When the invitation got here to drive the Polestar 2, the brand new luxurious electrical car from Volvo, I jumped on the probability. The drive could be about 120 miles roundtrip from the corporate’s new pop-up spot in Midtown Manhattan to Storm King, an unlimited sculpture backyard about an hour north of town alongside the Hudson River. What higher approach to shake off my COVID-19 cabin fever than carving up one of the crucial scenic drives in New York State in a model new electrical automobile?
However the Polestar 2 is not only any EV. It’s the primary electrical automobile — or actually the primary of any sort of automobile — to have a mind solely powered by Google. This native Android Automotive working system controls every part from the radio to heating and air-con to navigation. You may even use Google Assistant to activate the seat-heaters: “Hey Google, my butt is chilly.”
There was a minor hiccup inside the first couple of minutes behind the wheel: it turned out the automobile they gave me didn’t have a working web connection. They’d given me a lobotomized automobile. After attempting — and failing — to troubleshoot the issue by loading and reloading varied person profiles via the central touchscreen, and even rebooting the automobile’s battery, it nonetheless refused to attach. (Sure, we actually tried unplugging the automobile and plugging it again in.) It turned out the automobile didn’t have the newest connectivity software program, which the corporate thought it had pushed via an over-the-air replace that morning. A little bit embarrassing, however not an enormous deal. They gave me a brand new Polestar 2 once I obtained to Storm King. However for the primary leg of the journey, I’d be driving only a common electrical automobile with no fancy infotainment system.
However right here’s the bizarre factor: it was nonetheless actually nice to drive. The Polestar 2’s electrical motors are extremely succesful at delivering energy with subtly and ease. There’s nothing jerky concerning the acceleration, simply clean refinement. The automobile grips the highway and the steering feels exact. The central touchscreen is massive and straightforward to navigate, making a person expertise that felt intuitive however not distracting. The superior driver help system was no Tesla Autopilot, nevertheless it obtained the job completed. And the inside was minimalistic with out going overboard on the vanity like some electrical autos (cough-Tesla-cough).
After all, as soon as I used to be capable of change automobiles and get behind the wheel of a Polestar 2 with a working mind, the true enjoyable started.
Polestar isn’t a family identify, however Volvo is hoping to lend its subsidiary some credibility because it seeks to compete with Tesla. But when it actually hopes to tackle the Mannequin 3 — aka, the best-selling electrical automobile in America — it might want to do some severe catching up. That begins now, as the primary fashions arrive within the US by way of boat from Polestar’s manufacturing facility in China.
The corporate was spun out of Volvo in 2016 as its efficiency sub-brand, however has since recast itself as an EV-only marque. Polestar is collectively owned by Volvo and the automaker’s Chinese language mother or father firm, Geely. It’s actually an automaker with twin citizenship, with a headquarters based mostly in Gothenburg and an meeting line in Chengdu.
What concerning the Polestar 2’s predecessor? The primary Polestar was very enticing, very unique, and really costly. The hybrid coupe, which got here out in 2017, had 600 horsepower generated by a four-cylinder engine on the entrance axle and two electrical motors on the rear axle. It price $155,000 and Polestar is barely making 1,500 of them worldwide, with 150 for North America.
Polestar expects to introduce its subsequent automobile late subsequent yr, the Polestar Three compact SUV, constructed on Volvo’s new SPA2 all-electric platform. That can permit a shift in design aesthetic towards one thing extra leading edge, hinted at in Polestar’s Principle idea automobile.
However the Polestar 2 is the primary electrical automobile from the Volvo Automotive Group and a glimpse into the Swedish automobile firm’s method to battery-powered propulsion. The specs of the Polestar 2 are well-reported at this level — we’ve been writing concerning the car because it was introduced in early 2019 — however simply in case, right here’s a fast refresher:
- 78kWh battery pack
- 291 miles (470 kilometers) of vary
- 408 horsepower
- zero to 60 mph in below 5 seconds
- begins at $59,900 (although Polestar has mentioned it desires to finally promote a $40,000 model)
Among the finest issues concerning the Polestar 2 is that it isn’t an SUV. It could be based mostly on the Volvo XC40 platform, however not like the Audi E-tron or the Mercedes EQC, the Polestar is basically a hatchback disguised as a sedan. Technically, with its sloping roof strains, it’s a fastback with an extremely spacious trunk. However the truth that Volvo went with a car that wasn’t a pickup truck or SUV as its first battery-electric automobile is encouraging. Even radical.
The Polestar 2 might look massive and slab-like in photos, however in actual life, it’s really fairly compact. Lengthwise, it’s shorter than each a BMW 3-series and a Mercedes S-Class. Nonetheless, it has a hefty outward look, which earns it extra seems than you’ll count on. I even obtained catcalled by a New York Metropolis building employee.
The lighting scheme may be very cool. You’ve obtained the “Thor’s hammer” entrance headlights which are widespread throughout Volvo’s lineup. Within the rear, the full-width wraparound LED lights are harking back to KITT from Knight Rider. However the feeling is futuristic quite than nostalgic — which might be what Polestar is aiming for.
