The Tesla Model 3 is officially the most popular electric car ever made, surpassing the original mass market electric car, the Nissan Leaf, in April 2021. Surprised? Probably with good reason, because the Model 3 isn’t exactly a budget runabout: it’s a high-tech, future-gazing saloon with a starting price north of £40,000 and, in some versions, pace more akin to a supercar than a zero emissions runabout. And it’s from a relatively unknown carmaker.
Polestar is a relatively unknown carmaker too, but look at the Polestar 2 and it’ll probably seem vaguely familiar. That’s because Polestar is Volvo’s newly created eco-conscious electric brand. The 2 is its first high-volume production model – there is a Polestar 1 but it’s a £140,000 hybrid coupe – and it’s aimed squarely at buyers of…you’ve guessed it…the Tesla Model 3. So, which is better? Let’s find out…
So which is better then?
It’s not quite that simple, obviously. If you’re a bit pressed for time then we’ll tell you right away that the Tesla is quicker, more ostensibly futuristic, and has the benefit of Tesla’s nationwide Supercharger plug-in network – for now. The Polestar has a much greater sense of depth and luxury, thanks to its Volvo vibes. And it’s a hatchback so it’s a bit more practical.
Volvo vibes? What are they?
The Polestar 2 comes across like a taller Volvo S60 and most of its basic cabin architecture is familiar to the Volvo range, except for its massive Google-powered touchscreen, whose software is very intuitive and will be quite familiar to anyone with an Android phone. And because the Polestar is tall, the driving position is a little higher – not quite SUV-like, but set higher than the average hatchback.
But the main difference between a Polestar 2 and a common or garden Volvo is a characteristic that might be a little problematic for some: its ride quality. The Polestar is generally comfortable, but because it’s a sporty car it has quite over-firm suspension as standard, of a type that reads all the lumps and bumps on the road. This can be mitigated with the Performance Pack, which adds adjustable dampers, but it’s a pricey option (£5000) and the adjustments need to be made manually – as in, by getting under the car with a toolkit, which is best left to a Polestar dealer.
An uncomfortable electric Volvo then, basically?
Not really, no. We might have overstated it. In most ways besides some wheel agitation on rougher roads, the Polestar 2 is a comfortable car. The seats themselves are supremely comfortable – more Volvo vibes – and the general quiet refinement of the Polestar is one of its best qualities. You’d say it feels like a more hefty, arguably more ‘complete’ car than the Tesla Model 3.
Are you saying the Model 3 feels unfinished?
We’re not, but now you mention it, the bare minimalism of the Tesla’s cabin can make it appear like Tesla bought a generic, unfurnished car dashboard and completed it by just gluing a massive screen to the thing. That’s really part of the appeal though. The Model 3 feels like it’s dispensed with unnecessary clutter, sort of like what Apple did with the first iPhone. There’s no instrument display behind the steering wheel, and no air vents – or so it seems at first. It’s a car built by a tech company, and it shows.
No air vents? It must get well hot inside the Tesla?
You’d think, but the ‘hidden’ air vents are one of many unique ways that Tesla has approached cabin design in the 3. The most impressive job it does is hiding its technology and its quirks behind a façade of scarcity. Most of the car’s functions are controlled or displayed on the 15-inch display screen, including the drive selector, speed, the windscreen wipers and the mirror adjustments – plus the heater controls, which allow you to choose the temperature and flow direction of the air from the vents recessed into a wide single dashboard strip. The air conditioning was designed using thermodynamic principles too, using a separate air stream and electronic gates to help guide the direction of the main airflow. Clever stuff.
Wait a minute…the drive selector and the speedometer are on the screen?
Yep, it takes a little getting used to, but it usually doesn’t feel like change for change’s sake…well, possibly a bit in the case of the speedometer, which probably would be better on a display behind the wheel. Same with the door handles. There’s a button for that too (not on the screen, mind) but also a latch near the window switches, in case the button fails. Still, if you embrace the idea of change and difference, the Model 3 is just a wonderful thing that makes the day-to-day monotony of getting to work or whatever a much more interesting thing.
Okay, but which one is better to drive?
You might be expecting the Tesla to drive poorly, given the company is so new and the car so tech-focussed. That’s not the case though. The Tesla actually drives with a surprisingly retro sort of feel. Its suspension is on the softer side, making it brilliantly comfy around town, over potholes and things, although the flipside is that it doesn’t ever settle into perfectly smooth sailing at higher speed.
There’s more glass in the Tesla than in an average car because the windscreen is tall and the roof is glass too, the pillars are thin and it all feels quite small around you. All round visibility is amazing, even though you sit low. The short bonnet feels a bit like a Porsche’s front end from the driver’s seat, which helps give this sense that you’re piloting an old school sportscar. It’s all a charming mix of retro and future.
The Polestar, on the other hand, might be ‘sportier’ on a surface level because of its firmness, but in fact it doesn’t ever feel as light on its feet as the Tesla. It’s more refined – more settled at motorway speeds and a little quieter – but probably not as involving to drive. Its high-quality conventionality is a strength.
Okay so onto the big question: which is quicker?
There are various versions of each, but if it’s straight line speed you want, it’s the Tesla. The company updates the 3 fairly regularly, but there are 3 to choose from: Standard Range Plus, Performance and Long Range. The first has one electric motor driving the rear wheels, a 278-mile range and a 5.3-second 0-60mph time. Both Performance and Long Range models add another electric motor, in the latter case with a focus on battery capacity, equating to a 360-mile range, and the former the quickest Model 3 with a mad 3.1-second 0-60-time. The Polestar 2 began life with just the one drivetrain, a twin-motor setup with 408hp and good for a 4.7-second 0-62mph time. Its 78kWh battery means a 292-mile official range. It never feels as quick as it looks on paper, but it’s obviously quick enough. Today the Polestar 2, undoubtedly inspired by Tesla, is also available with a couple of a single motor variants, one with a bigger battery and a 335-mile range and another ‘Standard Range’ car with 245 miles. The single motor is considerably slower than any Model 3, though, taking 7.4 seconds to hit 62mph.
What about charging?
Charging is another area where the Tesla gets ahead thanks to a network of charging stations (called the Supercharger network) which is the most extensive and the fastest in the UK – for the time being, anyway. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has confirmed that all EV owners will be able to plug into the network by the end of 2021. There are more than 600 Supercharger points in the UK alone (of 25,000+ worldwide). Plugged into the 250kW DC Supercharger network, a Model 3 can be fed with 172 miles of charge in as little as 15 minutes; for comparison, most home wall boxes charge at a 7kW rate.
The Polestar 2 charges at a maximum rate of 150kW, meaning you’ll get it from 20-80% in 20 minutes – still rapid, assuming you can find a 150kW station. At a more common 50kW public charging station you’re looking at an hour to do the same thing.
Which one is most practical?
The Tesla is a saloon, so although you can fold the rear seats down you’re always hindered by the relatively small boot opening, though it does have an additional luggage space at the front. In total the boot space is quoted at 425 litres. There’s plenty of cabin space for 4 in a Model 3, too.
The Polestar 2 is at an advantage here because it’s a hatchback so its 405-litre boot stretches out to 1095 with the rear seats folded down, with a large opening. There’s also a small space under the bonnet to store your charging cables, say. Leg space is a little lacking in the 2, albeit there’s lots of head room and more storage cubby holes than there is in the Tesla.
Go on then, pick one…
Tesla Model 3. There, we said it. The Polestar is great too. To each their own though, obviously.
Tesla Model 3: 8/10
Polestar 2: 7/10