Last year we wrote the first in a series of articles putting car marques head-to-head! We started with Rolls Royce vs Bentley, and this month we’re focussing on electric vehicles. But, rather than share our somewhat inexpert opinions on EVs, we thought we’d turn to someone more qualified. Our good friend, Bryan McMorran, from AutoEV, agreed to do the honours for us and share a head-to-head comparison. Read on for all the details on Tesla vs Polestar. Over to you, Bryan…
Tesla vs Polestar:
A short history of Tesla:
Just like it took a tech company like Apple to change the music industry, it should be no shock (if you’ll pardon the pun) that it was also a tech company that changed the motor industry. Love them or loathe them, there can be no doubt that we adapted to electric cars so much quicker thanks to Tesla. Even today, over a decade from when we first experienced them, Tesla is still the yardstick by which all others must be judged. But is that the reality? Many legacy manufacturers, the Korean ones in particular, now seem equal, if not superior, in some of their products. And the EV market has also seen many new brands emerge, willing to show that there is a true and sometimes superior alternative to the originator, Tesla.
Tesla made the headlines in 2008 when it showed the then-new Tesla Roadster, a small, relatively lightweight sports car that bore more than a passing resemblance to the Lotus Elise on which it was based. Now electric vehicles were far from new. In fact, over 100 years ago, cars powered by electricity far outsold cars powered by petrol. And while it never caught on due to the production costs of the internal combustion engine being a lot cheaper, the EV would always be on the sidelines, watching, waiting for its time.
Whatever one thinks of Elon Musk, it cannot be denied that his success at turning a low-volume-specialist car manufacturer into a global phenomenon has been incredible. And it continues pushing boundaries with even futuristic-looking pick-up trucks and articulated trucks waiting in the wings.
Yet there is an argument to be had that with the company shifting its focus; it has allowed others to emerge from the shadows and challenge the game-changer.
A short history of Polestar:
In 1996, a small Swedish racing outfit made waves in that country’s touring car championship with a Volvo. This success was the start of Polestar becoming a recognised brand worldwide. After being bought out by Volvo some years later, their now parent company, the Chinese giant Geely, decided that Polestar should have a new directive; to be the flag-waving EV-only company destined to take on the might of Tesla.
Polestar started, much like their American counterpart, very cautiously at first. Its initial offering wasn’t even a pure EV. It was a high-performance petrol hybrid in the shape of the Polestar 1, a carbon-bodied, very exclusive (and therefore very expensive) luxury GT. It wasn’t until 2020 that they really came out to tackle Tesla. That year they launched their mid-sized executive sports saloon, the Polestar 2, which squared up directly to the new Tesla Model 3.
Character and Look:
In terms of how the two companies approach the design of their products, they are poles apart. As far as Tesla seems to be concerned, it is very much still a technology-led company with design flair and flourish, taking a back seat to the software that is very much at its core. If we were being kind, we’d suggest that the cars have an aerodynamic efficiency to their look. However, being a bit more critical, one could use the word bland.
One thing is sure, however, just like Apple with the legend that is the iPhone, Tesla has seen no cause to enhance their design further away from what was already there. Perhaps it’s a case of if it’s not broken, etc… Perhaps they see design as a secondary purchasing reason. Whichever way you cut it, the anonymous and, in some way, the awkward look of the Model 3 will not be your main reason for purchasing one.
All of this is the opposite of the way Polestar have approached things. Product design is very much a Scandinavian way, and the Polestar 2 is just the latest in a very long line of desirable-looking products to come from the region. Polestar, like Carl Hansen furniture or Louis Poulson lighting, combines that uncluttered functionality with minimalist and timeless style evident in the region’s Nordic Classicism architecture. At first, their Volvo roots were very much in evidence. However, as more products have come, Polestar is developing its design language to distance itself from its Swedish sibling. Not because of any other reason than the desire to establish itself in its own right.
Both companies seem to be trying to appeal to a very different type of customer while still competing for market share in the same space.
In some respects, having no legacy of automotive history to speak of, Tesla has approached the interior of the Model 3 from a very clean sheet of paper. Whilst criticism of the exterior design is very much justified, its interior, both in aesthetics and functionality, must be praised.
