COMPARISON: The Tesla Model 3 beats Volvo’s Polestar 2 EV on paper, but here’s why the Polestar won me over

Image
Tesla Model 3 versus Polestar 2. Tesla and Kristen Lee/Business Insider

In terms of more compact, luxury EVs with decent range, the Tesla Model 3 and Polestar 2 are pretty evenly matched. Both offer five seats, all-electric driving, and quick acceleration, and both are fighting for a similar clientele.

But if I had to choose one, I’d easily go with the Polestar.

The Polestar 2 is the first all-electric car from the new Volvo- and Geely-backed brand officially unveiled in 2019, while the Model 3 is Tesla’s first stab at a lower-cost EV for the masses. There were some production issues in the beginning, but soon after the car became the most popular EV in the US.

I’ve spent time in both the Polestar 2 and the Model 3 Long Range. Both have their strengths — but most importantly, both are solid EV choices for anyone looking to transition away from internal combustion engines. They don’t rely on fossil fuels, but everything else about them basically feels like you’re driving a normal car.

Here’s how they compare.

Interior

Tesla Model 3

Image
Tesla Model 3. Tesla

The Tesla Model 3’s interior is famously minimalist, with everything controlled via the big, horizontally mounted centre touch screen. From there, you can view the car’s status, navigation instructions, and music options.

I found the screen to be an interesting idea, but impractical in practice. I dislike having to look away from the road to adjust something via a touchscreen. There wasn’t a traditional driver-facing information cluster, either.

Image
Tesla Model 3. Tesla

Also, the centre console surface is covered with piano black trim — reflective, black plastic — which I hate because it gets grubby with fingerprints so quickly. Underneath all the piano-black trim, however, is a huge amount of very handy storage space.

The rest of the Model 3’s interior is just as stark, but the leathers are soft and the wood inlaid in the dash is a nice touch. It seats five passengers and has a decent-sized trunk, as well as a front trunk. Tesla quotes the luggage capacity to be 15 cubic feet.

Polestar 2

Image
2021 Polestar 2. Polestar

The 2’s interior looks like a car interior, which I am more familiar with and prefer using. There’s also a big touchscreen, yes, but there’s also an information cluster you can easily see while driving.

The 2 also has Google’s Android operating system built in, which meant that the interface and user experience were all familiar to me, an Android user. It’s an intuitive system and didn’t force me to learn a new UI/UX just because I was in an unfamiliar car.

Image
2021 Polestar 2. Polestar

Interior materials were also nice to the touch, but Polestar’s commitment to sustainability — seat fabrics made from recycled plastic bottles, interior plastics made from waste cork products, and floor mats made from recycled fishing nets — is cool. A leather interior is available upon request, though.

The 2 also has a front trunk in addition to its rear trunk. Polestar quotes the luggage capacity to be 15.5 cubic feet.

Exterior

Tesla Model 3

Image
Tesla Model 3. Tesla

According to Tesla’s own measurements, the Model 3 is 184.8 inches long, 82.2 inches wide with mirrors, and 56.8 inches tall.

Its design is far softer and more oblong than the 2’s, with rounded headlights.

Polestar 2

Image
2021 Polestar 2. Polestar

The 2, according to Polestar’s measurements, is 181.3 inches long, 78.1 inches wide with mirrors, and 58.2 inches tall.

Maybe it’s because there are so many Model 3s driving around now that everyone knows what they look like, but the 2 is visually far more striking to me. I love the Thor’s Hammer daytime running lights and the overall shape of the vehicle.

Driving Impressions

Tesla Model 3

Image
Tesla Model 3. Tesla

Evaluating electric cars on how they drive is sort of a pointless exercise, as they all drive basically the same: seamless acceleration, silent save for the futuristic whirring, quick. The big differences come down to the packaging, fit and finish, and the user experience.

In Long Range, Dual Motor, all-wheel drive setup, the Model 3 produces a claimed 346 horsepower and can achieve an estimated 145 mph top speed and hit 60 mph in just 4.4 seconds.

If you opt for the Model 3 Performance, however, the claimed power output jumps to 450 horsepower and 471 pound-feet of torque. Zero to 60 mph is achieved in an estimated3.2 seconds and there’s a 162 mph top speed.

Tesla Model 3
Tesla Model 3. Tesla

The Long Range Model 3 is quick, but the Performance Model 3 feels like a rocket. The acceleration is so instant that it feels like being shot forward with the world’s biggest cannon. It never got old. It was never not entertaining.

In my own evaluation, I found the Model 3’s steering to be weighted very favourably, not too light and not too heavy. It felt quite natural.

Forward visibility out of the Model 3 was also phenomenal. The low, short hood gave a near-unencumbered view through the windshield.

The Model 3 also offers Autopilot capabilities — Tesla’s advanced driver-assistance system, which does not allow for fully automated driving. In my own experience, Autopilot and General Motors’ Super Cruise are among the best driver-assistance systems currently on the market.

