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Is this new large SUV just a rebadged Volvo or, as is claimed, the keen driver’s choice?

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Polestar’s naming scheme is very literal: the Polestar 3 is the third model since the brand was spun off from Volvo as a stand-alone car maker.

Of course, that doesn’t tell you much about its positioning, and it’s getting even more complicated, because the Polestar 4, Polestar 5 and Polestar 6 have already been revealed. So here’s a refresher: the 3 is a large SUV (electric, obviously) aimed at the Audi Q8 E-tron, BMW iX and Mercedes-Benz EQE SUV. The 4 is a smaller, swoopier SUV, the 5 is a Porsche Taycan-rivalling fastback and the 6 is a roadster (yes, all EVs).

The 3 allegedly distinguishes itself as the sporty one

So Polestar is quickly going from a one-car offering to a big line-up. Today, it’s the 3 we’re interested in, because we’ve had an early drive of a prototype. It will be the first to arrive, in the second quarter of 2024, and is the first to be designed from the start as a Polestar (the Polestar 1 coupé and Polestar 2 hatchback were originally intended to be Volvos).

That doesn’t mean Polestar has severed ties with Volvo – far from it. The Geely-owned Swedish brands are actually becoming more integrated and the 3 is effectively a sibling car of the Volvo EX90, the Swedish car maker’s upcoming large, three-row SUV.

Same all-new SPA platform, same mammoth 111kWh battery pack, same 2985mm wheelbase, same 250kW maximum charging speed, same dual motors (in some versions). Deep breath. Same steering wheel, same column stalks, same big infotainment touchscreen. The list goes on. The interior design in general feels quite Volvo-y and the centre console looks pretty similar to the EX90’s as well.

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What’s the point, then? Just choose the Volvo, surely? Or the BMW or Mercedes, two cars that we’ve tried and found excellently relaxing. Not so fast, says Polestar, because its car is the keen driver’s choice. Yes, of these nearly five-metre-long, 2.5-tonne electric SUVs, the 3 allegedly distinguishes itself as the sporty one.

You had better believe it, because on the basis of this early taster, it actually seems to make sense.

Caveat time first: Polestar flew me out to Volvo’s proving ground near Gothenburg to have a chat with the engineers and designers and then take a late-stage prototype for a passenger ride around the more perilous areas. Finally, I was trusted behind the wheel for a few laps of the handling track. A star rating will have to wait, though, because there wasn’t enough time to get to grips with the multimedia system (which wasn’t quite ready yet) or the assisted driving features.


polestar 3 prototype 2023 13 interior

With that out of the way, I can say the 3 is very promising indeed. You see, hiding amid all those shared parts is plenty of bespoke stuff.

First is the touchscreen. Yes, this is fundamentally the same system as on the Volvo EX30 (the one that nearly drove our Matt Prior to violence a few weeks ago) and doesn’t come with many more physical controls. However, Polestar does have the latitude to tweak many of its aspects. Instead of lists of options, it uses big, obvious tiles, and the menus aren’t too deep. Using the screen to set the mirrors and steering wheel is still stupid, though. Again, more real-world testing is needed.

The Polestar 3 mostly gets away with its minimalist interior design. However, while being thrown around the handling course by Polestar's engineer, I did wish for some grab handles.

The 3 is only a five-seater, so the rear seats can be moved much further back than in the EX90, creating a barely believable amount of leg room.

Up front, the materials are mostly pleasing and different, although the big expanse of gloss black plastic on the centre console feels slightly out of place.


polestar 3 prototype 2023 12 wheel

Unsurprisingly, the Polestar 3 is very quick and very smooth. Even though the Performance Pack adds only 27bhp, it does feel appreciably faster but I'm not sure it really adds much value. The standard car is more than quick enough and the Performance Pack never reaches ludicrous Tesla Plaid levels, so we're talking nuances here.

