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Major technical change in mid-life gives Polestar’s breakthrough EV longer range and better performance

The Polestar 2, an EV crossover hatchback tested here in Long Range Single Motor guise and updated for the 2024 model year, is something of a symbol of the electric car’s remarkable potential for rapid development.

Most combustion-engined don’t change and improve as widely and rapidly in several generations as this one just has - and simply as part of a mid-life update at that. If you want an indicator of how quickly this Chinese-owned Swedish car brand, still considerably less than a decade old in its current form, is intent on closing in on the heart of the premium EV market, you need look no further.

Polestar's rate of growth is something to behold. It's on course to multiply global volume by a factor of 10 between 2021 and 2025. Much depends on the success of forthcoming new models, of course, but it's also not slow to make its existing ones better.

The Polestar 2 was the company’s second production model, appearing on UK roads in 2020. Introduced in dual-motor, long-range, upper-level derivative form, it was then fleshed out with a shorter-range version, and then a single-motor version and finally as the range-topping, limited-edition, performance-tuned Polestar 2 BST Edition 270.

And now, as part of a mid-life model update, some pretty bold technical changes have been made to the car. Some are predictable enough: a new nickel manganese cobalt battery pack adds usable battery capacity and electric range, and new motor technology improves both performance and efficiency.

But how many cars can you think of that switched from front- to rear-wheel drive midway though the course of their life? That’s precisely what our test car, the Polestar 2 Long Range Single Motor, has done, changing from a front- to a rear-mounted motor configuration - and, as we’ll detail shortly, gaining a great deal of claimed range and running efficiency as a result.

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The enlarged battery also plays its part in all of that, of course. But keep reading to find out exactly how much of an improvement they deliver in real-world driving, and what else this intriguing alternative EV has gained.

Polestar 2 review my2024 03 tracking rear

Range at a glance

Polestar's is a simple derivative line-up in which you choose between Standard Range and Long Range models, the latter also being available in Dual Motor four-wheel-drive form.

On all models, both Pilot and Plus package options are available, the former adding assisted driving technology, the latter more various items of optional equipment. And then, on Dual Motor models, Polestar's Performance package adds extra power, lowered suspension, manual adjustable Öhlins dampers, and uprated brakes.

VERSION POWER
POLESTAR 2 STANDARD RANGE SINGLE MOTOR 268bhp
POLESTAR 2 LONG RANGE SINGLE MOTOR* 295bhp
POLESTAR 2 LONG RANGE DUAL MOTOR 416bhp
POLESTAR 2 LONG RANGE DUAL MOTOR PERFORMANCE PACK 469bhp

*Version tested

 

DESIGN & STYLING

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Being part of the Volvo Group of brands, Polestar chose for this car Volvo's all-steel CMA model platform, which also underpins the Volvo XC40 and the Volvo C40 Recharge. The 2 is built in Taizhou, China, for all global markets alongside Asian-market examples of the XC40.

It was originally designed not as a Polestar but a Volvo, being based on Volvo-designer-turned-Polestar-CEO Thomas Ingenlath’s Volvo Concept 40.2. The story goes that only by seeing the car next to its Volvos opposite numbers on a motor show stand in 2016 did the figures who would go on to become Polestar’s key executives realise that they had inadvertently come up with the basis of an entirely new car company - one that would exclusively offer sustainably powered and produced, zero-emissions cars with alternative Scandinavian high-design appeal. They subsequently went to Volvo’s majority owner and financial backer, China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, with the vaguest of launch plans – and had their bluff well and truly called.

Polestar could perhaps haven been bolder with the mid-life styling changes. As it stands, they're at risk of underselling the technical overhaul that this car has been through, and the various leaps it has taken.

At just over 4.6 metres in length and just under 1.5 metres tall, the 2 sits somewhere between hatchback and compact saloon class norms for size. It offers a slightly raised ride height, seating position and vantage point – but it doesn’t have the bulky proportions or the extended roofline of a compact SUV.

In its pre-facelifted form, the car offered either 61kWh (Standard Range) or 75kWh (Long Range) of usable battery capacity, from a nickel-manganese-cobalt battery pack carried in an H-shape under both rows of seats and within what might otherwise have been its transmission tunnel. Those figures have now been extended to 67kWh and 79kWh respectively.

