Polestar 2 Vs Tesla Model 3 – The mid-sized family EV battle
In years past, if you wanted a premium family car you looked at the Audi A4, BMW 3-Series or Mercedes C-Class. But those were; and indeed still are, powered by Dinosaur Juice – they’re old school, relics of the past. If you want your premium family car to succeed these days it needs to run on electrons. You need it to be an EV.
Though there are many smaller and larger EVs out there, in this key battleground of the £40-50k family EV there are two key players, and I was lucky enough to drive them both recently to compare and try to decide which is best. The Polestar 2 and the Tesla Model 3 Long Range. No doubt by design, both cars are within a whisker of £47,000 which means for once, price can’t come into it.
For those not familiar with the Polestar brand, it’s essentially the Electric arm of Volvo – their first Polestar 1 model was visually a Volvo concept car from 2013, while this Polestar 2 started its life as the Volvo Concept 40.2 from 2016 (the 40.1 became the XC40) and they are separated from the parent brand by the tech and style of the models.
If you don’t know who Tesla are, you must’ve been living under a rock for the last few years – a Californian EV and infrastructure company that has, without a doubt taken the automotive world by storm and pushed forward the advancement of EV technology by mainstream manufacturers more than anything else.
So this is a good place to start to show the differences between these cars – from Sweden you have the brutal, angular, high shouldered Polestar and from California you have what basically amounts to a rolling bar of soap.
The Model 3 is basically what people want in ‘A Car’. It’s inoffensive, subtle and certainly won’t stand out in a crowd especially in this car’s dark grey paint. The rear end is a little challenging, with a sloping roofline (that aids aerodynamics) and fairly short rear window meaning from directly behind the rear window looks too short, but the front end is quite pretty and the car has short overhangs front and rear. It doesn’t really conform to the usual ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) rules of car design because it is a ground-up EV, so there’s very little front end and a huge cabin, which is especially noticeable from side-on.
The Polestar could not be any more of a contrast. It’s instantly obvious that it’s more of an ICE design, with a longer bonnet, strong shoulder lines and shallow glasshouse. That’s because, well, it is – the 2 is based on Volvo’s XC40 architecture, so although it was designed to have EV powertrains from the off it must also accommodate ICE powertrains so inevitably there are some compromises to be made – more of which later. The XC40 basis is more obvious when you see the two cars next to each other – the 2 has a far higher roofline and generally just looks bigger. And the design is far more modern, with an unusual style to it – like a coupe/SUV/crossover with the rear end.
It’s worth pointing out that the Polestar had the £5000 Performance Pack option, which gives expensive Ohlins dampers, better brakes and a very nice set of 20” alloys which really help with the proportions – the standard 19” wheels are still nice and even things out in the looks department a little with the Tesla’s standard 18’s.
Interior & Practicality
One thing is certain when you talk about the interiors of both of these cars – if you don’t likemassive screens they aren’t for you! Tesla has a sole 15.4” landscape screen in the centre console while Polestar counters with a 11” portrait item in the middle and a 12.3” screen ahead of the driver.
Starting with the Tesla, I’m afraid I still can’t get used to not having anything ahead of the driver telling me speed, range, anything really. For every function you need to look down and to the left to the large screen, and for me, to that for your speed is nothing short of dangerous. When on even a cheap Kia you can have a simple head up display I think it’s a huge glaring omission on the Model 3 to not have your speed and range displayed ahead of you. Certainly worth driving one before deciding as it may be a deal breaker for some. The screen itself if very impressive though, clear and very easy to use, with a clear layout, rapid response and very good Google-based maps.
As for the rest of the interior it’s about as simplistic as you can get – in a good way. It’s stylish and futuristic with virtually no buttons anywhere, even the AC vents are hidden in the dash and you can have complete control of where the air comes out. There is a huge panoramic roof as standard, from the centre bar it extends all the way down to the bootlid,
which exposes one of the weak points of the design – though it may look like one the Model 3 isn’t a hatchback – it has a fairly small saloon style boot opening which serious hampers the practicality despite the 425 litre volume. There is a front boot as well, which is very useful for charging cables and the like. But interior space is very impressive, with huge
amounts of legroom front and rear and more headroom than I would ever need at 192cm tall.
The Polestar counters some of the Tesla’s failings very well – the interior is still modern but a little more traditional in design with more buttons and a traditional ‘gear selector’ sitting atop a wide and tall centre console. But when you sit in the Polestar it’s a very different feel to the Tesla, not just because of the screen layout. You can sit low in the car, but it has a
very high shoulder line with those small windows and it ends up feeling like you’re sat in a tank. Being based on the XC40 it’s actually not very big inside, and the doors and centre console feel very close – I’m quite broad and found it was almost too tight in there.
