Behind the Wheel

2021 Polestar 2 Review: Good ride, great quality interior

The Polestar 2 is a new electric vehicle option for U.S. buyers.

Photo courtesy of Polestar

I've spent a lot of time behind the wheel of various electric cars. Tesla, Hyundai, Chevrolet, and now Polestar — the new electric car brand from Volvo and their parent company Geely.

Polestar began life as a racing team that later built speedy versions of Volvo's wagons and sedans for folks looking for a more performance-oriented ride. Then Volvo bought the whole company and spun it off as a separate premium brand focused on EVs. It's not quite the Lexus to Volvo's Toyota, given that both marques are rather premium — but there are certainly differences even with a lot of shared DNA.

2021 Polestar 2 The car is of the fastback design.Photo courtesy of Polestar

2021 Polestar 2

Polestar's first effort was the Polestar 1, a $155,000 grand touring coupe with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder super- and turbocharged engine borrowed from Volvo combined with an all-electric driving range higher than 52 miles and a total of 619 horsepower. Only 1,500 will be made. It's Polestar's halo car and you might never see one on the road.

Then there's the Polestar 2, which the company hopes you'll see a lot of. It's a five-door fastback that starts at $59,900 and sports a 78-kilowatt-hour battery. It also has a 233-mile range according to EPA tests, which is a bit lower than competing vehicles — in particular the Tesla Model 3.

But range isn't everything, and the overall experience of the Polestar 2 is fantastic. First are the looks — it borrows a lot from its Volvo siblings, which is always a good thing. The interior is very Scandinavian, with clean lines and sharp edges. The fully-loaded Launch Edition that I drove sported a vegan textile interior and the brilliant golden seatbelts that are a hallmark of the Polestar brand these days.

The car features a number of golden accents, one of Polestar's hallmarks.Photo courtesy of Polestar

There was an excellent place to put my phone to charge, in a deep bin set just ahead of the gear shifter. There are two cupholders, but one is covered up by the center armrest and is rather inaccessible. I hope the designers do better next time on that particular element. The seats are comfortable and I'm calling out the manually-adjustable thigh bolster as a worthy feature that every car should have. The rear seats have terrific legroom even though the car isn't particularly large, thanks to clever packaging and the battery location below the passenger compartment.

Trunk space is incredibly spacious as one would expect in an EV, and there's an extra bonus storage area under the trunk floor that can be accessed by lifting up on a handle on the floor — and then there's a cute little kickstand to hold the floor panel up. There is a "frunk" front-trunk, but it's very small and meant to hold charging cables and the car cover.

It's also a hoot to drive. The launch edition has the $5,000 Performance Pack fitted, adding adjustable Öhlins dampers, four-piston Brembo brake calipers up front (in gold!), those golden seatbelts, and matching golden tire valve caps which will probably be stolen at the first opportunity.

The interior of the fastback features vegan leather.Photo courtesy of Polestar

Between the two electric motors, the Polestar 2 boasts 408 horsepower and an even-more impressive 487 pound-feet of torque, pushing from zero to 60 mph in under 4.5 seconds. That's a lot of oomph and like all EVs, the torque is the most intoxicating part. It'll rocket from 70 mph up and over 100 mph with startling quickness, so watch out when you're passing on the highway.

I really like EVs. Aside from the (arguable) environmental benefits, they provide instant torque and acceleration, tend to be very safe because of packaging advantages, and, if you charge them at home, you almost never have to go to the gas station unless you're looking to pick up some Mega Millions or Powerball tickets.Tesla is the king of the roost of EVs of course, and I've taken extended drives in the Model S, Model X, and Model 3 — and without question the best feature of a Tesla isn't the car at all: it's the company's network of ultra-fast Supercharger stations.

I used a regular DC fast charger during my time with the Polestar and it was fine. But I had to set up an account with ChargePoint and enter my credit card number and all that, which admittedly I'd only have to do once if I owned the car — but I feel strongly that until the friction is removed from the charging experience, EV adoption will continue to be limited.

The Polestar 2 has a sizable trunk.Photo courtesy of Polestar

Tesla achieves this with the Supercharger — they're all over the place, and you simply pull up and plug in. The charger recognizes the car and charges you appropriately. There's no logging in or tap-to-pay or anything of the sort. You just show up.

Charging in the wild right now is like needing to download all the apps for different brands of gas station and then figuring out which one you need before buying gas rather than just swiping a credit card. It's not simple, and it's not frustration-free and it just makes the ownership experience that much more difficult. That is if the charger is operational and not occupied - a situation that is, unfortunately, far from common.

