Uberin’ With a Polestar 2: Polestar 2 Review

Electric vehicles are the future, RSG reader. Come to think of it, in certain areas where it makes sense to buy an EV, they’re the present as well. There are now about 20 different EV manufacturers with products available in the US market, including some you may not have heard of. Resident RSG EV guru Gabe Ets-Hokin got some time behind the wheel of a Polestar 2 and of course, subjected it to a weekend of Uber rides—read on.

“So what the [EXPLETIVE DELETED] is a Polestar?”

Photo: Polestar

That’s what the big drunk guy was asking as he was mushed into the center seat between his two friends. I had just picked up three passengers near 8th and Broadway in downtown Oakland and was anticipating a quick trip to a hip Uptown club, not an in-depth discussion on global automotive branding strategies, but that’s what we got.

I tried to give him the quick answer—Polestar is Volvo’s new EV brand—but then he kind of threw me for a loop; “Isn’t Volvo selling EVs anyway?” He kinda had a point, so I said, “what do you want me to do, call Polestar’s brand manager at 9:45 on a Saturday night and ask him?

“Sure!” was the reply from the back seat, accompanied by pregame-fueled laughter.

“Fine!” I said, as I used the car’s Bluetooth to call JP Canton, Polestar’s American Head of Communications and Public Relations (whom I’ve known for many years). Miraculously, he picked up on the third ring, and as I explained the situation to him, the passengers started to realize that this was happening. 

Polestar PR rep JP Canton showing off the 2 in August 2020

Quick summary:

  • Now is this time to look into getting an electric vehicle for rideshare!
  • The Polestar 2 is a good vehicle, but it may be best for part-time drivers vs. full-time rideshare drivers
  • Passenger experience is great, but not perfect

Do you use an EV to drive for rideshare or delivery? Join our Facebook Group for EV gig drivers for discussions about the current state and future of EVs.

What is the Polestar 2?

JP told them what he told me at the press launch for the car a couple of years ago: Polestar, which grew from Volvo’s racing division (because racing Volvos is a thing), is intended as a hipper, sleeker, more forward-thinking option for folks who love minimalist Scandinavian design without the dowdy image Volvo has been trying to rid itself of for many years. Fully informed, the passengers sheepishly slunk out at their destination. And yes, I got a three-dollar tip, but don’t tell JP because he’ll probably want a cut for disturbing his dinner party.

Like the name says, the 2 is Polestar’s second model, and its first all-electric one. If you think it’s aimed squarely at the Tesla Model 3, I’d have to agree with you.

The Polestar 2 is priced about the same and has a similar range and features. The base model is front-wheel drive, with a 231-horsepower (and 243 lb-ft of torque) motor sucking juice from a 78 kWh battery pack.

Spend another $4,000, and you get the dual-motor job with 408 hp and 487 lb.-ft. of torque, which will be the best $4,000 you ever spent. Some people spend that on a mattress.

As far as the styling, the 2 is a nice-looking car, if you like things like teak coffee tables and Uma Thurman. It’s high-waisted, with small-ish windows and bold, yet somehow subtle shapes and curves. And hey, look: door handles! Was that so hard?

The interior is comfy, if not spacious with about 34 inches of legroom for passengers, but there’s a (pretty small) front trunk, lots of trunk space, and an optional glass moonroof that makes the cabin seem bigger than it is.

Photo: Polestar

The mechanicals are up-to-date for an EV. You can order it in two basic configurations: front-wheel drive with 231 horses and 243 lb.-ft of torque, or all-wheel drive with 408 hp and 487 lb-ft. of torque.

There’s just one battery pack available, which is called “long-range” even though a “short-range” isn’t available, which is kind of like Starbucks’ saying “Grande” instead of small. It’s 78 kWh, which is a lot, but the slabby design and bulky bulk of the 2 reduce its efficiency; despite the pack being a similar size as Tesla’s Model 3 Long Range and Model Y, the EPA-rated range is just 265 miles for the FWD, 249 for the AWD.

But at least it has some leading-edge tech when it comes to charging—the 400-volt system can be DC fast-charged from 10 to 80 percent capacity in 33 minutes, which various YouTubers have (roughly) confirmed in their independent testing.

