2021 Polestar 2 Confuses and Frustrates
This all-new electric vehicle from an all-new brand frequently left us scratching our heads
Before we share our initial thoughts about the Polestar 2 we just bought for CR’s car testing program, it might be helpful to answer a simple question: What, exactly, is a Polestar? It’s a new car brand from Geely, the parent company of Volvo, Lotus, and a few other brands that aren’t sold in the U.S. The Polestar 2 is the company’s first all-electric offering, and it went on sale in the U.S. earlier this year.
The Polestar name comes from a Swedish racing team that started customizing sporty trim levels on Volvo vehicles. It became part of Volvo in 2015. Geely spun off Polestar as a stand-alone all-electric brand in 2017. Its first car—the very limited-edition Polestar 1—was a handsome plug-in hybrid coupe with a six-figure price.
The brand shares engineering and design with Volvo but sells cars through its own dealer network. At the same time, Volvo also offers multiple hybrids and its own all-electric vehicle, the XC40 Recharge. Polestar versions of existing gas and hybrid Volvo vehicles are still sold at mainstream Volvo dealers (kind of like how you can get a high-performance AMG version of a Mercedes-Benz vehicle). Confused yet?
So far, there are only four Polestar retailers (Polestar calls them "spaces") in the U.S. They’re in Manhattan, Los Angeles, San Jose, and Marin. If you don’t live in the Bay Area, LA, or near New York City, you won’t be able to see a Polestar in person—but you can still order one online.
The Polestar 2 was designed in Sweden by Volvo engineers but built in China, where Geely is based. Polestars may be purchased online but can be serviced only by specific Volvo dealerships. The whole enterprise seems like an attempt to emulate the look and feel of Tesla—down to the unique sales model and over-the-air updates that add new features to existing vehicles—all while remaining under the well-funded wings of a major automaker. But how does this startup-that’s-not-a-startup stack up in the eyes of our testers? We purchased our own Polestar 2 to find out.
We’re currently in the process of adding break-in miles before we put it through our rigorous standardized tests. Our full report will be available soon.
At first glance, the Polestar 2’s controls look a lot like the controls in a modern Volvo. But different software makes for a totally different experience—and not a better one. The large touch screen has small fonts and icons, and puts different apps in different categories in a way that will surely lead to clutter. Despite its size, there is no split screen view, and it’s hard to switch between tasks. And the way selections are classified is confusing. Bluetooth audio setup is considered an app, for instance.
Physical controls are a problem, too. It’s easy to hit the gear selector or hazard button when trying to reach the bottom part of the touch screen, and the defroster and defogger buttons are hidden behind the gear selector. The physical volume knob is a nice touch, but it’s too easy to hit the touch screen’s “home” button when adjusting it. And the steering-wheel controls double up some features on a single rocker while wasting space on a left-arrow key. On a Volvo vehicle with the same controls, the left arrow toggles among adaptive cruise control modes. On the Polestar, the left arrow is usable only when the speed limiter function is enacted.
Even temperature and heated seat controls are hidden within menus on the touch screen, requiring drivers to take their eyes off the road to make changes. And even then, temperatures can be adjusted only in 2-degree increments. The center vents are aimed at the ceiling, leaving only the side vents to blow directly at passengers.