New Polestar 2 vs Tesla Model 3

The all-new, fully electric Polestar 2 is the first direct rival for the hitherto unbeatable Tesla Model 3. Time to see whether the current class champ is in for a shock...

Polestar 2 vs Tesla Model 3 fronts

The contenders

NEW Polestar 2 Performance Pack

List price £54,900*
Target Price £54,900*

Executive hatch is this fledgling Swedish brand’s second model and its first fully electric car.

*Not including £3000 Government grant


Tesla Model 3 Performance

List price £56,490
Target Price £56,490

Our reigning Large Electric Car of the Year will be incredibly tough for Polestar to beat.


Love him or loathe him, you’ve got to admire Elon Musk’s crystal ball-gazing abilities. When he took the reins at Tesla in the mid-2000s, it seemed fanciful in the extreme that the company would ever be more than a producer of playthings for the eco-conscious elite. But now, with a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars on the horizon and most other manufacturers scrabbling around to prepare for that, the trendy US outfit has found itself with a clear focus and an enviable head start.

The Model 3 is a shining example. While some of Tesla’s earlier efforts were very expensive and a bit rough around the edges, the company’s BMW 3 Series-sized saloon is a genuinely great car with a price tag that isn’t beyond the wildest dreams of many buyers.

Polestar 2 rear cornering

Granted, it’s hardly cheap to buy, but factor in the various tax breaks and fuel savings and it might well work out costing you less than a conventional petrol or diesel alternative – particularly if you’re a company car driver. No wonder it’s been a top 10 seller in the UK for the past few months.

But for the first time, the Model 3 now has a like-for-like rival – and it hasn’t come from Audi, BMW, Mercedes or another of the big premium brands. Instead, it’s from fledgling Swedish brand Polestar. If you’re thinking “Who?” and imagining some bloke in a shed knocking up a rudimentary electric car, let us reassure you: Polestar is part of the same group as Volvo, so there’s reason to be optimistic.

As the name would suggest, the Polestar 2 is the brand’s second model after the Polestar 1 plug-in hybrid coupé. Prices start at a whisker under £50,000, but an extra £5000 gets you a Performance Pack that brings uprated suspension, bigger wheels and brakes and – wait for it – gold valve caps. It’s expected to be a popular option and makes the Polestar a similar price to the Model 3 Performance, our 2020 Large Electric Car of the Year.

Tesla Model 3 rear cornering

Driving

Performance, ride, handling, refinement

The Polestar’s Performance Pack doesn’t actually bring any extra performance, whereas the Model 3 Performance is much faster than lesser versions of Tesla’s executive saloon. In fact, the word ‘fast’ doesn’t really convey the savagery with which it accelerates; it can hit 60mph from a standstill in just 3.3sec. That’s comfortably quicker than a Ferrari Portofino, and the way the Model 3 slingshots you off the line makes it feel even more ballastic than it actually is.

Mind you, you’d have to be a real adrenaline junkie not to be impressed by the Polestar’s acceleration. It’ll cover the 0-60mph sprint in 4.5sec – as quick as a £65,000 Jaguar I-Pace. But while standard four-wheel drive and super-sticky tyres mean neither car struggles to transfer its power to the road, the Polestar’s nose does rear up noticeably under hard acceleration.

The Polestar weighs around quarter of a tonne more than its rival and is a few centimetres taller. Clever race-inspired Ohlins suspension does its best to hide these shortcomings in corners, but there’s no question that the Model 3 is the better-handling car. Ask the Polestar for a quick change of direction and it takes a moment longer to react, and when it does, there’s more body lean. Push really hard and it’ll run out of grip sooner, too, although you’re unlikely to get close to the limits of either car on the road.

Polestar 2 front cornering

Neither car has the sort of delicate, feelsome steering that the best petrol-powered saloons are blessed with. We reckon the ‘standard’ steering weighting is preferable in the Model 3 and ‘firm’ is best in the Polestar, but whichever setting you choose, the Polestar’s steering is slower and more relaxed; the Model 3’s is extremely sharp and direct. The extra precision gives you more confidence when you’re driving quickly along a country road, but you might find it a little too aggressive in more sedate driving.

That clever suspension fitted to the Polestar is actually adjustable, allowing you dial in a bit more comfort when you aren’t in a hurry. There’s one small issue, though: in most cars, adjusting the suspension involves nothing more than pressing a button on the dashboard, whereas in the Polestar you need to jack the car up and physically twist a knob on the end of each of the four dampers.

In reality, you’ll probably just ask your dealer to make any changes and leave it at that. We reckon Polestar’s recommended ‘comfort’ setting (18 clicks at the front, 20 at the rear) gives the best balance between cornering and comfort. All things considered, though, the Model 3 is still the more comfortable car. It’s particularly smooth and controlled at high speeds, making it an agreeable long-distance cruiser. But even around town, it does a slightly better job of cushioning you from harsh impacts, despite the fact that the Performance version comes with sports suspension.

Tesla Model 3 front cornering

One thing that does blight the Model 3’s motorway credentials is the amount of wind noise it generates around the frameless side windows. The Polestar is better in this respect and is therefore quieter at 70mph, even though both cars generate a fair bit of tyre roar compared with the best petrol-powered executive saloons. Around town, though, the Polestar’s suspension goes about its business rather noisily, making you wonder if someone is playing a bass drum in the boot.

Coronavirus-related restrictions meant we weren’t able to put the Polestar through our scientific Real Range test, but we did do some efficiency comparisons. With both cars’ batteries charged to 90%, we drove a 54-mile route – including simulated motorway, country roads and town driving – in convoy at our proving ground so that traffic conditions wouldn’t influence the results.

The Polestar’s trip computer claimed it used a total of 20.8kWh, giving a theoretical range of 196 miles from a full charge. The Model 3 claimed 17kWh of power was used, for a theoretical 241-mile range – very similar to the 239-mile Real Range figure the car achieved when we tested it last year.


Next: What are they like inside? >>

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