You can choose between three regen modes. On the lowest setting, the car coasts when you release the accelerator, on the highest setting, you get one-pedal driving, and the middle one is nicely in between. There is something for everyone, but it would have been nice to have paddles to control the regen on the fly. The brake pedal feels progressive enough.

The regen feels well judged, but some steering wheel paddles would have been welcome.


polestar 3 prototype 2023 09 wheel

Where the 3 really distinguishes itself from its rivals is in its chassis tuning, which is perhaps surprising when you look at the mechanical make-up. It rides on dual-chamber air suspension, but it lacks the four-wheel steering of some iX and EQE SUV variants or the third motor of the Audi SQ8 E-tron. What it has instead is a torque-vectoring device on the rear axle that largely does the same job but in a more transparent way, with less mechanical complexity.

Taking the place of the differential, it uses two clutch packs to send anything between 0% and 100% of the motor’s power to either rear wheel. It can also completely disconnect the motor from the wheels under light loads to boost efficiency. That isn’t possible with dual rear motors.

I was impressed with the handling and tactile steering on a closed track, but it could be a different story threading this 2.1m-wide SUV down a narrow, hedge-lined UK B-road.

The 3 doesn’t have the ultra-tight turning circle of its rear-steering rivals, of course. Visibility is decent, though, and it has a slightly longer bonnet than some, which makes it easier to place.

Pick up some speed and the 3 really defies its 2.6 tonnes. The steering responds unbelievably quickly but not in a way that catches you out or feels out of kilter with the rest of the responses. The rack isn’t especially high-geared; the outside rear wheel is simply giving you a gentle push around the corner. The steering also weights up to give you massive confidence – the confidence to chase the throttle and tease the back out.

Strangely, a car fitted with the Performance Pack (which raises power from 483bhp to 510bhp and torque from 620lb ft to 671lb ft, at the cost of 19 miles of range and £5600) felt slightly less alive, and the stiffer suspension setting didn’t add much.

This massive electric SUV is genuinely good fun to drive. It’s strange but true. But that quality would be futile if it completely sacrificed comfort. In truth, it’s not as refined as some of its rivals. Rough surfaces (the Hällered proving ground has a section of replica Californian freeway and a bit of Welsh B-road) do cause a bit more patter than some of the German magic carpets, and there seemed to be more road and wind noise (although it was a very windy day). But still, this is nothing other than a very refined, comfortable car, so the trade-off could be worth it.

To seal the deal, Polestar also demonstrated the 3’s off-road mode, which raises the air suspension by 60mm. So configured and still on model-specific Pirelli P Zero tyres, it scaled a slippery 60% slope and navigated some deep ditches. Ineos Grenadier drivers won’t be impressed, but luxury SUV buyers surely will be.


polestar 3 prototype 2023 20 off road static

Despite UK deliveries still being months away, Polestar has already stated prices and the configurator is live online. The 3 starts at £79,900 or £85,500 with the Performance Pack. That’s much less than the comparable SQ8 E-tron (£98k), iX xDrive50 (£103k) and EQE 500 SUV (£109k), and its finance costs, range, efficiency and rapid-charging figures look competitive as well.

I’m impressed with the 3. It offers a different take on the luxury electric SUV, one that puts the driver first. Whether that still stacks up when you try to thread this 2.1m-wide behemoth down a narrow, hedge-lined B-road remains to be seen, and it isn’t yet clear what the control interface and active safety systems will be like to live with. Those have proved the undoing of quite a few cars recently. But on home ground, at least, it’s looking like a win.

Illya Verpraet

Illya Verpraet Road Tester Autocar
Title: Road Tester

As part of Autocar’s road test team, Illya drives everything from superminis to supercars, and writes reviews, comparison tests, as well as the odd feature and news story. 

Much of his time is spent wrangling the data logger and wielding the tape measure to gather the data for Autocar’s eight-page road tests, which are the most rigorous in the business thanks to independent performance, fuel consumption and noise figures.