I’d only had possession of the brand new Polestar 2, which hits the streets this month, for an hour or so and I’d already lost count of how many passers-by had stared, leered, glanced and even stopped completely on the pavement to take it in.
One jogger had his neck swivelled around for so long he very nearly ran into a wheelie bin.
In over a decade of writing about cars for Esquire, it’s hard to remember such a response. And yet this is not one of those supercars, convertibles or oversized luxury SUVs that traditionally scream for attention.
It’s a practical, electric saloon-cum-hatchback, what Polestar are calling a ‘fastback’. Although it’s clear the Swedish brand is reluctant to use established industry norms at all.
In fact, everything about Polestar, launched in 2018 as an electric car company in the manner of a technology start-up (that also happens to be part-owned by Volvo and Chinese auto giant Geely), is geared to consider how things can be done better and differently.
This kind of approach not only makes perfect sense as we enter a new dawn of cars that are autonomous, electric and not even owned but shared, but it also gives the brand a genuine USP right now; an understated sassiness that in-these-times will appeal to many people far more perhaps than flashier badges in similar price brackets.
It’s the acceptable face of being good to yourself. Complete with the option to choose a fully vegan interior. And prices starting at £40k.
Another reason people are looking of course, is that they want to know what it is. And it will no doubt be a challenge to get the word out.
Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath is at pains to point out that they not only have no target customer in mind but they strongly dislike the very concept. Instead they see customers coming from all age brackets and backgrounds, sharing only the same inquisitive sensibility.
“We’ve had similar responses ourselves,” says Ingenlath when I tell him about the passers-by. He later mentions a septuagenarian who came for a test drive.
Looks are clearly a big part of the Polestar pull. Ingenlath himself is the former head of design at Volvo, and it was the stunning style of Polestar One which first grabbed the world’s attention when it began life as a Volvo concept car in 2013.
That was a limited-edition £100k plus GT car though and the 2 is Polestar’s first ‘normal’ car so to speak.
It’s testament to the design team that much of its subtly sci-fi looks carries through, taking advantage of the new proportions afforded by electric powertrains while also adopting an aggressive stance that hints that this car can also shift. A 0-60 time of less than five seconds is another significant attraction.
There are plenty more thoughtful details – frameless mirrors, typography on the car’s side, the unfamiliar badge – that together tell the world that this car is a little bit different.
Ingenlath laughs at the idea they could have added any visual signifiers that it this is electric – “a blue flash perhaps?” – and suggests how the proportions of electric vehicles will actually start to influence cars of the old combustion engine variety.
How else are Polestar doing things differently? You can open the boot by a kicking motion with your foot for times when your hands are full.
Once inside, there is no start button. You just open the door and off you purr.
The User Interface updates like your smartphone allowing new apps to be added and integrated. One of Polestar's bugbears is how in-car tech has lagged behind the world outside and this is their attempt to redress the balance. The tablet-style console can also be angled in a way that the co-driver can choose the music or look at the map.
Throughout the car, the approach is to provide less choice rather than more. Whether it’s paint colours or seat settings; no unnecessary gadgetry for the sake of it. Another approach that goes against industry norms.
Instead of showrooms, they will have city centre stores with no pushy salesmen on commission. Polestar will pick up your car when it needs a service or install a roof rack for you when you order it on an app.
Of course, all this fresh thinking and brand goodwill builds expectation, and shortly into my journey I half-expected to be able to climb into the backseat while it took over the driving or have a conversation with it like a classier version of Kit from Night Rider. But it is just a car.
A good-looking, smart, responsible and sensible car and right now that feels about as cool as it gets.
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