Someday I believe we'll have all this figured out and charging will become more seamless, but until then I have to give Tesla the advantage in overall ownership experience. This isn't a problem unique to Polestar, and the Polestar 2 is probably the best EV I've driven to date — but when people inevitably say "should I get this or the Tesla?" I'm going to have a hard time when it should be a very easy pick.

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The Tahoe has three available powertrains.

Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

When I write car reviews, I don't typically say very much about the engine and drivetrain unless there's something particularly interesting or unique about it.

I believe most car buyers don't really care about things like zero to 60 mph times or how many gears a transmission has. Those are features and statistics, and they're an imperfect measurement of an automobile.

I'm a fan of the Good-Better-Best school of cars, and it looks a bit like a bell curve. There aren't any genuinely terrible new cars sold today, so at worst, you're getting something that's Good. I'll call that the bottom 20 percent of the market. Sometimes these cars have engines that really are too weak and should probably be avoided, and I'll mention that in my review.

2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Duramax Diesel Diesel-powered versions of the Tahoe look just like gasoline-powered Tahoes.Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

Then there's the class of Better, or the middle 60 percent. When I review these cars, I'll include a throwaway line about the engine or drivetrain as it's not worth mentioning in depth. They get the job done, but there's nothing to get excited about.

Then there's that top twenty percent where the magic happens. Whether it's the perfect majesty of a Rolls-Royce V12, the throaty bark of a Lamborghini V10, or even the brilliance of a Toyota Corolla Hybrid's effortless 52 miles per gallon — these are engines worth discussing.

And so it is again with my test car this week: the 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe. We've already reviewed two of the Tahoe's sister vehicles, the GMC Yukon and the Cadillac Escalade. Despite being from the same family, they're definitively different branches.

But under the hood of the Tahoe is an engine that is so firmly lodged in the Best category that I can't help but write hundreds of words about it. It's the 3.0-liter six-cylinder "baby" Duramax turbodiesel that was in the works at GM for more than a decade.

It gives terrific fuel economy (for a giant truck, anyway) and fantastic torque in everyday driving. I find it far preferable to the extraordinarily thirsty 6.2-liter V8 that I had in the Yukon and the Escalade and heartily recommend it to anyone buying a GM full-size SUV or half-ton pickup. That's even more impressive because the 6.2-liter V8 is already an upgrade over the smaller 5.3-liter V8 that comes standard in most Tahoe trims.

2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Duramax Diesel The engine is a mighty six-cylinder.Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

It sports 277 horsepower, which doesn't sound like a lot, but horsepower is a poor quantifier of engine performance. Because it's a diesel and because it has a turbocharger, the baby Duramax has gobs of torque with which to pull away from stoplights or accelerate on a hill, or when you're trying to pass someone and you need to accelerate from 55 to 75 mph as quickly as possible.

The Tahoe's diesel engine excels in all these scenarios while delivering an EPA-estimated 21 mpg in the city, 28 mpg on the highway, and 24 mpg combined in the RWD trim that I drove. That's a healthy improvement over the 16 mpg combined from the 6.2L and four-wheel drive-equipped Yukon. It's worth noting that the four-wheel drive diesel fares a little worse, getting 22 mpg combined, but that's still far better than the traditional gasoline engine.

It does all this, and it can even tow up to 8,200 pounds when properly equipped, but most people will never tow anything heavier than a small horse trailer or a boat with their full-size SUV. If you're hauling that much weight on the regular, you've likely opted for a heavy-duty pickup.

The irony of the Volkswagen dieselgate scandal is twofold. For one, some were pulling similar testing shenanigans that Volkswagen was — it's just that VW was the first to get caught. And second, those VW diesel engines were fantastic. They were torquey and excelled in everyday driving, pesky pollution aside.

2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Duramax Diesel Diesel Tahoes are branded with the Duramax name.Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

There's a dirty secret to the horsepower numbers that most carmakers cite: they peak at very high RPMs that average drivers will never reach. But torquey turbocharged engines like this baby Duramax? It generates 95% of its 460 pound-feet of torque at just 1,250 RPM, and then peak torque runs all the way from 1,500 to 3,000 RPM. That means you're in the prime torque band nearly continuously.

In plain English, that means it's way better to drive. It's more fun, it's more efficient, and thanks to all manner of fancy technology, diesel engines aren't weird and finicky anymore.

