normal. In Creep mode with no regen braking (Polestar calls this one-pedal drive), the car felt as refined and as comfortable as any other Volvo car, except with the added bonus of zero engine noise, meaning for the first time ever in a car, I could turn down my own voice in a conversation. The driving position is comfortable and relaxed. In a way, driving this car didn’t really feel like driving, more like… Wafting. Truly remarkable that now we have the option to buy a car that is as quiet as a Rolls, and yet doesn’t cost even a tenth of the price of one.

The Plus Pack this car had gave us a nicely tuned sound system from Bowers and Wilkins, which was well, nice, in comparison to the store-bought Sony Speakers I had in my Getz. My partner commented about the Polestar’s patented frameless mirrors, of which are nicked straight out of Volvo’s playbook. They’re wide and easy to see out of, making the lack of rear visibility through the rear mirror sort of an afterthought, as the side mirrors more than made up for it. The large blind-spot indicators in the mirrors also made it really easy to see if there was someone in said blind spot… Which would come in real handy when I hit the roadworks coming onto the Mitchell Freeway.

Part 2: Punch it, Chewie!

Coming on to the freeway, I had enabled the car’s lowest regen setting to get used to the idea of one-pedal driving. Once this mode was turned on, I gave the car a good punch. Coming into the onramp, I was doing about 50kph. Two seconds later, I was in Mexico, and I didn’t even notice because of how well planted and fuss-free the car was. The acceleration is hard to describe. If you’ve ever been in a Boeing 747-400, or perhaps if you’ve ever gone boogieboarding and have caught a really, really good wave, you’ll know the type of acceleration an EV has. It’s not so much of a kick in the lower back like what you get in say, a tuner or muscle car, but a caressing surge of acceleration that grips you by the shoulders and shoves you forward. It’s incredibly intoxicating, and it scared the living bejeezus out of my partner. Our thoughts immediately turned to a colleague of hers, who had a propensity to get speeding tickets.

“She should never, ever own an EV, oh my god, it’s so fast!” she said.

The Radar-guided cruise control is certainly very, very nice to have, as it means that you will always stick to the speed limit, and if you’re like me and give other motorists a wide berth, the cruise control will automatically slow down and let cars in in front of you. I’m sure that this would be a huge help in traffic.

We exited, just past Graham Farmer Freeway Tunnel, A white Tesla caught eyes with the Polestar. A dual Motor Model 3 Long Range, to be exact. It too shoots past us. No way in hell we’re going to beat that car, but at least we know that both of us are quicker than most of the gas cars on the road.

“I am a total child!”

Roe street. A street notorious for its formerly poor conditions, had just been repaved with sidewalks and separated bike lanes. I am absolutely all for this kind of infrastructure, as it also proves a test for this car’s road placement. The car itself feels wider than you think it is, but it is actually a somewhat reasonable size. I settled into to full-fat one pedal driving for the city, using the brakes only to hold the car at traffic lights. The experience was… actually a bit like driving a manual car with a big V8 engine in third gear all the time. Plenty of punch on the throttle, enough to get you going, but when you let off the gas it’ll kick on the regen. You can see in the bottom right of its speedometer display, a little gauge telling you if the battery is charging or discharging… Just like an RC Car when it uses its motor brake to charge the battery.

We turned on to Barrack street and traversed through the core of the city, and its notoriously bumpy roads. The suspension handled it nicely. Not crashy, not wallowy. Absolutely what you would expect from a well-tuned car. The interior sound dampening was also really good. Sitting at the traffic lights in the centre of the city, with all of its construction work, rowdy people and the drone of offices workers chatting between meetings, and thousands of high-heels on the pavement, were all drowned out by the cabin insulation.

One thing I loved about this car was the fact that the cockpit-like display, with the GPS in front of me, made me feel like I was a bit of a fighter pilot, albeit a swedish architect turned fighter pilot, but the fact that I didn’t have to look down and to the left to see my GPS directions, my speed or anything of the sort was absolutely welcomed. Volvo has a history of making incredibly safe vehicles, and Polestar is looking to continue that trend, albeit with a sportier focus.

I missed my turn towards Kings Park. Google Maps wanted me to make an Illegal U-Turn, and I was not going to do that when the city is swarming with cops. I instead opted to go to another freeway onramp, this one would lead onto Hay Street, which would then take me past Parliament house. There’s quite a jump in speed here on this onramp, 50kph to 80. It’ll give me another chance to kick this car into Warp Speed.

I punch the throttle yet again. If this is the future? If this is what former Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrisson said would ruin the weekend, then good. Consider the weekend ruined. I was having an absolute blast in this thing. 50kph turned into 85kph incredibly fast. I finally got used to modulating the throttle as my brake. I turned off of the freeway and onto Hay street.

Harvest Terrace. This would take me past one of Perth’s most iconic buildings, Parliament House. This road is fairly narrow with lots of parked cars on either side. It also ends with a strange section of road, where the road ends at a bit of a downward grade, but the respective junction road heads uphill onto Malcolm St, due to the strange geology of the area. This will be a good test for the car’s front differential and how it lays down power, as I drove a MY23 model. (MY24s will be RWD, apparently, so that’s a huge win). You also have to go across three lanes of traffic going in either direction so it makes for a scary experience in underpowered, low-torque cars like my Getz.