In a world where we control most of our lives through touchscreens, the Model 3 manages to group everything within a 15-inch landscape display that “floats” from the face of the basic dashboard shelf. No driver’s binnacle is present as the central screen houses everything from the speedometer to navigation to entertainment, such as Spotify and Netflix. It also includes many driver aids (and soon a very high level of autonomy) and all the controls for the car’s essential functions. From lights to the heating and ventilation, one can access everything from this screen, and while many may question the complication upon first acquaintance, it soon becomes second nature and will have you questioning the need to return to any form of traditional layout in other cars.
The Polestar counters with a Google-based operating system that is simple. Where the argument for the Polestar 2 wins favour is in its clarity. In front of the driver, a more traditional binnacle houses speed and the information you may need at a glance, the Tesla asking you to search it out more on that larger (and, to be fair, very clear) screen. Like its American counterpart, the Polestar offers very little in the way of physical controls. Drivers control most via the portrait-orientated infotainment screen. What is much better in the Polestar is the design of the graphics and the fonts used. You get the impression that the design department was very much involved with engineering the technology and its aesthetics, whereas, in the Tesla, you get what you get.
Fixtures & Fittings:
An area that Tesla has always struggled with, and to some extent still does, is the quality of its fixtures and fittings. Whilst better than it has been, the Model 3 struggles to feel like a quality product in its basic build, diverting your eyes with applied science. The materials all feel very much like a more basic car trying to elevate itself to the upper echelons of the automotive hierarchy through false promises, whereas in the Polestar, that relationship with its sister brand Volvo pays dividends here.
With Polestar, there is more solidity in its cabin, more thoughtful use of materials and a better understanding of what the modern customer expects from a brand competing in this market area. And now, sustainability is every bit (if not more) important to today’s drivers than flashy gimmicks. Both cars offer it, but you get the feeling Tesla merely gives it a passing nod. In contrast, Polestar makes it integral to the company’s whole existence as they aim to become a completely carbon-neutral company as quickly as possible.
Neither car pretends to be as cosseting as the very finest luxury cars. Tesla has gone to great lengths to ensure they are as renowned for high performance as they are for electric credibility.
With Polestar’s roots firmly entrenched in a motorsport engineering company, their CV leans very much towards the sporting end of the spectrum.
That said, both cars offer a comfortable place to spend time. Tesla’s upgrades to the Model 3 at its mid-life facelift included double glazing to assist with dampening external noise and helping with cabin acoustics, with some success. The only problem with removing the audible interference of the internal combustion engine is that it elevates all the other external noises, such as wind noise, road noise and chassis chatter. In most of these respects, Tesla acquits itself well. The Tesla is relatively hushed inside, and while the seats offer plenty of cushioning and soft materials, they don’t quite provide the same support level as the Polestar chairs. Polestar obviously inherited this area of expertise from Volvo, as they have always excelled over pretty much every other brand in this respect.
The Optional Polestar Performance Pack:
Though the Polestar isn’t without its faults here, many choose the optional Performance Pack with the Polestar 2, an expensive though desirable option. Within this is the fitment of 20-way adjustable Ohlin dampers, although they have to be altered by the old-fashioned method of using spanners rather than at the touch of a button. Depending on where they have been positioned, they can provide too much stiffness in the chassis or an element of slackness that could cause too much float over deeper undulations.
However, the main issue with the Tesla is its inability to deal with harsher, more broken surfaces. Where the Polestar limits these intrusions to the suspension, the Model 3 seems to transmit them beyond the chassis and into the actual structure of the car, making even some of the most minor road imperfections announce their presence in a much more violent and uncomfortable way.
Performance & Driveability:
When you place Tesla vs Polestar head-to-head, this is where the Tesla reigns supreme. Its ability to thrill in the most basic form of delivering a thrust that not that long ago would have been the preserve of supercars never fails to make you raise a smile. It deploys its power well, with the Dual Motor and Performance models offering superior levels of grip and confidence, making you wonder how the tyre’s rubber even remains on the wheel.
Who wins the traffic light Grand Prix?
