Part 7 in my Electric Car series.
The car is great! It has quirks and new company problems and controversial design choices, and I am sure it’s not and won’t be for everyone. But I really like it so far, and I suspect I’ll continue to like it for a long, long time. Or until I get “the itch” again and it’s time for something different.
Perhaps the most obvious thing to like about the car is how it drives, which is amazing. Most of this is due to the electric drivetrain: a nearly perfect 50/50 weight distribution, and AWD. There’s a LOT of weight, in the form of a battery, very close to the ground, so the center of gravity is very low and this makes the car very, very well planted. The 408 HP and 490ish lb/ft of torque are no joke either. It’s not neck-snappingly quick, like I imagine a Plaid Tesla to be, but it is seriously fast, and it will shove you into the seat, HARD. It’s a hoot.
The ride, IMHO, nails the comfort-handling tradeoffs. Against my normal instincts, which mandate that I check every checkbox, and based on many reviews, I did -not- choose the Performance package. The golden Brembo calipers and yellow seatbelts that come with the Performance package look great. By all accounts the package also makes the ride harsher, both because of the adjustable-but-always-firm dampers, and because of the larger wheels with smaller-sidewall tires. With the disaster that Houston streets are, I wanted more rubber and softer shocks. I am 100% confident I chose right on this one. Also I do not see myself crawling under the car with an Allen key to select one of 22 dampening positions manually. The ‘base,’ peasant, ordinary no-name dampers are perfect, and the non-Brembo, boring metal-colored brakes work very, very well.
The other thing to file under “ride” is the vault-like quality of the car. Yes, it’s a Volvo. It feels like it’s carved from a single piece of metal. No flex, no squeaks, nor rattles, nothing. It’s obviously silent because it’s electric, and it’s also decently insulated. My Kia Stinger, which I really liked, developed some rattles and squeaks pretty much immediately. This is a whole other level of solid.
The second thing to like is the driver’s dash with Google Maps built in. Audi did it first, and possibly best, but the implementation here is also excellent. You can turn it off if you want. You don’t want to. It’s so shocking to have an actual Google Maps in the dashboard in front of you, that I keep looking at the infotainment screen for map cues. I still can’t get used to the idea.
More generally, the infotainment system is very good. It’s a beautiful high-res 11″ screen, vertically oriented. For all intents and purposes, it’s an iPad. In shape, size, screen quality, it’s an iPad. Obviously, it’s not an actual Apple device, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s sourced from a high-end electronics manufacturer like Samsung. It runs Android Automotive (not to be confused with Android Auto).
Annoyingly, it doesn’t support CarPlay at the moment; this is going to come Any Day Now™ via a software update. Not supporting CarPlay should be a dealbreaker for me in most cars in this day and age… but Android Automotive is honest-to-goodness Android, made by An Actual Software Company That Really Knows How To Write Software That Works, so the temporary absence of CarPlay doesn’t matter as much. You can install a limited selection of Android apps on the car itself, and they are good. Spotify? Check. PocketCasts? Yes. I prefer Apple Music and Overcast, so Bluetooth will do for audio streaming from my iPhone in the meantime, but it’s perfectly serviceable otherwise.
Obnoxiously absent from the Android Automotive app store at the moment? Waze. Seriously? The single best driving app, from Google itself, and it isn’t available for Google’s car OS? This one’s a head-scratcher. Google Maps is great, and I love it, but Waze is miles better. If it’s integrated with the driver’s dashboard, it’d be unstoppable.
Also annoyingly, but perhaps more understandably absent? Apple Music. Before you laugh at me, yes, there IS an Android version. I imagine the worldwide market for “Apple Music running on Android Automotive” consists of three people, two of which are me at the moment, but I’d appreciate it. Again, Bluetooth will do until CarPlay arrives.
In general, this Android-but-no-CarPlay is representative of the car, and the big tradeoffs that lurk everywhere. You better like the side they land on, or this car won’t be for you.
Another tradeoff: There’s a transmission tunnel. The car’s built on a Volvo platform that includes gas engines. The good part is that Polestar fills the transmission tunnel with batteries, so it isn’t wasted space, and the car sits lower than it otherwise might. Interior space is reduced, in a way that can be slightly ridiculous when you remember there’s no engine or transmission. Me, I genuinely love the feeling of sitting snug in a cockpit-like cabin, so the setup is perfect for me. If you value interior space above all, it will be grating. My rear-seat passengers may also feel less charitable towards the tunnel than I do.
The car is small, which I quite like, but cabin storage space is also scarce. Cupholders, those wonderful American unit-of-car-interior-metrics, are in short supply. There’s one for the driver, and a second one, if you really must, inside the center console. Two for the rear seat passengers in their center armrest. That’s it, and they’re small. There are useful cubbies around the cabin, but they’re tiny.
