Do you know what was unique about the Renault 21? Not much, you might think. After all, this otherwise innocuous, mid-range family saloon of the 1980s is almost forgotten these days.
But, beneath its ruler-edged styling, the 21 hid a quirk worthy of a pub quiz question: it is the only car that has ever been made available, in production form, with all three forms of powertrain including front-, rear- and four-wheel drive.
You can have that one on me. Use it to impress friends at your next dinner party. Drop it into conversation gently to wow your colleagues at your next board meeting. Tell your children, and as their pride swells, knowing their parent is so well-versed in the production techniques of one of France’s big three car makers.
On second thoughts, don’t. Because if you do, some irksome wag will no doubt point out that, as of a few months ago, you are wrong. Because the new Polestar 2 is here and, beneath some very mild tweaks, there’s been a big change: the 2 has gone rear-wheel drive.
Following on from the front-drive version, and with all-wheel-drive available on the top-spec models, that makes this a car that can now sit alongside the Renault 21 on that exclusive pedestal – as can the Volvo XC40 and C40, with which it shares a platform. So, has shifting around the Polestar’s powertrain made it a better car?
Long range for the price
Excellent ride and handling
Not as roomy as it could be
Front to back
The switch to rear-wheel drive is not the only big change here, though. In fact, where most facelifts involve changes to the styling but little else, Polestar has done things the opposite way round here; under the skin, the 2 is almost completely different, despite the fact it superficially looks largely the same.
There are new batteries – of 79kWh (usable), supplied by CATL, in the Long Range variants, and 67kWh (usable) LG units in the Standard Range models. Charging speeds have also improved to 205kW in the former and 135kW in the latter, getting you from 10 to 80 per cent charge in 28 minutes and 35 minutes respectively, assuming you’re at a charger that’s up to the task.
And given Polestar is so conscious of its cars’ whole-life sustainability, the fact it has brought the new batteries’ production carbon emissions down from seven to 5.9 tonnes is worthy of mention – it plans to revise the 2’s life-cycle analysis to take account of this later in the year.
So just how far will those new batteries get you? Well, the Standard Range now has a WLTP rated range of 339 miles, which should work out at between 230 and 270 miles in the real world, depending on the temperature.
The Long Range, however, has a headline-grabbing WLTP figure of 406 miles – which should translate to anywhere between 284 and 324 miles on the road. That’s more than you’ll get in a Tesla Model 3 – indeed, it’s about as much battery range as you’ll get anywhere, for the price.
Ah yes, the price. The good news is that it hasn’t gone up by much, and as a result, the 2 now looks like half-decent value, as far as electric cars go. £45,000, or thereabouts, is the sticker for the entry-level version, while a Long Range Dual Motor will cost you £4,000 more.
By comparison, a Tesla Model 3 will cost you around £2,000 less in each case, though it can’t go quite as far on a charge in Standard Range form; a Skoda Enyaq iV Coupe, meanwhile, costs about the same as the Standard Range Polestar, and manages a similar range despite having a much larger battery, which is testament to the Polestar’s efficiency – it’ll notch up 4.2m/kWh to the Skoda’s 3.9.
Inside, it’s again a case of ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’. And, while we’re bandying about maxims, let’s throw in an ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’, because the interior has always been one of the 2’s strongest suits. So it remains; the cabin is great to sit in and look at, especially if you opt for the lovely open-pore wood grain finish.
The digital instrument cluster, with its white and orange graphics on a black background, remains beautifully unfussy and easy to read – a polar opposite to so many manufacturers’ alternatives that prioritise fancy graphics over and above clarity – and the Android-based infotainment system is, with a few exceptions, crisp, responsive and easy to find your way around.
What’s clever here is that Polestar gives you enormous on-screen buttons to hit, so that when you do need to stab at a particular function, you can almost see what you’re doing out of the corner of your eye. That means you don’t need to take your eyes away from the road for as long as you do with similar systems in other cars.
Partly for this reason, the always-on climate controls are easy to use on the move – and because they run along the bottom of the screen, they’re easily within reach without needing to stretch. So while it’s a shame you don’t get proper buttons, the in-screen climate control setup here is less heinous than it is in many rivals.