Yes, you should probably plug it in if you park it outside in frigid weather. But other than that one minor caveat, this diesel is nonpareil.

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The 2021 Audi E-Tron is able to tow a modest amount.

Photo courtesy of Audi AG

Discussing electric vehicles (EVs) today is a funny thing, because the models people are most excited about haven't yet hit the market. That's even more true for EVs with towing capabilities, as electric pickup trucks won't start leaving factory assembly lines until mid-2021 at the absolute earliest, and most are months behind that ambitious timeline. Still, looking at what we can buy today, along with models that will soon be available, we can get a good feel for where the EV world stands on towing.

As we get closer to the end of 2021, we'll start to see even more electric vehicles with respectable towing capacities. GMC has been quiet on the capabilities of its Hummer EV, but its power numbers and size indicate that it'll be one to watch. Ford already towed a freight train with a prototype of its EV pickup, but again, no word on actual numbers. We also know that Chevrolet will roll out an electric pickup of its own, but don't count on seeing the Silverado name on the electrified model.

2022 GMC Hummer EV The 2022 GMC Hummer EV is expected to arrive late this year. Photo courtesy of GMC

It's important to remember that towing capacity is different than payload capacity, which deals with the weight of the vehicle itself, plus any fluids, passengers, and cargo. It's also good to note that most vehicles, even today's gas pickup trucks, need to be properly equipped before they're able to tow anything, trailer or otherwise. Many vehicles, such as the Tesla Model Y on our list, require a towing package, which adds a hitch and other hardware, as well as software patches to handle the strain that towing puts on the vehicle.

Don't get caught up in fancy range and torque numbers, because just like their gas counterparts, EVs will be nowhere near as efficient while pulling a trailer. There's some dispute over whether the outrageous torque claims from GMC and Tesla are real, or an engineering flim-flam meant to tempt an unknowing public.

If you're looking for an EV and need to tow, this is a decent time to be in the market, but the longer you can wait the more selection you'll have. Be prepared to open your wallet for an electric vehicle of any type, however, because most are currently more expensive than comparable gas models. No matter where you end up with your next towing rig, gas or electric, be sure you understand your vehicle's capabilities and your own skill before hitting the road.

Tesla Model Y

Tesla Model Y

Photo courtesy of Tesla

Towing Capacity: 3,500 pounds
It may seem farfetched that an electric crossover could tow a trailer, but the three models on our list that you can actually walk out and buy today are crossovers. The all-wheel drive Model Y is rated at up to 3,500 pounds but must be equipped with a $1,200 tow package, which includes a high-strength steel tow bar with two-inch hitch receiver, a trailer harness with NA 7-pin standard connector, and a tow mode software package. That's on top of the Model yYs ability to carry up to seven people and blistering performance.

Hyundai Ioniq 5

2022 Hyundai Ioniq 5 Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor Group

Towing Capacity: 3,500 pounds
Like its corporate cousin, Kia, Hyundai is set to debut a surprisingly capable small EV for 2022. The Ioniq 5 brings quirky forward-looking style to the table, along with a stout 3,500-pound tow rating. Hyundai says that the Ioniq 5 will sport a driving range of between 250 and 300 miles, and notes that it will be available with two powertrain options, one that can deliver 215 horsepower and a more powerful unit with 315 horsepower. The Hyundai offers a clean, futuristic cabin with two large driver-oriented screens, and will be available with semi-autonomous driving features.

Rivian R1T and R1S

Rivian R1S

Photo courtesy of Rivian

Towing Capacity: 11,000 pounds
Rivian captured everyone's attention with big investments from Ford, Amazon, and others, but it will also be one of the first companies to deliver an electric pickup truck when the first units land in late 2021. The R1T is a compelling electric truck with supercar acceleration, legitimate off-road chops, and the ability to tow up to 11,000 pounds, which puts it on par with some of the best full-size trucks available today. Making things even better for Rivian buyers, the company's R1S SUV will sport much of the same capability and a towing capacity of up to 7,700 pounds.

Tesla Cybertruck

Tesla Cybertruck Photo courtesy of Tesla

Towing Capacity: 14,000 pounds
The Cybertruck's unveiling press event was weird on a bunch of levels, from Elon Musk's theatrics to a broken window, of all things. But if any of the specs that were laid out at the event and soon after are true, the funky Tesla will be a revelation for people needing to tow heavy loads. Mixed in with a bunch of other eye-popping specs are the towing numbers. In its most basic configuration, Tesla says the traditional Cybertruck will be able to tow up to 7,500 pounds, but in its most capable configurations the truck is said to tow up to 14,000 pounds.