Now while the Polestar is no slouch delivering over 400bhp in its dual motor car, it can’t match the Tesla in a basic traffic light grand prix. The only way you could argue for the Polestar here is that it feels slightly more controlled and less manic than the Tesla. But even so, that rush you get from that power delivery is hard to resist.
That controllability does, however, make the Polestar a more rewarding companion on twisty roads. Not that the Tesla is disgraced, but because you focus more on the straight line speed, getting into a more fluid drive down a winding road takes more effort and concentration in the Model 3. It is hard not to rely on that instantaneous acceleration between the bends, but the downside there is having to take the speed off, and here the Tesla is found wanting, its brakes never really giving the driver confidence in their ability making it a bit more of a staccato driving experience.
There is no doubt that Tesla has done wonders in delivering what the owners of its cars need. Second only to its searing performance is the Tesla’s range, efficiency, and ease of use when it comes to living with an electric vehicle. No matter what level of Model 3 you plump for, official figures promise 300+ miles of electric motoring with good efficiency and fast charging speeds at your disposal.
The Polestar also delivers an official range of over 300 miles, yet replenishing the car comes at the mercy of a charging network that cannot compete with the exclusive use the Tesla driver enjoys.
Space & Practicality:
Both cars offer plenty of space in their respective cabins and luggage areas. Again, the Tesla perhaps edges it in terms of carrying capacity with a large boot with good underfloor storage and a large front compartment large enough for a small carry-on size suitcase or larger rucksack. Its only downside is that it lacks the versatility of the Polestar’s hatchback, which also provides ample room for bags at both ends.
Rear passengers will sit slightly higher on the back bench of the Polestar thanks to its stadium seating arrangement meaning a good view forward over the heads of front occupants. Taller passengers will, however, find themselves brushing the roof.
There is a similar passenger experience in the Tesla thanks to its sloping glass roof. But because of that glass roof, even with a dark material on the seats, the Tesla feels very light and airy inside.
In the front, the two cars differ in their feel for the driver. With the Polestar, a high centre console divides the cabin in two, isolating the driver into their own cockpit, if you will. You feel slightly lower in the car and more at one with it. The Tesla feels more open and possibly less claustrophobic for taller drivers and passengers in terms of its seating position, but also due to that unique dashboard design that lowers the actual facia and groups everything onto one screen.
Both cars have had their mid-life refresh, and prices are very competitive. They also have several different models available within their respective ranges, depending on the range or performance you want.
The Polestar 2 range starts at around £45,000 for the newest model and tops out at £57,000 for the Dual Motor Long Range model with the optional Performance Pack fitted.
Tesla, who have recently heavily revised their prices, now offers a lead-in Model 3 for just under £43,000, with the range-topping Performance costing £58,000. Another added benefit of going with the Tesla is the access to its Supercharger recharging network, which has an ease of use second to none. Polestar, however, offers a Plugsurfing service that gives every new Polestar access to 375,000 public chargers across Europe. It also comes with a discounted rate for using Ionity chargers, one of Europe’s most common and fastest charge networks.
There can be no denying that the Tesla Model 3 was a game-changing car. It was the first electric car that stood toe-to-toe with the established players of BMW and Mercedes-Benz with their 3 Series and C-Class, respectively and was equal. You didn’t have to use the phrase “good for an electric car”; it was simply, and still is, “A Good Car”.
However, the market changes, and buyers’ expectations and motives for buying an electric car of this type can change quickly. Whilst the Tesla still sells in huge numbers (and deservedly so), it is perhaps the Polestar that is more in tune with the temperature of today’s customers with a focus on sustainability and design execution.
I, for one, feel that the Polestar offers a higher grade of product in terms of build quality, design and driving dynamics. Whilst it may not have the outright performance, wealth of technology or efficiency of the Tesla, it more than makes up for it in its depth of engineering, environmental message and, perhaps more importantly, for this age of tempered attitude, cool desirability.
The King is dead. Long Live the King.
A huge thank you to Bryan for his help with this article placing Tesla vs Polestar head-to-head. If you have any EV questions, we can’t recommend his expertise highly enough. We hope you’ve enjoyed the read. And if you have any marques you’d like to see go head-to-head in the future, do let us know.