The 360º cameras are one of the best, if not THE best, implementation I’ve seen. Tradeoff: normal rear visibility is bad. Not atrocious like it was in my Kia Stinger, but pretty bad all the same.
More: the design. It’s stark. I like the idea of reclaimed wood, and it looks nice enough, but it’s stained very, very dark in my “charcoal” interior. The WeaveTech seat fabric is conceptually nice (“vegan leather alternative”), and it seems like it’ll be very durable, but a luxurious feel like actual leather it has not. It reminds me, more than anything, of a waterproof cycling backpack I own.
More tradeoffs: the car comes with USB-C ports, four of them. It’s about time. USB-A has been with us forever, and is impossible to plug in right the first time. This is not a huge thing, but it’s a great future-proofing strategy. However… the car has no 12V “cigarette lighter” outlet in the cabin. None. Zero. Zilch. Nada. There’s one in the trunk, but come on. How will I plug in my radar detector? I won’t for now. This one is straight-up baffling.
The recycled fabrics in the carpet and headliner are nice. The materials from your waist up are nice and soft to the touch, and feel like they belong in a luxury car. The fabric-covered dashboard looks especially nice to my eyes. The lower plastics are cheaper and scratchier.
The controls are pleasant to use. The wheel, a stock Volvo one with a Polestar logo
photoshopped swapped in and color-matched to the accents, is heated (super useful in Houston) and feels great in my hands. It doesn’t have a lot of steering feel, but at least you can select one of three different levels of resistance. The middle setting seems good to me. The wheel is manually adjustable, which is weird in this price range IMHO, and I’d prefer electric and saved to a profile. It depends on how much you share the car, I guess.
The shifter is cool, with a passthrough handle and a lit Polestar logo. It’s more of a sprung toggle than a shifter, but it’s neat. Completely unnecessary in an electric car, but I like shifters.
The thing I expected to totally hate but ended up enjoying greatly is one-pedal driving. I have it set to the highest level, where the car will brake at up to a pretty high 0.3g just by letting go of the accelerator. You don’t need to use the actual friction brakes for most driving. I suspect the pads will last for a long, long time.
The car also has a totally useless but cool-looking lit logo that gets projected onto the glass roof.
As much as the driving experience is wonderful, and the car is clearly well thought out, there’s a lot of software stuff that should be labeled “beta” or even “alpha.”
It turns out that, despite my previous assertion, you can use your phone as a key. It uses Bluetooth Low Energy and detects your phone next to the car, treating it like another physical key.
Or it would, if it worked. Mine just won’t. At the beginning, it wouldn’t pair with the car. The dealership warned me about this – it can take 24-36 hrs after a software update for you to be able to pair a phone. Why? I have no idea. Maybe there’s a bored elderly bureaucrat in Stockholm that has to click “godkänna” (approve) on each car’s entry in a database after each upgrade. I named him Herr Karlsson, by the way. The bureaucrat.
Once it paired, which I’m pretty sure I did correctly, as my phone can do other car things… it won’t work. The app has all the permissions it needs. I restarted the phone, the car, and all radios in both. But the car never recognizes it. I suspect that this may ‘heal’ over time, much like the pairing itself, once Herr Karlsson godkänd.
I’ll contact support eventually, if I can’t make it work myself after a few days. But there’s a reason I buy cars on terrible websites. I don’t want to talk to humans, and go “yes, I turned WiFi on and off, even though the key doesn’t use WiFi and this doesn’t make any sense. Yes, I rebooted the phone, no, I’m talking to you from a different phone, I wouldn’t dream of lying to you.”
The car also just wouldn’t see my WiFi network. Annoying, because it’s useful to download software, offline maps, etc. I have a good mesh network; my phone reported full signal inside the car, and worked normally. But it just wouldn’t. I spent an entire hour poking at it. No. I set up a separate network. No. I read things online, that suggested the car needed a 2.4 GHz network with a different name than a 5GHz network. I provided one. Nope. Fiddled with settings like channel width. No. I could see my neighbors’ networks perfectly fine, by the way, or use my iPhone in hotspot mode, so there was nothing dreadfully wrong with the car’s hardware or software.
In the end, I think the problem is that the car is incredibly picky about signal strength. I fixed this by plugging an extension cord behind the freezer in the garage, and precariously perching an old unused WiFi extender on top of said freezer. With a ‘fresh’ signal coming from only a few meters away and no walls in between, it became a happy camper. Herr Karlsson must be smiling.
There’s more to talk about, but this is long enough already. I’ll take better and more photos in the near future, and update the annoyances.
I like the car very much, and driving it is a hoot. However, it has plenty of “first product from a new company” issues, and some baffling design choices. Most of them should be fixed by software updates… eventually. I strongly recommend reading as much as you can and looking at it very closely if you’re considering it.