It's important to take a step back for a moment and note that nobody's actually driven or tested the Cybertruck and things could change drastically before it actually reaches the market.

Audi E-Tron Sportback

2021 Audi E-Tron Sportback Photo courtesy of Audi AG

Towing Capacity: 4,000 pounds
Audi's electric offerings range from cushy premium crossovers to red-hot electric sports sedans, and some can tow an impressive amount. The E-Tron Sportback is one, and with the ability to tow up to 4,000 pounds, it can take the whole family, all of their gear, and pull a small trailer at the same time. On top of that, the Audi's interior is packed with upscale materials and useful tech.

Volvo XC40 Recharge

Volvo XC40 Recharge side plug Photo courtesy of Volvo Cars

Towing Capacity: 3,307 pounds
The funky XC40 crossover got an all-electric model a couple of years ago, and though it's small, the Recharge EV model can tow up to 3,307 pounds. The crossover's upright and slightly boxy shape give it excellent headroom inside, and the folding seats inside open up the storage area to a decent 47.39 cubic feet of cargo space. To sweeten the pot, Volvo offers the XC40 Recharge with several desirable feature, such as a panoramic sunroof, a large touchscreen infotainment system, and the latest advanced driver assistance tech.

Kia EV6

2022 Kia EV6 GT-Line Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

Towing Capacity: 3,500 pounds
Despite its name being strikingly similar to a popular band from the 1990s, the Kia EV6 has some serious capability. When properly equipped, it can tow up to 3,500 pounds which is more than enough for a small boat or trailer. That's impressive for such a small vehicle, but the Kia offers more than that, with futuristic looks, an available long-range battery, and an open, airy cabin.

Volkswagen ID.4

2021 Volkswagen ID.4: Exterior Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

Towing Capacity: 2,200 pounds
The Volkswagen ID.4 isn't the most powerful vehicle on our list, but it's got just enough capability to get the job done for folks wanting to pull a small trailer or boat. The ID.4's tow rating of 2,200 pounds may not be all that impressive, but its price tag, upscale interior, and clever features make it a compelling choice among small electric crossovers. The ID.4 also gets a slew of advanced driver aids, many of which are standard, as well as a 10.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with navigation.

Polestar 2

2021 Polestar 2 Photo courtesy of Polestar

Towing Capacity: 2,000 pounds
The Polestar 2 lands just under VW ID.4 at the low end of the towing spectrum, with capability of pulling up to 2,000 pounds. Volvo's sub-brand offers plenty of other compelling features for the vehicle that more than make up for the slight lack of towing ability. Polestar says the 2 can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in under five seconds, and notes that the vehicle is built with the goal of being as sustainable as possible in the areas of battery design and manufacturing.

Tesla Model X

2021 Tesla Model X Photo courtesy of Tesla Motors

Towing Capacity: 5,000 pounds
Tesla's funky gullwing-doored crossover is weird, expensive, and surprisingly capable. When properly equipped, the Model X can tow up to 5,000 pounds. It's also blazingly quick, and in some configurations can reach 60 mph from a standstill in just 2.5 seconds. Teslas are also known for their technology, and the Model X is no different. It can be equipped with advanced driver assist systems and comes with one of the largest and most functional infotainment touchscreens on the market today.

Hyundai Kona Electric

2020 Hyundai Kona Electric Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America

Towing Capacity: 2,800 pounds
Hyundai's EV offerings are growing in number and sophistication, and no vehicle illustrates that point better than the Kona Electric. The tiny but mighty Hyundai Kona Electric is able to tow up to 2,800 pounds when properly equipped, and with an MSRP that lands well under $40,000, it brings a healthy dose of value to the table as well. Though the Kona isn't offered with all-wheel drive, its 201-horsepower electric motor is strong enough to propel it from zero to 60 mph in a little over six seconds.

Audi E-Tron

2021 Audi E-Tron

Photo courtesy of Audi AG

Towing Capacity: 4,000 pounds
Another crossover. This time from a legacy European automaker with a catalog full of premium vehicles. The E-Tron is powered by twin electric motors with up to 402 horsepower and 490 pound-feet of torque. On top of that, it's got a top speed of 124 mph and a cabin packed with upscale materials. Audi also says that the E-Tron is good to tow up to 4,000 pounds, which is plenty for a small trailer or boat.

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