Launching a new brand is never easy, but then again Polestar is not actually a new brand. In fact, it can trace its origins back to 1996, when it was originally formed as a Swedish racing team called Flash Engineering. The re-brand to Polestar came in 2005, and by the end of that decade, the company had started to make tuning parts for road-going Volvos. Eventually, Volvo itself began to take notice, and Polestar was swallowed up, becoming Volvo's own in-house performance brand, a sort of Scandi AMG.
The brand soon earned a rep for seriously entertaining performance upgrades. While never quite achieving the bombastic eminence of AMG or BMW’s M-Sport, the original Polestar C30 was widely regarded as one of the best hot hatches of all (if also one of the most expensive). More recently, a Polestar-upgraded version of Volvo’s XC60 plug-in hybrid SUV proved itself possibly the most entertaining of its kind to drive.
Now, though, Polestar has pivoted to batteries. Although it initially launched as a brand in its own right with the Polestar 1 – a stunning Volvo S90-based coupe with a 600hp plug-in hybrid powertrain and a carbon-fibre body – Polestar is now an all-electric brand, spun off by Volvo and its Chinese owners, Geely.
It's been on sale in selected parts of Europe for two years now, and has finally come to Ireland.
In Irish terms, Polestar will stride further down the road that most car makers and sellers have been on since the pandemic hit – online sales. All of Polestar's sales and ordering will be done through its website, and there will, for now, only be one physical "destination", part of the Spirit Motor Group, and located in Sandyford in south Dublin – the staff there will be product experts, but not on commission so they're not under pressure to actually sell you anything.
Polestar's head of Irish market, Kieran Campbell, told The Irish Times: "We're definitely considering other locations too. We just need to see where the volume goes at the start. We've been talking to Polestar HQ, and pointing out that Ireland is a big little country, and that there are other areas outside of Dublin, but while it's not in the pipeline yet, it's absolutely up for consideration."
Of course, being a not-quite-entirely- new brand, Polestar has assets on which it can lean, chiefly Ireland’s dozen Volvo dealers, who will be taking care of after-sales care and servicing. Or at least they will do when all are signed up – not all are, quite yet.
Polestar can, clearly, also share manufacturing and design with Volvo, although all at Polestar are keen to repeatedly emphasise that it is its own thing, a standalone brand. The blurring of the lines between Polestar and Volvo isn't helped by the fact that its only current model – the fastback saloon Polestar 2 which has just gone on sale in Ireland – is so obviously a Volvo. In fact, the design for the car began as the Volvo Concept 40.2, unveiled back in 2016, and designed by Thomas Ingenlath, the designer who went on to become Polestar's chief executive.
It is a handsome thing, though. Shorn of badges and identifying marks bar the two colour-keyed Polestar "compass" logos, and a little stencil on the door, the Polestar 2 looks lean and muscular. It sits slightly high, giving it a frisson of crossover, but it's – thankfully – clearly a fastback saloon. It's aimed right down the throats of the BMW i4 and the Tesla Model 3.
It’s also sharply priced. The basic single-motor version, with a 67kWh battery and a 474km range, costs from €54,400 and is well-equipped as standard.
That’s significantly cheaper than the basic i4 (€63,565) but slightly more expensive than the cheapest Tesla Model 3 (€52,995). The Tesla in this form has slightly more range (491km), but the BMW has much, much more (567km).
Which means that the sweet spot of the Polestar 2 lineup is probably the single-motor version with the larger 75kWh battery. That has a potential maximum range of 540km, and costs €58,245.
It’s giving away 60km, and 200-odd-hp, to the more expensive Tesla Model 3 Long Range. That said, while the Polestar 2 in this form doesn’t have the squash you back in your seat grunt of the Tesla, it has entirely adequate performance for everyday driving.
It’s no muscle-car, but it’s certainly not slow. Arguably of greater importance for everyday driving is the fact that it’s very efficient. Over a 100km test loop (country roads, town, and motorway) it averages 19kWh/100km in our hands, and that’s with the air conditioning going and a fairly flagrant attitude to acceleration.
It’s certainly better built inside than the Tesla, and its combo of tablet-like screen in the centre of the dash, and a digital instrument panel in front of the driver is far more user-friendly.
Its Google-based screen software also looks better and is easier to use than the equivalent system in the (mechanically-related) Volvo C40 we recently tested. Voice control actually works (most of the time) and the displays and switchgear (the skeletal gear selector especially) look and feel great. The only let-down is the hard-wearing but cheap-looking standard seat material, but at least you can console yourself that the old-school-trousers effect is because they’re made of recycled PET plastics.
It’s in the driving that the Polestar feels truly satisfying. No, it’s not quite as sharp as the BMW, but it has sweeter balance than the Tesla, and better steering feel and weight too. It’s not an out-and-out driver’s car in this specification, but it’s satisfying and enjoyable to drive, with a ride quality that sits just the right side of firm.
Mind you, you can have a Polestar 2 that does rather better on the driver engagement side of things. For €61,900 you can have the two-motor, four-wheel drive version with 408hp and a 0-100km/h time of 4.7 seconds. Slam the accelerator down and this version feels brutally fast. True, it gives away more than a second in the 0-100km/h sprint to a Tesla Model 3 Performance but it’s also €7,000 cheaper.
With that €7,000 you can spec your Polestar with the all-important Performance Pack (actually it costs €6,420) and this is transformative. With manually-adjustable suspension developed by Swedish specialists Öhlins, and brakes by Italian racing maestros Brembo (the best brakes we've found on any EV we've ever driven, no question) the Polestar suddenly starts to feel like a Sino-Swedish four-door Porsche – impressively rapid, accurate and fun in the corners, and generally a bit naughty.
The Volvo C40 was somewhat ruined by this powertrain – too much power, not enough suspension control, and too much of an impact on the range. Here in the Polestar you get up to 482km, which is impressive. Plus you can charge at up to 155kW from a public DC rapid charger.
Okay, so the Performance Pack model is the one you’ll want, but the long-range, single-motor Polestar 2 is the one you’ll buy, assuming you can work out what it is, where you can buy it, and whether or not it fits your life.
It’s an odd melange of a car – Volvo bits and pieces, but with performance brand mentality and, for the most part, dynamics. It also seems to wear its €54,400-plus price tag rather better than its Volvo cousins. It’s an interesting mix of efficiency, safety, practicality (405-litre boot, reasonable rear seat space, albeit accessed through small doors), and likely reliability (an eight-year battery warranty, and you only need to service it every two years) with the sort of handling and steering you’d expect from a specialist performance car maker.
It's certainly a tempting mix, made more so by the fact that Polestar is working its way to building an entirely carbon-neutral car – and in a Will Smith sense, calling out those Chris Rocks in the rest of the car industry to proclaim carbon neutrality but are hiding behind the fig-leaf of flawed offsetting.
Can Polestar be a success in Ireland? Maybe. The product is good, and new models are on the way with more distinctive, less Volvo-y styling. Can you actually buy one? Yes, Polestar says its launch stock is on the way, and will be ready for registrations when the numberplates change on July 1st. After that? Depends on demand, and no-one’s prepared to talk potential sales figures just yet, but they are claiming that even if you are buying a version not in the current stock landed here, you will only face a delivery time of 14 weeks from order to delivery. That may tempt others who are being told by Polestar rivals it will be mid-2023 before any EV order will be fulfilled.
Launching a new brand is never easy, but then again who had even heard of Tesla a dozen years ago?