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 can be about 120 miles roundtrip from the corporate’s new pop-up spot in Midtown Manhattan to Storm King, an enormous sculpture backyard about an hour north of town alongside the Hudson River. What higher method to shake off my COVID-19 cabin fever than carving up one of the vital scenic drives in New York State in a model new electrical automobile?
However the Polestar 2 isn’t just any EV. It’s the primary electrical automobile — or actually the primary of any type of automobile — to have a mind solely powered by Google. This native Android Automotive working system controls every thing 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 making an attempt — 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 after 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 in regards to the acceleration, simply easy refinement. The automobile grips the highway and the steering feels exact. The central touchscreen is giant and simple 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 accomplished. And the inside was minimalistic with out going overboard on the self-esteem like some electrical automobiles (cough-Tesla-cough).
In fact, as soon as I used to be capable of change vehicles and get behind the wheel of a Polestar 2 with a working mind, the true enjoyable started.
Polestar shouldn’t be a family title, 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 critical catching up. That begins now, as the primary fashions arrive within the US through 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 father or mother firm, Geely. It’s really an automaker with twin citizenship, with a headquarters primarily based in Gothenburg and an meeting line in Chengdu.
What in regards to the Polestar 2’s predecessor? The primary Polestar was very engaging, 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 value $155,000 and Polestar is just making 1,500 of them worldwide, with 150 for North America.
Polestar expects to introduce its subsequent automobile late subsequent 12 months, the Polestar Three compact SUV, constructed on Volvo’s new SPA2 all-electric platform. That can enable 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 Automobile Group and a glimpse into the Swedish automobile firm’s strategy to battery-powered propulsion. The specs of the Polestar 2 are well-reported at this level — we’ve been writing in regards to 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 underneath 5 seconds
- begins at $59,900 (although Polestar has stated it needs to ultimately promote a $40,000 model)
The most effective issues in regards to the Polestar 2 is that it isn’t an SUV. It might be primarily based on the Volvo XC40 platform, however in contrast to the Audi E-tron or the Mercedes EQC, the Polestar is actually 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 could look giant and slab-like in footage, 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 appears to be like than you’ll anticipate. I even obtained catcalled by a New York Metropolis development employee.
The lighting scheme may be very cool. You’ve obtained the “Thor’s hammer” entrance headlights which can be 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 absolutely realized within the Polestar 2’s inside, which is comfortably sparse and 100 p.c vegan, which means there aren’t any animal merchandise included. The automobile is outfitted with vegan textiles, although a ventilated Nappa leather-based choice can also be obtainable. 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 enable.
A lot of the cool stuff about this automobile comes as commonplace on the launch mannequin, together with the bezel-less rearview mirrors, the panoramic sunroof, the touch-activated lights for individuals 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 totally 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 can be the final word take a look at of the automobile’s capabilities.
The Polestar 2 has a key — a chunky trying fob that thankfully is instantly made irrelevant as a result of it is 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 route so as to drive.
However first, the experience 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 vehicles at Storm King that issues obtained positively apocalyptic.
There’s something very unusual about driving a automobile meant to evoke a chilly futurism in probably 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 might fly off.
It’s actually when the climate calls for your full consideration that having a useful and correct voice-command system is 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 information or preferences. As such, it reached for what I suppose was a well-liked 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 may 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 mechanically 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 load and really feel of the one-pedal system, could be adjusted within the car settings.
Arms down the perfect factor about Android Automotive was the extent of voice recognition. Voice instructions in most automobiles are abysmal, largely as a result of automobile corporations lack the datasets and cloud computing capabilities that tech giants like Amazon and Google use to excellent the language understanding components of machine studying.
In recent times, main automakers like Mercedes-Benz and BMW have launched extremely useful voice assistants with deep management over the car’s features. 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. Automobile corporations need to maintain massive tech corporations at arm’s size to forestall them from tapping into the profitable buyer datastreams flowing out and in from their automobiles. However Volvo figures by letting Google underneath the hood, it might probably most likely promote extra vehicles. Beginning subsequent 12 months, 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 amount, activate the seat heaters, and inquire in regards to the battery ranges — all with out lifting a finger. The microphone placement should be glorious as a result of Google Assistant by no means misunderstood me or garbled my phrases as soon as.
Strong voice recognition is greater than only a novelty, although. It may be a key aspect in lowering driver distraction. Having the ability to toggle between the instructions, temperature, and Spotify whereas protecting 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 techniques that invite plenty of scrolling or tapping are apparent distractions, and tech corporations have to provide you with higher methods to mitigate that downside.
Polestar’s native Android working system isn’t omniscient. It could actually’t alter the bass or treble. And it has horrible style in jokes.
“How do you make a tissue dance,” Google Assistant stated after I requested it to make me chuckle. “Put a bit boogie in it.”
Groan. Thankfully, the expertise of driving the Polestar 2 greater than made up for its corny voice assistant. I discovered it to be top-of-the-line EVs I’ve ever pushed.
Polestar has stated it doesn’t need to outsell the Tesla Mannequin 3. That’s too unhealthy, 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 nicely constructed with sufficient know-how to impress with out overwhelming.
I used to be left questioning… “Hey Google, when can I drive this automobile once more?”