Polestar 3 review: A fast and refreshing alternative to German rivals

The Polestar 3 is well engineered, good-looking and rides and drives well
The Polestar 3: well engineered, good-looking and drives well

Imagine waking up at 3am, sweating and in disarray. You’ve been having a nightmare. Someone has stolen your identity, your clothes, your voice, your walk, even your job. The only difference is that they call themselves Polestar…

It’s a waking nightmare, which must happen to Volvo’s senior management these days as they watch Polestar’s Scandinavian ship of cool setting sail with chief executive Thomas Ingenlath, the former design boss of Seat, waving from the stern – usually dressed in a magnificent blouson jacket. Perhaps that’s why Volvo has stopped funding the marque, which it used to own as its racing team and then a motorsport-based offshoot.

Uphill struggle

Despite the hyperbole, though, it’s been something of an uphill struggle for Polestar, especially since the eyes of the financial world were on it after it launched on the Nasdaq in 2022. This was effectively with just two cars: the 2020 Polestar 2 and the remaining last payments on the inaugural Polestar hybrid muscle car, the 2019 Polestar 1, both of which were originally intended to carry Volvo badging.

Polestar’s 2022 annual report shows total sales of just over 51,000 cars – not enough to keep a church mouse alive. But back then, battery car makers were the toast of the investment community, where these days, they’re just, erm, toast.

Polestar is hoping the 3 will revive its fortunes after a difficult few years
Polestar is hoping the 3 will revive its fortunes after a difficult few years

OK, maybe not quite, but certainly the chill wind of reality has breathed over Panglossian investors. Sales to early adopters haven’t been replaced by solid sales to the wider public and residual values are on the floor, while fleet sales are largely being supported by government incentives. Chinese-made cars such as Polestar are being scrutinised by governments anxious to protect their indigenous car makers (Joe Biden is planning to quadruple import duties on Chinese-made cars). And price cuts at Tesla and others have kiboshed market confidence as well as residuals, along with the fact that legislators are retreating from what some regard as Draconian attempts to force people to change to electric too soon.

Earlier this year, Hertz pulled out of a deal to buy 65,000 Polestar 2 models, citing high repair costs of EVs, though in fact such hire car deals are usually predicated on the residual value of the cars coming back off the hire fleet, which proved vague beyond prediction.

Polestar has said it needs $1.5 billion to break even in 2025 on a sales projection of 155,000. Well, good luck with that, though Polestar’s spin machine will respond that the company has the backing of the Chinese giant Geely, it has a model plan consisting of three new cars this year and, ultimately, electric vehicle (EV) sales aren’t going to go away.

Polestar has said it needs $1.5 billion to break even in 2025
Polestar has said it needs $1.5 billion to break even in 2025

SUVs are the money-spinning areas of the market and it is there that Polestar is headed, with not one, but two new SUVs – the Polestar 3, and its SUV fastback sister, the 4. The longer-term future holds the promise of a couple of more sporting, smaller EV models based on bespoke architecture.

Not sisters

Polestars 3 and 4 are not quite sisters, however. The 3 is the bigger and more expensive of the two, and is built in the Geely plant in Chengdu, China, on Volvo’s SPA platform, which underpins most big Volvo SUVs, including this year’s seven-seat EX90 – and it will also be built in the new factory in South Carolina.

Polestar 4 is built at Hangzhou Bay in China, on Geely’s own SEA platform, which also underpins countless Zeekr models and various other Geely-owned marques. It will also be built in a new factory in Busan in South Korea.

Do a vehicle’s antecedents and manufacturing base make a difference? Well, they shouldn’t, but to understand how they can, you’ll have to wait, since our impressions of the 4 model are embargoed until July. For the moment, we’ll focus on the 3...

Polestar 3

From the off, you’ll be able to buy only the 3 with dual motors, but a cheaper, rear-drive version will arrive at the end of this year. It’s 4,900mm long, 2,120mm wide including the mirrors, and is 1,614mm high and rides on a 2,985mm wheelbase. It weighs between 2.6 and 2.7 tons, seats five, and the boot swallows 484 litres up the rear seat backs – and there’s also a 32-litre “frunk” with a lid, which is good for chucking a cable in. The 3 will also tow up to 2.2 tons and carry 100kg on the roof, which makes this one of the best electric tow cars out there. As for rivals? Well, they range from the Porsche Cayenne and BMW iX to the Mercedes EQE SUV and Ford Mustang Mach-E. Let’s not rule out the Tesla Model Y, either, which is smaller and much cheaper than the 3, but is still rapid and roomy, and an ever-present force in the family electric SUV class.

