One definition of capitalism might be that it exists so that you buy things not only that you never knew you needed but that you never knew even existed.
Welcome, then, readers to what I am assured is the world’s first vegan car. That’s correct; no animals were exploited, let alone harmed, in the making of this all-electric ultra-cool electric car. The Polestar 2, an electric performance brand spun out of Volvo combines Swedish style with Chinese battery technology, it uses no petrol or diesel, and there’s absolutely no tallow in it. You’ve never heard of it, but now you want one, don’t you? I bet if I told you it’s as good as a Tesla you’d want one even more, wouldn’t you?
You’d be right to, and not just if you happen to be vegan, which, to be solemn for a moment, is a truly green and honourable lifestyle choice (and one your correspondent can’t quite summon up the strength of character to embrace. Which is why I admire people who do). This is an extremely accomplished piece of style and engineering, the epitome of the modern all-electric vehicle and there is almost no reason why you shouldn’t have one. Contrary to lingering popular prejudice, electric cars are fun to drive, for the simple reason that they out-accelerate their ICE (internal combustion engine) equivalents, and to a thrilling degree. Indeed one of the things you have to learn to do when you first drive electric is to curb your excitement at the Ferrari-like take-off speeds. This innocuous-looking five-door saloon, for example, will take you from silent rest to an almost silent 60 mph in 4.7 seconds, about as long as it takes to read this sentence. And from there you will go on to 127mph, though of course you’d have to find somewhere safe and legal to do that, vegan or not.
The temptation, on first acquaintance with the Polestar 2, is to be like a big kid and put your foot down, especially if there’s anyone in the car you’d like to show off to or convince about the merits of electric transport. If you do that though you will soon erode the car’s practical range, which should be good for about 250 miles in mixed driving and average temperatures. Thrashing it on the motorway in a cold mid-winter will see that plunge to well below 200 miles; pootling around town in the summer will push it back up towards 300 miles. It’s similar to ICE cars, but of course, electric cars still take longer to refuel. In this case, it’s about 8 hours if plugged into the side of your house (cheap overnight charging at home being the normal way of life with an electric vehicle) or around half an hour at a commercial fast charging point (which are usually more expensive and the equivalent, in cost per mile, to filling up with petrol).
Price: £56,800 (as tested; starts at £49,999
Engine capacity: 2 x 150kW electric motors, AWD
Top speed: 127 mph
0-60 mph: 4.7 secs
Fuel economy: 132 mpg equiv
CO2 emissions: 0
When I’d first heard about this Polestar brand I wondered why it wasn’t just called a Volvo Electric, because that’s what it is. It looks like a Volvo with the badge missing, and is in fact based on the same platform as the Volvo XC40 compact SUV. It has similar controls and safety features as a Volvo, and the same relatively high quality of materials and premium feel. The design is fresh, and the cabin light thanks to a panoramic glass roof. The Polestar uses an Android/Google interface for the touch screen and I liked the way the automatic gear lever acts as a sort of handrest to steady you while using it (I’d prefer buttons myself though). I also appreciated that the voice control system really would take me to a destination or tune into a radio station, and its the most intelligent piece of artificial intelligence I’ve yet met, apart from my new Robovac, which I’ve found is like owning a not very smart jack russell.
But the Polestar isn’t a Volvo, it’s a Polestar and the reason why is that the Chinese group that nowadays owns Volvo cars, Geely, wanted to emulate the super-sexy desirability of Tesla, with the same kind of pioneering start-up vibe and novelty to the name. So they chose to create a separate division, Polestar, which was only used sparingly before as a Volvo performance sub-brand. It’s not Volvo’s fault, in other words, that their electric car isn’t known as a Volvo; it’s fashion. I doubt, no matter how good the cars are, that Polestar will ever be a brand like Tesla, because of the debatable magic of the Elon Musk name. Then again, given the bubble-like feel of the Tesla share price and Musk’s infatuation with Bitcoin I’m not sure that will sustain. I think I’d rather have an electric car from a big group such as Geely and from people who know how to make premium cars, such as Volvo. The Polestar is aimed at the Tesla 3, and there isn’t much in it except that the counterpart Tesla is a lot more expensive – about £7,000. That’s the price of buying into the cult of Musk.
At around £47,000 even after HM Government’s £3,000 subsidy, the Volvo, sorry, the Polestar is an expensive way into the electric future. It’s, say, about £10,000 more than something like a Kia e-Niro, which actually has a better real-world range – a very important factor in the useability of these vehicles – and is almost as fast and as nice to be in as the Polestar. The financial “sweet spot” for the electric car is a little lower than where the likes of Tesla and Polestar sit, in other words, trendy and aspirational as they may be. The cheaper mainstream electric hatches coming onto the market now, such as the Peugeot e-208 or its sibling, the Vauxhall Corsa-e, are closer in value terms to their ICE sisters, and “affordable”, but their range is rather less than the likes of the Kia, say, or the Polestar. Unlike ICE cars, smaller electric vehicles tend to go less far on a “tankful” of fuel than bigger ones.
As with so much else, buyers will have to adjust their expectations and assumptions when they move over to this new technology. Consumers in a capitalist society should also never neglect to interrogate the marketing hype, so I should also mention that the “vegan” Polestar 2 is also available with the option of leather trim, and I’m sure I don’t have to remind you to reflect on the morality of the Chinese authorities. The problem, if you’re concerned about such things, is that nearly all electric cars have Chinese batteries and technology in them, though I see that the British-built Nissan Leaf is to be fitted with British batteries, and the electric Mini will get its ones from Germany. It is a topic we will need to return to. The ethics of the electric car are rather more complicated than the engineering.