By Dan Neil 

EVEN THOUGH it makes the most technically advanced cars in the world, Tesla rubs some people the wrong way. Maybe it's because CEO Elon Musk is...complicated. Maybe they resent the role that public money -- California clean-air credits, a regressive $7,500 federal tax credit for purchase of luxury EVs -- played in the company's meteoric rise. Maybe they are short on the stock and don't want to increase deliveries. I mean, right?

The point is, cancel culture is as old as business marketing, and it cuts across ideologies. People support brands that represent their values and reject others that don't. Not always righteously, I grant you. My father, who was a Marine corporal in the Pacific during World War II, swore he would never buy a Japanese car. Then he drove a Toyota and all was forgiven, apparently.

So, sure, for Never Elon'ers, the 2021 Polestar 2 Launch Edition ($66,100, as tested) might look like Christmas. This midsize, five-seat sportback is the first mass-produced EV from the premium-performance brand, a partnership between Volvo Cars and corporate-parent Geely Car Group. Fresh? hell, this thing looks like it's already been to Mars. Here, at last, is a charismatic future-tech EV for which one need never shrug apologetically in the Trader Joe's parking lot, as if to say, Yeah, I know. He whack....

But I want to address myself to another group, whose numbers may be multitudes -- we don't really know. That is people who would love to own a Tesla except for the way they look, inside and out. Here I am referencing the company's famously minimalist cabins and arch, high-altitude design language. Those are legitimate buyer preferences. Tesla's Model Y is about as cozy as a Harry Harlow monkey cage.

And if the Polestar 2 isn't some prophesied Tesla-slayer -- and it's not -- it is still very good, hugely desirable and in some meaningful ways more lovable than the Model Y.

Definitely more kissable. Unlike the Y, the Polestar 2 is blessed with a placidly smiling front grille. If it were in the Marvel Universe it would be Vision. But, being an EV, it doesn't need anything like that kind of grille area for cooling effect. Most is solid plastic. In fact, considering the costs in drag and overall range, the grille represents an extravagant investment in form over function in the interests of the familiar.

The interior features several outcroppings of the old regime. Unlike Tesla, the Polestar provides an instrument panel ahead of the steering column, a vivid and smartly animated display ensconced in a taut-stitched dash binnacle. The absence of an instrument panel in cars disquiets some.

As with Tesla, Polestar's vegan interior is standard equipment. The 2's multi-tiered dash is clothed in sustainable textiles and trimmed with veneer from aluminum trees, apparently. You have them in your country, don't you?

The interior's lightest grace note is the leatherette-and-crystal shift lever, or drive selector. Hands down the best shift switch of its kind. An LED light integrated into the shifter projects a ghostly Polestar logo in the console.

So, charming, but also really quick: Our test vehicle was a road-gripping, electron-singeing joy to drive, with torque-rich permanent-magnet motors (150 kW, or 204 hp) at the front and rear axles (408 hp combined), and all the luscious, instantly accelerative authority one craves from electric AWD propulsion. This little buggy runs 0-100 mph in 10.76 seconds, says the company. It sounds like this: Whoosh. ... Damn!

Ours was upfitted with the glory-seeking Performance Pack ($5,000), including gold-anodized front Brembo discs and my favorite sport tire, Continental SportContact, wrapped around 20-inch wheels that strobed like erotic spirographs. With its center of gravity slung low between four wide tires, the 2PP version corners quite hard, quietly calmly and always within itself. Nice adjustable Ölhins dampers, by the way.

For an electric vehicle, the 2PP's braking -- the pedal uptake, sensitivity and hardness underfoot -- feels surprisingly hydraulics-forward. Drivers also have the option to turn regenerative braking all the way up, for minimum-effort, one-pedal driving.

And I'd like to paint my dogs that battleship-gray hue.

With deliveries beginning in September, the Polestar 2 opens with a pretty strong hand. It's the first car to feature an embedded Android Automotive OS in the center display, providing the Google ecology of apps and "voice command that actually works," the company promises, through Google Assistant. We will give that more of a thorough test next time.

But now, the Elon in the room: Like other first-generation premium EVs from legacy auto makers ( Audi e-tron, Jaguar I-PACE, Porsche Taycan), the Polestar's performance nominals fall short of Tesla in range (roughly, and unofficially, 250 miles) and charging rate (max 150 kW, or 40 minutes to 80% charge, equivalent to about 200 miles). At the risk of being reductive, the numbers reflect the limitations of prismatic, pouch-style lithium cells, compared with Tesla's cylindrical wonder cells.

These numbers also express themselves in the Polestar's exterior, in its unusual body massing. The roofline of this four-door fastback is about 3 inches higher than it would be in a traditional sedan. Occupants are sitting on and among 78 kWh worth of batteries and two inverters. The 2's heaviness below the door handles betrays the incompressibility of this bulk. A bit like a gravid goldfish.

To the credit of Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath -- a studio designer before he became an exec -- the 2 owns it. As good architecture should, he told me in an interview last week, the 2 authentically conveys the mechanical underpinnings, even capitalizing on them, for its bandy crossover stance.

Somehow, it works. The anatomical, um -- can I say thickness? -- is so unexpected and strange, it's cool. It also reminds me of an anamorphically stretched Saab 9000.

And no one will ever mistake it for a Tesla.

2021 Polestar 2 Launch Edition with Performance Pack

Base Price: $59,900

Price, as Tested: $66,100

Powertrain: Battery-electric, with front and rear AC synchronous motors and inverters; 78 kWh lithium-ion battery pack; full-time all-wheel drive

Length/Width/Height/Wheelbase: 181.3/72.8/58.2/107.7 inches

Curb Weight: 4,680 pounds

Power/Torque: 300 kW (408 hp), 660 Nm (487 lb-ft)

0-60 mph: 4.45 seconds

Max Charging: 150 kW inductive, 40 minutes to 80% charge (about 200 miles)

Average Electric Range: 250 miles (estimated)

Luggage Capacity: 14.2 cu. ft.

Write to Dan Neil at Dan.Neil@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

August 06, 2020 16:02 ET (20:02 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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