Having applauded Volvo’s sustainable transport offshoot, Polestar, for adopting a different take on a new marque launch, Iain Robertson is heartily concerned that, despite plaudits from ‘everywhere’, it is just a smoke-and-mirrors exercise.
Possessing the customary ‘blank’ visage of most EVs, albeit with some devious Volvo twists in the details, the new Polestar 2 is an electrified S60, with knobs on, set to rival the current Tesla Model 3, despite carrying a £4,000 price premium (it starts from the best part of £50k; Tesla is £46k). While the company CEO also happens to be Volvo’s head of design, you can be sure that his fingers left an imprint on Polestar’s design stance.
Actually, I have known Krefeld-born Thomas Ingenlath for much of the New Millennium, having met him during his earlier days at Skoda, in Mlada Boleslav, in the early-noughties. Prior to departing a starring role within the VW Group in 2012, to join Volvo, he had been responsible for shaping the Superb, Fabia and Roomster models. Somewhere in my extensive archive, I have several Skoda artist’s renderings that he created, gave me and, of which, I am exceptionally proud.
The fact that he can hold down two pivotal roles within the Chinese state-owned Geely group that also owns Volvo, Lotus and London Taxis, suggests that either he is incredible at multi-tasking, or that Polestar is not quite big enough to warrant a standalone boss. With its intriguing ‘star-ray’ corporate logo and (it says) innovative Polestar ‘spaces’, rather than conventional showrooms, of which there are comfortably less than a handful worldwide at present, Polestar is feeling its way cautiously into the new car scene but accompanied by copious marketing twaddle, because that department can never leave convention alone!
Essentially, we have all seen Scandinavian design minimalism before. I am not questioning the quality of it, which is usually exceptional, nor the tactility, which is equally impressive and a treat to the eyes. However, there is truly nothing new in bold colours, sleek design and the application of natural textures, whether describing lounge furniture, clothing, or motorcars. Polestar ‘spaces’ are still occupied by sales-orientated salary-earners, keen to get you into one of their products, by hook or by crook.
To be fair, apart from the £139,000 Polestar 1, which was a limited production, petrol-electric hybrid in the mould of an S90 that has not exactly set the lichen alight, it is Polestar 2 that lives up to the EV remit behind the company’s incorporation and is, thus, the first full EV produced by it, the ‘spaces’ have been undeniably vacuous. City centre locations, apart from their high rateable value, which will make them quite difficult to obtain in the first place, may seem like a ‘different’ approach but it is not the case. If anything, motor dealers have been desperate to get the hell out of prestigious addresses to install themselves in the industrial outskirts of most towns and cities, because it is more cost-effective.
Despite intentions of creating an all-new, standalone brand, the design connection with Volvo is incredibly hard to disguise. To a certain extent, being able to lean on its bigger brother for introductory purposes is not a smart move but is an essential one, especially when you consider Volvo’s upward spiralling reputation, which is being backed up by an unceasing demand for its model range.
Sadly, Polestar 2 is not so far removed from Volvo S60 that it makes much difference at all. Even on the pricing front, it is possible to acquire a new ‘Polestar engineered’ S60 for about the same price as a Polestar 2, which makes it something of a bargain in the EV arena, where price parity with fossil-fuelled relatives is but a distant improbability. However, the S60 line-up does commence at a whisker below £40k, which means that Polestar 2 is actually 25% costlier and, to be frank, I do not perceive that extra value in the package.
Even within its cabin, the minimalist approach is as heavily Volvo orientated as the cockpit of the latest London Black Cab. A large, vertical touchscreen in the centre-stack that is a mirror image of that in most other modern Volvos is matched by a digital instrument display ahead of the driver and the customary knurled rollers and switchgear already employed by other Volvo cars most successfully. Polestar is Volvo and not a revolutionary new brand.
When you appreciate the array of awards that Polestar 2 has already received, before most of its potential customers even collect their ignition keys, you begin to appreciate the phoney nature of awards ceremonies, usually by magazines, usually in pursuit of advertising revenue, it is that crass. Of course, the wordsmiths within Vol…sorry, Polestar’s portals in Chengdu, have enjoyed a field day, with a liberal Thesaurus approach to their descriptive talents that might make you believe you were acquiring a fully automated sex toy, rather than an electrified mode of transport. Whatever floats your boat, Sven.
Powered by a matched pair of 150W electric motors, one on the front axle, the other driving the rear, the Polestar 2 despatches 0-60mph in 4.7s, running out of (ahem) steam at a restricted 127mph, which is emphatically NOT a ‘new realm of performance motoring’, because a turbo-petrol S60 will more than give it a run for its ackers, while a Tesla 3 leaves it literally in its tyre dust. In reality, I feel disappointed by Polestar. It is of far higher quality than a Model 3 but it is not a better car.
As far as the rest of the Polestar package is concerned, yes, it is quiet on the move, as expected of an EV; yes, it can be recharged wherever you stop (as long as you have the time to do so and an available roadside charger); yes, it can be recharged at home, like every EV. However, its weight distribution is all but identical to every other EV, which means that you can feel it on the move, even though its handling is judiciously and electronically well-managed.
Conclusion: The Polestar is a Chinese EV; from the country that delivers sledgehammer blows worldwide. It is not a wondrously unique EV. It is another automotive smoke and mirrors gig, that really needs to try harder.