For drive, meanwhile, the car’s motor specification has been entirely rethought. The identical permanent magnet synchronous motors that featured on each axle of the original car have been discarded. A new motor of the same type, but developing more power and considerably more torque, moves into place on the 2’s rear axle as its primary power source. It develops 268bhp in the case of the Standard Range model, but 295bhp here, in the case of the Long Range Single Motor, and up to 361lb ft of torque in both cases, up quite a long way from 243lb ft.

The Dual Motor model now adds a second electric motor to the front axle - asynchronous this time - which can boost combined power output as far as the same 469bhp that was claimed for the previous model. But peak torque rises to 546lb ft (up from 502lb ft) - and, thanks to the new primary motor, is now delivered as part of a slightly rear-axle-biased torque split. Meanwhile, new silicon-carbide power inverters supply the current that both new motors crave.

There is a price to the car in terms of kerb weight, but not a large one. The front-drive Long Range Single Motor Polestar 2 we tested in 2022 troubled the scales to the tune of 2037kg; the rear-driven new one weighed 2078kg, with a 52% rearwards weight distribution compared with the old model’s 55% forwards one.

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Polestar’s design updates for the 2024-model-year car are noticeable if slight. The main one is to the car’s front grille, where a more closed-off 'smart zone’ panel replaces the previous version’s more open- and conventional-looking radiator grille. (This is where the car’s front-facing camera and mid-range radar transceiver are now carried.) Elsewhere, the Performance pack Twin Motor car gets new forged alloy wheels to bring it in line with the company’s outward design direction.

For option packs, buyers still have the Pilot (read, assisted driving tech), Plus and Performance packages to add to their cars, the last of those only available on Dual Motor models but still adding Öhlins manually adjustable dampers, lowered and firmed suspension springs and uprated brakes. Lesser models get all-independent suspension with frequency-selective twin-tube dampers as standard, and 19in wheels with Michelin Primacy tyres (20in rims with premium Continental rubber are optional, which our test car had).

 

INTERIOR

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You might not be sure whether you’re sitting in regular hatchback or a low-rised SUV once you’ve settled at the wheel of the Polestar 2. Most people will bend at the waist to berth the car from the kerb. If you’re tall, you won’t find particularly abundant head room in the front seats, less still in the rear (avoid the panoramic roof and head room is better), although leg room is more generous and rear cabin space as a whole is more than adequate for smaller adults and growing kids.

Boot space is a pretty generous 405 litres, with useful separate underfloor storage available in addition to that, and some useful retention features, too – not least a laterally running pop-up divider that’s clever and robust enough to stop a soft bag from surfing its way around the load bay as you drive. There is also a modest ‘frunk’ for the separate storage of charging cables, as you prefer, although still no remote release for the bonnet via the car’s key fob, which is a slightly annoying oversight.

The 2's pop-up bag holder in the boot is the same one you can get in so many Volvos. It's such a clever thing, at once keeping heavier items placed ahead of it from sliding around, and securing anything you wrap its elastic straps around behind. It's one of many reasons to buy a car with Polestar's optional Plus package, pricey as it is (£4000).

In the driver's seat, your legs stretch out quite flat and straight towards a pair of pedals aligned quite centrally with the seat (they don’t display quite as much right-sided offset as is typical of combustion-engined cars) and the driving position feels sportily recumbent. Visibility is quite good looking forwards and average to the sides and over the shoulder, but a little restricted through the rear-view mirror.

Polestar 2 review my2024 22 boot 0

At all times, the sense of being within a quite sparsely but tidily furnished cockpit made of expensive-feeling, inviting materials and interesting textures, where you feel instantly relaxed and well provided for, is clear. Our test car made very imaginative, judicious and effective use of both ambient backlighting and reflected light to add to the cabin’s sensory appeal, too.

Understated pieces of clever design – the tactile trapezoidal gear selector, the jewel-like ‘master’ volume knob for the audio system, the hidden Polestar logo reflected in the glass roof, and the second cupholder that appears from under the armrest – all add their own bit of surprise and delight to the experience.

Your main secondary interfaces with the car are its tablet-like 11.2in, portrait-oriented infotainment touchscreen (which works pretty simply and is presented clearly via an Android Automotive operating system, although it's also now got Apple CarPlay; which you can anchor your outstretched arm to easily; and which isn’t an uncomfortable stretch upwards to reach), its digital instrument screen (which displays information clearly and simply, too) and the two thumb consoles of controls on its steering wheel spokes.