The boot can fit plenty in, with its 484 litres of capacity
The boot can fit plenty in, with its 484 litres of capacity

The Polestar 3’s battery is a 111kWh lithium-ion unit using NMC 811 cathode chemistry, which offers some of the best levels of energy storage and extraction available in mass production at the moment. The pack uses 204 CATL prismatic cells and gives a usable capacity of 107kWh, to power this 483bhp, four-wheel-drive SUV.

Add the optional Performance Pack (standard on the limited Launch Edition cars) and you get 510bhp and 671lb ft, which is enough for a 0-62mph time of 4.7sec and a WLTP range of 348 miles, while the standard dual-motor version has a 392-mile range, the same top speed and does 0-62mph in 5.0sec – as if you’d notice.

The Polestar 3’s rear axle is something rather special. Basically, you drive the rear axle (or in this case the electric motor) faster than it would normally require and then slip the drive to the wheels through a couple of clutches. This means that if one of the clutches closes fully it will actively drive a wheel faster, which gives a range of tricks including forcing the vehicle into a turn harder than it would normally.

It also rides on dual-chamber air suspension, which is a first for the Polestar brand, with active damping.

Good-looking and planet-saving

All in all, it’s fast and impressive, and while the silhouette is generic, the aerodynamics give it distinction – particularly the front bonnet vent that looks like a ducted radiator from a Seventies modsports car. This early Apple/Young British Artists vibe is slightly ruined with sans serif black-on-white labels all over the car, which look as though someone forgot to peel them off. Which, by the way, is exactly what you can do if you don’t like them.

The Polestar 3 offers a comfortable ride over long distances
The Polestar 3 offers a comfortable ride over long distances

It doesn’t feel too stark inside, though, with a big portrait central touchscreen on loan from Volvo, which also donates the column stalks and steering wheel (along with most of the drivetrain). The seat coverings are a choice of leather, faux leather and quite pleasant cloth and they are comfy and supportive. Shame about the lack of grab handles in something purporting to be sporting…

The fascia air vent is pure Polestar, though, and there’s a pleasing airiness and space in the cabin.

The infotainment software was in a pre-production form, but long experience tells us the system is big on Active Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), which not only watch the road ahead but also the driver. While there’s a glib simplicity about the systems, try to do something more complicated than turning the heating up and you’re into quite complicated operations which require a fair bit of concentration, and it’s easy to find the car admonishing you for inattention.

There’s also a zero-button zealotry about the interior that means you must even use the touchscreen to adjust the steering height and door mirrors – which is darn fussy and annoying. At least there’s an instrument binnacle to give you vital driving information, unlike the much-maligned Volvo EX30 model, which shares the same sort of centre console.

Annoyingly, the touchscreen must be used to adjust the steering height and door mirrors
Annoyingly, the touchscreen must be used to adjust the steering height and door mirrors

Still, the satnav and apps are all based around Android Automotive, as with the Polestar 2, so you get Google Maps built in.

Charging is up to 250kW DC, which will give a 30-minute 10-80 per cent top-up, and there’s an 11kW AC onboard charger. There’s also a vehicle-to-grid facility which will feed the car’s battery power back into the grid, if you want it to.

The rear seats are spacious and (unlike the Polestar 4 model, which does away with the rear window entirely) the space in the back is light and airy, especially thanks to the standard large sunroof.

The rear seats are roomy and the space in the back is light and airy
The rear seats are roomy and the space in the back is light and airy

On the road

Well, it’s certainly brisk, if not in the damn-the-torpedoes style of the Tesla Model Y. Instead, there’s a relentless surge that pushes you into your seat and just keeps going past 70-80mph and on from there. The accelerator is well modulated with a progressive actuation, which means you shouldn’t inadvertently terrify your passengers. It’s well damped and refined, and quite the vehicle to drive for long distances in a relaxed manner.