There’s a panoramic roof in the Polestar 2, but it’s more traditional with a large central glass section of the roof panel. Rear space is a little tighter than in the Tesla, but it’s fine for most. The boot isn’t as large as the Tesla at 405 litres, but with a traditional hatchback opening the
practicality is far greater. As an aside I found the Polestar’s driver’s seat really uncomfortable – there’s a hard section behind the extending squab that dug into my thigh and irritated after a while.
From a tech point of view both cars are ‘instant on’ – meaning when you get in and sit down, foot on the brake, the car is ready to go. Just knock it into Drive and away you go. Think of all the seconds you’ll save! Unfortunately, I can’t comment on the Polestar’s infotainment system as the 4G link wasn’t working – so no Google Maps, Spotify, nothing. And at the time of writing there’s also no Apple CarPlay linkup so I couldn’t even link up my
phone, though this is coming early 2021 apparently. Still very frustrating for me to not be able to evaluate it, or even use my own maps.
As you might imagine, things are rather similar with these two cars, mainly because you can’t really do too much differently when it comes to batteries and motors. Both the Tesla and Polestar have a motor at the front and rear, meaning they are all-wheel-drive. The Tesla’s motors combine for 434hp, while the Polestar’s have 402hp. The Polestar comes back with over 100lb/ft of torque; however this is fairly moot as both cars have to electronically limit the instant torque that electric motors give anyway.
Both cars have 78kWh rated battery packs, but when talking about usable battery the Polestar has 72.5kWh to the Tesla’s 73.5 kWh which certainly has an effect on range.
Range and Charging
This is where Tesla is still ahead of the competition. Companies like BMW, Mercedes, Audi, VW, Polestar and many more have all poured billions into EV development and yet here we are with the Model 3 (a model that has been out a couple of years now) that has considerably greater range than the newer Polestar. The WLTP rated range of the Polestar 2 is 292 miles, whereas the Tesla comes in at 348 miles – and in the EV world that extra 56 miles makes a big difference. The key thing for the Tesla is actually the efficiency of the powertrain, it only uses 255Wh per mile compared to the Polestar’s 305. Simply put, the Tesla uses less electricity to move the car a mile and that’s what it’s all about.
When it comes to charging it has to be a big tick for the Tesla too – not only does it have a faster charging capability of 250kW versus the Polestar’s 151kW (the more juice that can be forced in, faster) it has the use of Tesla’s proprietary Supercharger network. These charging locations are located in really convenient places and can only be used by Teslas so there’s less chance of them being taken. Even though the range is huge on both cars, the fact that in the Tesla if you go to a Supercharger you can go from 29 to 228 miles range in 22mins, versus 24 to 188 miles in 31 mins in the Polestar, is absolutely key for a lot of people. You can get an extra 200 miles of range in the time it takes to go into the services, visit the toilet, grab a coffee and check social media.
One place where these new EVs really stand out from their ICE competitors is performance. Both cars here are AWD and use that instant torque to great effect, rocketing off the line with a ferocity that would shame most £100k sports cars from 5yrs ago. In reality I timed both cars at 4.5 seconds to 62mph, which is beyond modern hot hatch pace and is done so easily, and actually makes you feel queasy after the 5 th launch. Both cars rocket from 30-60mph in a couple of seconds with no reduction in performance, which means overtaking is done without a second thought. Interestingly, the Polestar feels stronger when accelerating above 70mph, though with both cars the range drops significantly when going above 60mph.
Ride & Handling
The fact that the Polestar came with the £5000 Performance Pack is quite prescient here. You see, when pressing on the Polestar is quite an exciting thing to drive, with great body control, good front end grip thanks to the AWD and even fairly playful on the limit. But that is down to the extremely expensive Ohlins dampers, and the trade-off is that this makes the ride far firmer and busier than it really should be in a family car. I wish I’d had the chance to drive a car on the standard suspension because I’ve been told its more pleasant to drive normally, and in reality you don’t drive the doorhandles off your family car on a regular basis.
The Tesla by contrast is comfortable in the extreme, with a very compliant ride yet good body control. As with the Polestar there is more grip and confidence in the car that you’ll really ever need. Regarding the comfort aspect, that’s one area in which both cars excel over the ICE competition, mainly down to the amount of noise and vibration in the cabin. Without the constant noise from the engine and the vibrations they send through the body, these EV’s are quite simply a far less tiring place to drive. I’ve driven a Model 3 250 miles in one stint before and got out at the other end feeling like I’d done 50 in my Leon Cupra.
To try and decide between these all comes down to personal choice in the end. The Polestar is clearly the more stylish car, with a great image, great handling and a fantastic interior along with a more practical boot. The range is greater than most will need in a week and even for occasional longer journeys and it doesn’t come with the quality issues that plague Teslas. The Tesla certainly doesn’t look as good outside, but the interior looks fantastic and there’s acres of room. Performance is broadly the same, but the Tesla has the huge bonus of the Supercharger network. If it was my £47k?
I’d be taking home the Polestar, mainly based on looks, image and quality. But I know I’d be cursing my choice every time I drove past a Supercharger station…