The infotainment system comes with an effective natural speech recognition called Google Assistant and is fully networked via data connection for music and podcast streaming, for instance. All you need to do is say “Hey, Google: play the Autocar podcast” to listen.

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ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

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So how much difference does a 23% power hike, a 33% torque gain and a switch to rear-drive make to the single-motor Polestar’s measurable potential to accelerate, and its wider driving experience?

Where the front-drive car we figured in 2022 required fully 8.0sec to hit 60mph from rest, the new one needed just 5.9sec. Where the old car took almost 21sec to hit 100mph, the new one needed only 15.5sec, and 30-70mph – a 6.7sec wait formerly – drops to 5.0sec. Sizeable and appreciable performance gains, all.

Compared with its rivals, too, the Polestar 2 moves to a much more competitive position. The single-motor Hyundai Ioniq 6 we tested earlier this year was slower across the board - from standing to 60mph and from 30-70mph by more than a second each. The single-motor, long-range Nissan Ariya we tested in 2022 was slower still.

The 2 retains the moderate tuning, and the smooth and well-judged level of step-off responsiveness of the pre-facelift car. It feels quicker off the mark than it did, and now puts its power down very effectively at the rear wheels, but it doesn’t rabbit into motion at the first brush of the accelerator, and it balances easy drivability and grown-up sophistication with an energetic turn of speed very well.

This is an EV in which the details of the driving experience have clearly been paid special attention. You can turn its low-speed transmission ‘creep’ function on and off on the central infotainment display, and likewise adjust its default trailing-throttle energy regeneration preferences in the same place (by turning ‘One Pedal Drive’ either down or off).

Polestar prefers not to give you ‘shift' paddles by which you might manage battery regeneration more closely, which we miss a little - but even so, the 2’s is a pretty foolproof and intuitive kind of drivability.

You can make the car ‘sail’ on a trailing throttle when you want to conserve momentum, using what is an intuitive-feeling brake pedal to blend up battery regen when you do need to slow. Or you can adopt a keener driving style, worrying less about how much energy you’re using, and letting the car recover what it can automatically and effectively when you lift off the power. Brake energy regeneration efficiency may be a little adversely affected in outright terms by the movement of the drive motor from front to rear, but you certainly don’t feel any penalty.

Our test car rode on optional 20in alloy wheels and noise-cancelling Continental tyres, but even so, the Polestar 2 remains an only averagely quiet-riding car. Perhaps due to a marginally firmer-sprung rear axle, the 2024-model-year car recorded a slightly noisier cruise that the pre-facelift one managed, coming off second best on measurable cabin isolation to the likes of the Skoda Enyaq iV, Kia EV6 and Mercedes EQA. That’s perhaps a little disappointing for a car with a clear premium positioning, although the 2 still feels usefully calm and quiet-riding for its occupants in general terms.

RIDE & HANDLING

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We concluded that the pre-facelift, single-motor Polestar 2 was a car more ‘good to drive’ than ‘fun to drive’. It had a carefully rendered polish to its steering, handling and body control that made it feel well-finished, versatile and pleasant - but that didn’t really make it agile or engaging.

But now, Polestar has upped the dynamic ante. The revised car retains the sense of dynamic maturity and roundedness of its forebear, but - as a result of the impact of that rear-mounted drive motor, as well as a freer-acting stability control system which can now be reigned in far enough as to feel almost entirely deactivated - it’s a sizeable dose better-balanced and more entertaining.

Polestar offers three preset calibrations for steering feel, and the weightiest of them offers just enough tactile feedback to keep you interested.

It’d probably be accurate to talk of dynamic improvements here, rather than any great transformation. The Polestar 2 remains a two-tonne car, after all, with a higher centre of gravity than some similarly sized hatchbacks and saloons. It’s a two-tonne car that rolls a little before it really sticks to a line through a corner, and that doesn’t have the pure mechanical grip of a true performance car, or the front-end bite to its turn in.

But it’s also a two-tonne car that certainly communicates better than key rivals and feels more natural-handling. Once settled into longer corner, it also has the power-on handling poise that was denied its forebear.

Through a nicely weighted, moderately paced and gently feelsome steering rim, and a chassis that does begin to rotate underneath you under power, it now feels like it’s being pushed through bends rather than pulled. And the stability control system can either gently quell any signs of breached grip levels if you leave it active, or let you explore the potential of the chassis to nudge into a neutral cornering posture under power if you dial it into ESC Sport mode. For anything more exuberant than that, you’ll find the absence of a mechanical locking differential the limiting factor - but it’s not an absence that stops you enjoying what you’re doing.