That vibe is totally realized within the Polestar 2’s inside, which is comfortably sparse and 100 % vegan, that means there aren’t any animal merchandise included. The automobile is outfitted with vegan textiles, although a ventilated Nappa leather-based possibility can also be out there. Past that, you possibly can add a efficiency package deal, metallic paint, and 20-inch rims, and that’s about as a lot configuration tinkering as Polestar will permit.
A lot of the cool stuff about this automobile comes as customary on the launch mannequin, together with the bezel-less rearview mirrors, the panoramic sunroof, the touch-activated lights for folks sitting within the again, and, in fact, the glories of Android Automotive.
We obtained to expertise Android Automotive at Google’s I/O developer convention in 2019 and got here away completely impressed. However that was a prototype model of the working system in a prototype model of the Polestar 2. Taking a manufacturing model for a literal drive could be the last word check of the automobile’s capabilities.
The Polestar 2 has a key — a chunky trying fob that happily is straight away made irrelevant as a result of this can be a automobile that may be turned on utilizing solely your telephone. As soon as seated, you solely want to shut the door, press the brake pedal, and click on the gear shift to the specified course as a way to drive.
However first, the trip itself. As I discussed, the day Polestar invited me out occurred to be the day Tropical Storm Isaias slammed into the east coast, soaking the area with rain and excessive winds. The primary leg of the journey was overcast however calm. It was solely after switching automobiles at Storm King that issues obtained positively apocalyptic.
There’s something very unusual about driving a automobile meant to evoke a chilly futurism in essentially the most elemental of situations. Rain lashed the roof as I dodged downed tree branches and blinding spray from passing 18-wheelers. At one level I slammed on the brakes as a drenched deer leapt throughout the highway. The windshield wipers had been beating so quick I assumed they may fly off.
It’s actually when the climate calls for your full consideration that having a purposeful and correct voice-command system turns out to be useful. And Google Assistant, which is constructed into the Polestar 2, is about pretty much as good because it will get.
“Hey Google, play a podcast.”
Since I hadn’t plugged in my Google account, the automobile didn’t have any of my knowledge or preferences. As such, it reached for what I suppose was a preferred response: The Joe Rogan Expertise. Not my bag.
“Hey Google, play The Ramones.”
“Blitzkrieg Bop” kicked in and I stomped on the not-a-gas pedal. The automobile jumped ahead with acceleration that might be acquainted to anybody who’s pushed an EV earlier than. However the pleasure was extraordinarily short-lived as a result of everybody was driving cautiously. I prudently let up on the pedal, and the automobile routinely decelerated with out my ever touching the brake.
This was Polestar’s “one pedal driving.” Press the pedal to speed up or cruise; launch the pedal to brake. When the pedal is launched, the regenerative braking kicks in, supplying some energy again into the battery. The extent of regenerative braking, in addition to the burden and really feel of the one-pedal system, might be adjusted within the car settings.
Fingers down the very best factor about Android Automotive was the extent of voice recognition. Voice instructions in most autos are abysmal, largely as a result of automobile firms lack the datasets and cloud computing capabilities that tech giants like Amazon and Google use to good the language understanding parts of machine studying.
Lately, main automakers like Mercedes-Benz and BMW have launched extremely purposeful voice assistants with deep management over the car’s capabilities. However automobile homeowners largely want acquainted voice assistants, like those they use of their houses or on their smartphones, over these designed particularly by automakers.
It may be a slippery slope. Automotive firms need to maintain massive tech firms at arm’s size to stop them from tapping into the profitable buyer datastreams flowing out and in from their autos. However Volvo figures by letting Google below the hood, it might probably most likely promote extra automobiles. Beginning subsequent yr, the Swedish firm will begin including Android Automotive to the remainder of its lineup, and encourage builders to construct customized apps.
I’m not an Android person, by no means owned an Android telephone, and as such I’m not overly accustomed to Google Assistant. However I discovered that having the digital assistant at my beck-and-call whereas driving the Polestar 2 to be extremely helpful for navigation, tinkering with the HVAC, and music choice. I may scale back the quantity, activate the seat heaters, and inquire concerning the battery ranges — all with out lifting a finger. The microphone placement have to be wonderful as a result of Google Assistant by no means misunderstood me or garbled my phrases as soon as.
Sturdy voice recognition is greater than only a novelty, although. It may be a key aspect in decreasing driver distraction. With the ability to toggle between the instructions, temperature, and Spotify whereas holding my eyes on a highway made me a greater driver and decreased the probability that I’d swerve or let my consideration wander. Smartphones and digital infotainment programs that invite numerous scrolling or tapping are apparent distractions, and tech firms have to give you higher methods to mitigate that downside.
Polestar’s native Android working system isn’t omniscient. It could actually’t regulate the bass or treble. And it has horrible style in jokes.
“How do you make a tissue dance,” Google Assistant mentioned after I requested it to make me giggle. “Put just a little boogie in it.”
Groan. Fortuitously, the expertise of driving the Polestar 2 greater than made up for its corny voice assistant. I discovered it to be probably the greatest EVs I’ve ever pushed.
Polestar has mentioned it doesn’t need to outsell the Tesla Mannequin 3. That’s too dangerous, as a result of the Polestar 2 is a greater automobile than the Mannequin 3. It’s quick, it holds the highway, and it feels effectively constructed with sufficient expertise to impress with out overwhelming.
I used to be left questioning… “Hey Google, when can I drive this automobile once more?”