The braking system is also well adjusted with three different regen settings, although since you have to change these on the screen, you are unlikely to be doing it on the move. There are no steering-wheel paddles, presumably because they are too close to buttons for the Polestar team.

And while the opposition generally works with active anti-roll bars and rear-wheel steering, the way the Polestar 3 can be driven hard is a credit to the engineering and set-up team. You can feel those rear clutches working to push the car through the turns and they also disconnect completely when cruising on light loads to increase range.

The effect is that the steering feels quicker than it is but, more than that, there’s genuine feel and feedback to the rim, so that you have a better amount of control and confidence.

The 3 can be driven hard, which makes steering feel quicker than it is
The 3 can be driven hard, which makes steering feel quicker than it is

There is a cost in a ride quality that’s marginally stiffer than some of the opposition, but frankly it’s pocket change, and this is a fine riding vehicle on the motorway and cross-country.

The Telegraph verdict

I’m not sure I like the thought of a 510bhp, 2.7-ton high-mounted 4x4 careening down a country road near me with the driver fiddling around with the touchscreen – even if the vehicle is monitoring his eye movements.

And before you come over all misty-eyed about it being an electric car, just remember that in this configuration if you consider the electricity used to charge it, the Polestar 3 is producing CO2e at a rate of 41g/km.

For all that, the Polestar 3 seems well engineered and good-looking, it rides and drives well and is as efficient as any of these giant battery SUVs can be. There are better ways of transporting a family of five around, and I’ll be interested to see how the bigger seven-seat Volvo EX90 version of this car is to drive later this year. But, for the moment, the Polestar 3 is a refreshing alternative to the German hegemony.

But is it enough to repair Polestar’s fortunes? In the UK I reckon the company will make more money in the next couple of years selling its spare CO2 emissions to rival car makers than it’ll make out of the Polestar 3 in this form, but in this weird world of battery electric, them’s the breaks. Look out for the rear-drive version arriving in the autumn, though – that might be an altogether better and cheaper proposition.

The facts

On test: Polestar 3 Launch Edition Performance Pack

Body style: Five-door premium EV family SUV

On sale: Orders open now, delivery Q4 2024

How much? From £79,900, £85,500 in Performance Pack spec as tested

How fast? 130mph, 0-62mph in 4.7sec

How economical? 2.7-2.8m/kWh (WLTP Combined), 2.28m/kWh on test

Electric powertrain: Dual permanent-magnet motors, 111kWh / 107kWh lithium-ion NMC battery, 250kW DC charging

Electric range: 349 miles (244 miles on test)

Maximum power/torque: 510bhp/671lb ft

CO2 emissions: 0g/km (tailpipe), 41g/km (well-to-wheel)

VED: £0

Warranty: Three years or 60,000 miles on vehicle. Battery warranted for 8 years or 100,000 miles to have more than 70 per cent of its original charge capacity

The rivals

Mercedes-Benz EQE SUV 350, from £90,560

Handling can be wayward with the Mercedes-Benz EQE SUV
Handling can be wayward with the Mercedes-Benz EQE SUV - Mercedes-Benz AG/MediaPortal Mercedes-Benz AG

Yes, it’s expensive, and that’s before you’ve specified the £8,000 glass Hyperscreen dashboard. The good points are a 90kWh battery pack with a 4x4 power output of 288bhp and torque of 564lb ft. Range is quoted at 285 to 340 miles. On air suspension and the biggest 22in wheels the ride is pretty awful and the handling is a bit wayward as well. Or choose the EQE Saloon, which is a huge improvement.

BMW iX xDrive40 M Sport, from £77,440

The BMW iX is a good rival to the Polestar but doesn't look great
The BMW iX is a good rival to the Polestar but doesn't look great - Uwe Fischer

You can pay a lot more to get those weird kidney grilles on the front of your battery BMW, but this seems like a good rival. You need to take a deep breath before examining the styling, but at least the paint is self-healing so it’ll stay looking as hideous for ever. The 76.6kWh lithium-ion battery gives a power output of 322bhp/465lb ft and 257 miles of range. Even on standard steel suspension and 22in wheels it rides smoothly and handles well. And if you are in it, you can’t look at it.