Just like the pre-facelift 2, then, you can drive this car where you want, how you want, without ever feeling like you’re asking too much of it, running too fast for it, or making life hard for it in any way – and that still makes it more than a dynamic match for many electric cars. It has a pragmatic mixture of ride compliance and suppleness, and progressive vertical body control, allowing it to absorb more challenging surfaces without getting excited with head toss, or pitching around as firmer-set rivals can.

Generally, the 2 has enough dynamic finesse and versatility just to get on with it. It’s comfortable, capable, and ready for all kinds of modern motoring - but it’s taken notable strides when it comes to driver satisfaction.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

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The Polestar 2 Long Range Single Motor is the most efficient model in Polestar’s range. Buy one on standard 19in wheels and Michelin Primacy tyres and it’ll come with a WLTP combined lab-test range of 406 miles – a near-20% improvement on the same claim for the outgoing car.

Our efficiency testing told a slightly more complex story, but still a positive one. The car averaged 3.2mpkWh over a full week’s testing, taking in performance benchmarking, touring and city driving, itself, only a 6% improvement over the pre-facelift car.

But on our 70mph motorway touring efficiency test, the improvement was 26%. That’s partly because, as EV makers have learned, a car is always more efficient at a steady cruise when being driven on from the rear axle (where the majority of its mass is carried, with more of the drive torque being translated into forward motion) than it is if pulled from the front.

What that tells us is that, if you use the enhanced performance of the new 2’s more powerful motor, it may not go a lot farther between charges than its forebear, but cruise more moderately on a longer trip and you could put 269 miles between 100% battery charges, where the old car might only do 200 miles. A car on standard wheels and tyres ought to go slightly further still; likewise would out test car have at slower prevailing speeds or around town. Our testing experience suggests that 350-plus charge-to-charge usability is achievable in exclusively lower-speed use.

That, again, is notable progress, and it puts the Polestar 2 in a competitive position on real-world range compared with key rivals, though not quite a segment-leading one. According to our testing, a like-for-like Nissan Ariya and Hyundai Ioniq 6 both offer slightly longer legs - though not by much. We’ve yet to fully test the revised 2024 Tesla Model 3 Long Range RWD, but its WLTP combined electric range (394 miles) suggests broadly similar long-range usability.

Polestar has also enhanced the 2’s rapid charging capability. A 150kW peak draw becomes a maximum-rated 205kW. In our rapid charging testing, the car recorded a weighted average charging rate of 124kW – very respectable for the price, and faster than plenty of similarly priced alternatives (such as the Lexus RZ 450e and BMW iX1).

Prices for the 2024 car have risen by around 5% model for model, compared with the previous model year - a fairly modest hike in light of current prevailing rates of inflation. Our test car remained pricier than an equivalent Tesla Model 3, though cheaper than a like-for-like Hyundai Ioniq 5, Genesis GV60 or BMW i4 eDrive35, and its residual value forecasts are competitive.

VERDICT

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As Polestar clearly well understands, the market for £50,000 electric cars is a fast-moving one in which you have to keep running just to stand still. When the Polestar 2 came along in 2020, it became one of our higher-rated mid-sized EVs for the likeable simplicity and evident finesse of its driving experience, but it quickly got plenty of company.

Now, the car moves back to a deserved position much closer to the head of its field. In Long Range Single Motor form, it has demonstrated tangible and meaningful improvements to performance, cruising efficiency and electric range, rapid charging speed, and both handling balance and all-round driver appeal. It has retained its characteristically fresh and left-field design appeal inside and out, as well as a level of cabin and cargo practicality that bears comparison with all but the most spacious mid-sized rivals. It has retained plenty of premium-worthy desirability and material lustre, too.

That a reasonable 5% premium is being asked for all this, keeping the car competitive on value compared with key rivals, seals a very complete picture. To call this the car that the Polestar 2 ought to have been from the moment of its launch would be the ripest and most unreasonable reviewing cliché of them all; but there’s no denying how much progress it has made, and how much more clearly it now stands out from rivals in so many of the ways that Polestar would want it to.

For those with around £50,000 to spend on a premium-branded family EV that mixes a dose of handling appeal in with its all-round versatility, the Polestar 2 should continue to be an appealing choice, as much now for how it drives as how it looks, what it represents, or how easy it will be to use – and it deserves to be.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Polestar 2 First drives