Photo: Polestar

What’s it like to Drive?

The short answer is: it’s really a nice car to drive. If you’ve driven a Volvo in the last 20 years, you know they’re solid, dependable cars with a good reputation for safety and enough handling and performance so you don’t mistake it for a Camry. Polestar keeps the solid and dependable part and adds driver fun and engagement.

I was driving the all-wheel-drive version, and I drove the AWD Performance at the car’s press launch a couple of years ago, so I’m getting the best possible experience from a Polestar 2; I can’t speak to what the FWD model is like.

The Performance was motorcycle-fast and handled like a 408-hp European performance sedan with expensive Brembo brakes and Öhlins suspension because it was one. It ripped out of corners, made uphill blind-corner passes with ease, and went way, way, way beyond any legal speed limit in North America without feeling out of sorts.

The AWD is about 90 percent of that car. Take a high-speed corner at any speed you want and the car handles it with grace, though the suspension isn’t as controlled as the Performance, so you get a little bit of squeamishness at the apex and on the brakes.

Acceleration is beyond adequate (Car and Driver tested it at 4.1 seconds 0-60mph), the car’s anonymous exterior and silent presence making it the ultimate sleeper car. The motor’s tune can’t be adjusted, requiring some effort to keep the ride smooth for your more delicate passengers and avoid those passive-aggressive “a passenger reported you were driving too fast” emails from Uber or Lyft.

Photo: Author

It’s good on twisty roads through the fjords or whatever, but how is it schlepping our precious passengers to and fro for $3.75 a pop? It’s a good city car, as it turns out.

The turning radius is a reasonable 18.85 feet, and the brakes and steering are a great balance of responsive, strong, and smooth, so driving in tight spaces is manageable.

Parking is simplified with the 360-degree camera system, and the suite of safety features, like lane-keeping assistance, pedestrian warning, and automatic braking will do a pretty good job of keeping you out of trouble.

Unfortunately, not all the features are standard, requiring dropping another $3,400-$7,600 to get everything a Tesla buyer gets at no added charge.

Are you already driving an EV for rideshare? Join our Facebook Group for EV gig drivers for discussions about the current state and future of EVs.

Real-Life Range and Charging

It’s not the longest-range EV by a long shot, but it is useable for rideshare work. The AWD I drove can do an honest 190 miles of highway and city driving at a 90-percent charge (Polestar, like most EV manufacturers, recommends a 90-percent or less charge to maximize battery life). If you suffer real winters, a heat pump is now an optional extra, which should help boost range in colder conditions. Since I usually drive about 15 miles each hour I work, it’s easily enough for a full day’s work in the saddle for me, at least.

If it isn’t for you, most densely populated parts of the country (where you can actually earn enough money to afford driving a $60,000 car) have plenty of DC fast chargers.

My experience was using Electrify America’s ridiculous app wasn’t very convenient, and using my credit card directly (even though I had a $40 credit on my EA account, which I couldn’t use even after 10 minutes standing in a hot Target parking lot talking to tech support) was more expensive than paying through an EA account.

Arrg! This is something a Tesla owner can’t imagine, much less ever experience. Why would they decline my EA account payment and my paid-in-full-each-month Visa card but then accept my AMEX card (which charges merchants a higher fee)?  EA’s very friendly customer support people said they would mail me a check for my balance. I’m still waiting.

But at least I could charge it, and the charge speed was about the same as Tesla’s. I added a good 150 miles in 30 minutes, and if after driving 180 (or more with the FWD) miles working you need more than another 150 miles to finish your shift and get home you either live in Mongolia or have a very long commute to get to your hunting grounds.

I think for most of us, the Polestar’s range, combined with very fast charging speeds, is just fine.

Concerned about the range of electric vehicles and not sure if they’re right for you? Check out our article: Should Range Anxiety Keep You From Buying an EV?

How’s the Tech?

Polestar was the first manufacturer to use the Google Android Automotive operating system in a car. Don’t confuse it with the Android Auto that allows you to run some phone apps through your car’s infotainment system—this new setup from Google controls the entire car, including infotainment, navigation and the car’s HVAC, lighting, charging and other systems. How is it to live with?