Now, when we did make our way out onto this road, I felt a little squeak from the front tires, which the traction control system immediately fixed. With a surge of torque we pulled up the hill, and into King’s Park.

Part 3: It puts the Polestar in the bay, or else it hands the keys away

There’s a very good reason as to why I own a Getz. I live in an apartment complex where the bays are very, very tight. They basically are the bare minimum size allowed according to the building codes, in fact. Kings Park is an equally daunting parking experience. Terrible conditions as far as the road is concerned, as well as tourists in rental cars and people who are forced to park terribly as a result of the terrible parking of said tourists. This is where the Polestar’s camera system came in clutch, as I attempted to reverse-park this Swedish-chinese slab of a car.

The car comes equipped with a rather low-mounted reversing camera, as well as a top-down birds-eye view camera for parking. It’s not as insane as those you see from the likes of BYD or BMW in its overall design, wherein those companies create a real-time 360 view with a user-rotatable VR representation of your car in the space, however it was sufficient enough to squeeze me into one of the poorly marked bays with nothing more than the camera and those excellent frameless mirrors to help me get in.

This made the car feel almost as if it was meant for these sorts of tricky parking situations. Or at least the camera systems worked well enough to allow me to get in without any door dings or insurance excess payouts.

We temporarily switched seats. My partner, who I love to bits, is incredibly tiny at only around 148cm tall, so it’s very tricky to find a larger car that’ll fit her height. In the ute for example, she cannot even reach the pedals nor see over the dashboard. In the Polestar, with enough adjustment we managed to save her from a potential lifetime of needing a booster seat.

This seating position is designed so that the energy in the impact of a crash is directed away from your limbs and into your torso, and subsequently your seat.

The headrests stick out a bit proud from the seat, which is typical of Volvo seat designs, as they are intended to be placed in a more reclined seating position, benefitting safety. With my partner in the driver’s seat, the proud headrests stick a bit too far forward, so if we do get this car and she ever decides to get her driver’s license, we’ll have to raise the headrest and add a comforter pillow or remove it entirely while she is using the car. Me on the other hand, I am 168cm tall and I fit quite nicely in the car in the Zero G position, with plenty of legroom to spare in the rear for my taller friends.

I looked at the time. 11:10. forty minutes had flown past. The dealership was 20 minutes away. It was time for one last ride.

Part 4: Dr. Polestar, or “How I learned to stop worrying and love the battery”

As I headed back up the Mitchell Freeway via the Hay Street Onramp, I gave the Polestar one last squeeze of power and felt the rush of that electric torque one last time. I ended up getting stuck behind a car which you would probably consider this car’s predecessor, a Mid 2000’s Toyota Prius. It felt, kinda symbolic in a way, that the car in front of me was what we once thought was the solution to our climate-change induced future of transport. Hybridisation can indeed be used to help Gasoline engines overcome their weaknesses, their lack of low-down torque, their lack of fuel efficiency under acceleration, but even then, when you compared the Prius in front of me to the literal rocketship I was driving, the fuel economy alone would make the average Prius owner weep. If you powered this Polestar 2 on conventional coal-fired or gas-fired electricity, this car would achieve a staggering 1.9l/100km. If you powered it by say, a set of rooftop solar panels, it would not consume any fossil fuels at all, meaning this car’s only climate impact would be the impact caused by its construction. All whilst being powerful enough to put a big, childish grin on your face in the process.

When I was a little boy, I used to play with my Tamiya Fighter Buggy RX, bombing around the backyard and my local park, pretending I was the little plastic man in the driver’s seat. I wondered what’d happen if you scaled all that stuff up, put a bigger battery, a bigger motor, and so on, into a real car, would it ever be viable? I knew that Electric motors had real potential, when I built a brushless electric RC Car that was faster than my dad’s dedicated Nitro Dragster. The sheer torque that electric motors can put out is nothing short of incredible, and as a gearhead, I am so happy that Electric Cars are finally a thing.

The Polestar 2 might not be a Tesla, it might not be the stereotypical choice for a first EV, but I didn’t want my first EV Experience to be generic. I wanted it to be something unique and special. I handed the keys back to the man at the dealership and gave him a firm handshake. The future of cars is going to be okay. I know there’s no ethical consumption under capitalism, sure. If you put your moral pretexts and economics aside, Electric Vehicles are to me, not a solution to transportation in a zero-carbon world, but the next evolutionary step in motor vehicle performance.

I cannot wait to try more of them. For now though, the Polestar 2 is a pretty good Yardstick as far as EVs go. If by the end of 2024, nothing matches it as an overall vehicle in terms of build quality, performance, practicality and just sheer wow factor, it will likely be what i’ll buy. I fall in love way, way too easily when it comes to cars, and I think this time around, whilst it is a pretty good base for comparison, I need to see what the competition provides. It is currently, as of this moment in time, the best car I have ever driven.

I am no longer afraid for the future of the automobile, and I cannot wait to ride the wave of electric current once again.

Beano out.