Space – the Polestar’s only real downside – remains at a premium in the rear seats. That’s not to say that it’s cramped; more that your rear seat passengers will be able to stretch out far more in an Enyaq. They’ll be able to take more luggage with them, too; the Polestar’s boot, at 405 litres, remains one of the smallest in its class.
Comfort and joy
Our preferred version of the 2 has always been the one we’re testing here: the Long Range Single Motor setup which, as its name suggests, gives you the bigger battery, but does away with the extra weight and complexity of an additional motor up front.
The result is a sweet spot in terms of ride and handling, and so it remains. Pull away in the Polestar and it immediately feels somewhat taut; over rougher bumps at low speeds, the big wheels jolt through gaps in the road.
Yet the Polestar doesn’t actually feel uncomfortable. What’s clever here is that the springing and damping has clearly been refined so that it copes with most of what the skinny tyres can’t; despite its initial firmness, there’s a sophistication to the way the Polestar rides the bumps that isn’t evident in a Tesla, or any other rival, for that matter.
So while you do undoubtedly feel them, the jolts in the road aren’t actually that disturbing. And as the speed increases, so does the Polestar’s suppleness. Now the wheels don’t have time to fall into gaps, yet the excellent body control remains, so the Polestar feels hunkered down onto the road and beautifully stable.
So it remains if you try to throw it around a little. In fact, it’s quite hard to tell the difference between this car and its front-driven predecessor. Only when you start to push it hard do the better balance and lack of corruption through the steering become evident.
Is the 2 fun? Well, it can be. Really, its overriding characteristic is neutrality; it’s crisp, clean, and eager to change direction, but overall it feels balanced and neither given to oversteer nor understeer. Together with the huge levels of grip on offer, that makes it very confidence-inspiring, and that in turn makes it enjoyable to chuck around – though it isn’t really involving or exciting in a traditional sense.
The Telegraph verdict
Frankly, it doesn’t need to be. This is a car that is still stonkingly good – better than ever, in fact – and it therefore remains one of the best EVs on sale.
You’ll have to live with the fact it isn’t all that roomy – though even then, there’s enough space for a family of four to be getting along with. And you might not be entirely enamoured with the low-speed ride, though even this you’ll probably get used to.
Otherwise, though, the 2 is a class act; there’s very little to dislike here. And now it can add to its long list of talents that it is the answer to a particularly tricky pub quiz question. Along with the Renault 21.
On test: Polestar 2 Long Range Single Motor
Body style: Five-door SUV coupe
On sale: now
How much? £48,950 on the road (range from £44,950)
How fast? 127mph, 0-62mph in 5.9sec
How economical? 4.2mpkWh (WLTP Combined)
Engine & gearbox: N/A
Electric powertrain: AC permanent magnet synchronous motor with 79kWh (usable) battery, 205kW on-board charger, Type 2/CCS charging socket
Electric range: 405 miles (WLTP Combined)
Maximum power/torque: 295bhp/361lb ft
CO2 emissions: 0g/km (tailpipe), 26g/km (well-to-wheel)
Warranty: 3 years / 60,000 miles
Spare wheel as standard: No (not available)
Tesla Model 3 Long Range Dual Motor
449bhp, 374 miles, £50,990 on the road
Tesla doesn’t make a single-motor Long Range model, so you have to pay a bit more to get this one. But for your money you get an awful lot more power into the bargain, not to mention more space (though you lose the practicality of the Polestar’s hatchback). Which you choose really does depend on personal choice – but for our money, the higher-quality Polestar would take it.
BMW iX1 xLine
309bhp, 267 miles, £54,655 on the road
Just a look at the stats will reveal how far off the pace the iX1 already feels; it’ll cost you considerably more than the Polestar, yet it doesn’t go nearly as far on a charge. Traditionally, a BMW’s driver appeal would allow you to forgive plenty, but the iX1 feels remote, with a brittle ride quality that proves wearing on longer trips.
Skoda Enyaq Coupe iV 80 Loft
201bhp, 343 miles, £44,825 on the road
If the Polestar isn’t roomy enough for you, try this Enyaq instead. It has plenty more space, and it rides more softly into the bargain. Inside it isn’t quite as smart, but it’s pleasant enough to hold its own – though you’ll have to live with the slightly glitchy touchscreen system that’s bedevilled Volkswagen Group cars for the past few years. And while you won’t go as fast, nor as far on a charge, the Enyaq does work out a little cheaper to buy.