Well, it looks nice, but it needs work. The interface design fits in with Polestar’s modern ethos, and it’s easy to figure out, but it was buggy, kicking my phone off at times and crashing unexpectedly once or twice.

I was also disappointed by the scarcity of apps, especially if you’re an iPhone person. But unlike a traditional system, Android Auto can be updated and upgraded, and we should be seeing a lot more apps as the system is used in more cars.

Photo: Author, 2020

Despite AA’s shortcomings, the tech was just fine in the Polestar. I really liked how the navigation instructions were mirrored onto the driver’s display, all the information options you could customize for the display, and the smooth response and speed of the main display.

Polestar, like Tesla, pushes over-the-air updates to its cars, so it will keep improving and adding features; for instance, an update in December gave owners the option of adding 67 horsepower to the dual-motor variant. Let’s see your iPhone do that.

What Makes it Good for Rideshare?

The Polestar 2 is based on a modular (that means it’s designed to work in a range of vehicles, including traditional internal-combustion ones, which keeps production costs down) platform developed by Volvo and its Chinese parent Geely.

What that means to a rideshare driver is unlike other EVs, it makes some design compromises to adapt to a platform intended mainly for petroleum-burning motors like the transmission hump, the batteries are arranged in stacks, not a low-hanging “skateboard,” which affects the seat design, and the motors and ancillaries take up a lot of what would be useful front-trunk space.

So, ideal for rideshare? Not really, but what car is perfect?

Photo: Author

Still, the passenger’s experience is great, if not perfect. For short trips you will get a lot more “wows!” than complaints, as the doors and windows are easy and self-explanatory to operate, the soft vegan upholstery and other surfaces are nice to touch and the car has cool touches everywhere that elicit lots of questions and compliments.

However, the car is cramped compared to other luxury sedans, with just 34 inches of legroom (most Uber Comfort-eligible cars have more like 36) and a big transmission hump in the middle cramping the middle-passengers style (and ankles).

Passengers also noted the high window sills and small windows—one even said they felt claustrophobic, though at over six feet tall (closer to seven with roller skates, which they wore in the car, because Oakland) they probably feel squished in most back seats.

Photo: Author

Should You Get One?: Polestar 2 Review

The Polestar 2 is a really good car. It shows off what the tentacles of global capital can do when they bring the best engineers, designers, and planners together and build them a brand-new factory with a seemingly unlimited budget to bring a stunningly high-tech product to market. But is it a good value?

Even as a car for a well-heeled family looking to save some money on fuel and reduce their carbon footprint, there are better values. The car I drove, as equipped with pretty much everything except the Performance package, is just over $60,000 before destination, tax, and title.

Even with the $7,500 tax credit, it’s still not as good a value as the $48,000 Tesla Model 3 rear-wheel drive. It’s more fun to drive, but it’s less efficient, has to use a lesser charging network, and only serves up about 210 miles of usable range to the Model 3’s 250.

You could opt for the front-wheel-drive base model, and that might be the way to go. At the same price as the Model 3 (way less with the tax credit), it should go about 250 miles on a charge, and keep the fun-to-drive character (if not acceleration) of the dual-motor model, maybe even more since it’s so much lighter.

On the other hand, it won’t have all the nice touches that I enjoyed in my friend T-Rex’s car (who so generously loaned it to me) like the nice upholstery, the range-extending (in cold weather) heat pump, the upgraded sound, the beautiful moonroof with the “Polestar” logo projected on it at night.

And if you shell out the extra $7,600 to get that stuff, why wouldn’t you spend an extra $4,500 for the all-wheel-drive? Now it’s $60,000.

Photo: Polestar

Still, the Polestar can charge quickly at a variety of charging stations, has distinctive and tasteful styling in a world that’s quickly becoming overrun with Musk’s machinery, and did I mention how nice it is to drive?

If you’re a part-time driver who wants a nice car to make some extra weekend cash, the Polestar is as nice a place to work from. But if you want to maximize the savings of an EV, it wouldn’t be my first choice.

What do you think? Would a car like the Polestar 2 work for you? Tell us in the comments below or join our Uber & Lyft EV Drivers group on Facebook.

-Gabe @ RSG