Polestar 2

Image
2021 Polestar 2. Kristen Lee/Business Insider

The 2 produces a claimed 408 horsepower and 487 pound-feet of torque. It also has an all-wheel-drive setup. Zero to 60 mph takes an estimated 4.5 seconds. Polestar did not provide a top speed estimate.

I didn’t love the 2’s steering feedback. In its standard setting, it was far too light. In sport mode, there was a bit more weight to it, but I never felt like it adequately communicated the road very well to me.

Image
2021 Polestar 2. Kristen Lee/Business Insider

Everything else was great, though. The car’s low centre of gravity and instant acceleration made it feel much smaller and dartier than it actually was. One-pedal driving is also very easy to master.

The 2 is also very quick, and for the purposes of the general public, doesn’t need to be any quicker. But if you want the neck-snapping acceleration, nothing really beats the Model 3 Performance.

The 2 offers Pilot Assist, Volvo’s version of driver-assistance technology, but I didn’t get a chance to try it.

Range

Tesla Model 3

Image
Tesla Model 3. Tesla

In its Long Range configuration, the Model 3 returns an estimated 322 miles, which surpasses that mystical 300-mile mark that people seemed to be stuck on. The Standard Range Plus Model 3, which comes with rear-wheel drive, is an estimated 250 miles. The Performance has an estimated range of 299 miles.

Tesla also has an expansive Supercharger network, which means that there are more places for owners to charge their Teslas when away from home.

Polestar 2

Image
2021 Polestar 2. Kristen Lee/Business Insider

The 2 has been available for a much shorter amount of time than the Model 3, so there’s really only one version available to buyers during the time of this writing: the “launch edition.”

The 2 has not yet been tested by the EPA, but InsideEVs suggests that the range could be 275 miles.

Polestar cars use the Combined Charging System plug, which is different from the one Teslas use. A Polestar spokesperson admitted to me that Tesla has the jump in terms of public charging infrastructure, but he’s confident that the rest of the charging network will catch up quickly enough.

Price

Tesla Model 3

Image
Tesla Model 3. Tesla

The Standard Range Plus starts at $US37,990, the Long Range starts at $US46,990, and the Performance starts at $US54,990.

Tesla also famously operates with a direct-sales model, which has run into well-documented disagreements with local dealership franchise laws. For you, the consumer, this can mean that there might not always be a Tesla store near your home, but it could also mean fewer variations in store-to-store buying experiences.

Polestar 2

Image
2021 Polestar 2. Polestar

The launch edition 2 starts at $US59,900. A base model will be available later on, but this is what we have for now.

As a fledgling brand, Polestar doesn’t have as many stores as Tesla does. The company hopes to have more than 20 locations in its network within the next couple of years, but for now, the main markets are San Francisco, Los Angeles, and the tri-state area, according to a company spokesperson.

2021 Polestar 2.
2021 Polestar 2. Polestar

However, Polestar will be able to rely on Volvo’s established dealer network for service and will also offer a free pickup and delivery service anywhere within a 150-mile radius of a participating Polestar location.

Polestar will not operate with a direct-sales model, but because the company allows for extensive online ordering, the company spokesperson was confident that the buying experience will be simple and stress-free.

You can read about how Polestar sales and service will work here.

Verdict

Image
Tesla Model 3. Tesla

Despite how much fun I had zooming around all over the place in the Performance Model 3, I think I’d still take the Polestar 2.

I think it looks better on the outside and I find the interior far more usable. It’s futuristic and screen-heavy, sure, but it’s also still a car’s interior. I don’t need to learn new multi-tasking skills just to use it. And having Android automotive as the native operating system is nice.

Image
2021 Polestar 2. Polestar

I also liked the feel of the interior materials. The “vegan” interior didn’t appear any less premium even though it didn’t use cowhide.

Overall, I thought the 2’s fit and finish was nicer than the Tesla’s, which apparently can vary depending on which car you get.

True, the Long Range most likely has a longer range than the 2, and Tesla’s Supercharger network is far more extensive, but I wager most of an EV’s charging takes place at home over the course of its ownership. The US charging infrastructure network is expanding, too, so it’s not like there won’t be anywhere to charge a Polestar.

Image
Tesla Model 3. Tesla

I also think Polestar’s free pickup and delivery service is pretty sweet. It’s unfortunate for those who don’t live near a Polestar location, but for those who do, it’s very convenient. Should Polestar really catch on here and expand its locations, it also expands the area it can service — no local franchise laws to tangle with.

Yes, on paper, it seems like the Model 3 has the 2 beat. The Tesla is slightly cheaper, has a longer range, offers a Performance model, and can be optioned with the very capable Autopilot system. But choosing a car is rarely a logical act, and being in the Polestar just made me happier.

Sometimes it’s not more complicated than that.

Image
2021 Polestar 2. Polestar