How does the Polestar 2 EV hold up on a road trip through the Southwest?

We put the vehicle to the test on a drive to Arizona's wine country, where charging stations are few and far between

Photo: Liane Yvkoff

Arizona’s burgeoning wine region is a quick day trip from the Phoenix metropolitan area, but it’s not so easy in an all-electric vehicle—even one with a 270-mile range. While venturing beyond one’s stomping grounds shouldn’t be a big issue in many parts of the U.S., Arizona’s punishing weather and extreme topography increases a road trip’s complexity and requires at least a bit of planning. Harsh conditions are also compounded by a dearth of high-speed charging stations in rural areas when you’re traveling in an EV.

To find out how well the Polestar 2 is suited for traveling through the vast expanses of the Southwest, I headed north to the Verde Valley where fast charging stations are few and very far between. 

Passengers 5
Towing capacity 2,000 pounds
Chassis Unibody
Ground clearance 5.7 to 5.9 inches
Full-size spare No
Fuel range Up to 270 miles
MSRP $49,800 ($66,400 as tested)
The Polestar 2 electric car at a charging station
Photo: Liane Yvkoff

The Polestar 2 as a long-range EV roadtripper

Although I was embarking on a round-trip route, I didn’t think to enter the itinerary in the navigation system that way. It had been several years since I visited Cottonwood, and I wanted to budget for unplanned stops and preserve my ability to take side roads that caught my eye. Also, it requires a lot more planning and fiddling with the navigation system than I’m used to.

Polestar—the all-electric high performance brand spun out of Volvo—is the first automaker to use Google Built-In for its infotainment system and telematics services. It leverages the search giant’s system to display compatible charging stations along the route and suggests stops along the way if refueling is needed to get to a destination. 

However, the suggested routes are optimized for fastest arrival times rather than battery preservation, and the interface isn’t as flexible as planning a trip using Google Maps on your computer. For example, you can’t drag the proposed route to take slower speed roads to consume less energy, so you have to learn to work around Google’s logic to find the alternate paths beyond avoiding tolls, highways, and ferries. 

Also, its database of charging stations isn’t as complete as some community-maintained options, such as Plugshare, and creating an itinerary that takes a certain back road or forces a stop at a charging station not along the route requires intimate knowledge of Google Built-In’s voice commands that typically comes only after weeks or months of pleading with the AI to do your bidding. As a result, I often resorted to my iPhone or Apple CarPlay to find the information I wanted.

My first stop on the Verde Valley wine trail was the Southwest Wine Center at the Yavapai Community College, which is only 100 miles from Phoenix. However, it’s a steep uphill climb to get there, which according to Google would leave me with only 46 percent battery capacity when I arrived, or 53 percent if I topped off at the only fast charging station along the way in nearby Anthem. I chose the latter option.

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Power player 

Wide stretches of scrubland flanked by towering red ombre mesas are the grueling gateway to Arizona’s up-and-coming wine country. With dual motors powered by a 78 kWh battery capable of producing up 476 horsepower and 502 pound-feet of torque, the Polestar 2 with the Performance Pack all-wheel-drive sports hatchback is ideal for tackling I-17, which snakes its way through the Black Hills mountain range surrounding Phoenix. 

The raw and ready power of the Polestar 2 made it dangerously easy to conquer the steep climb past Black Canyon City. I ignored concerns about battery conservation and effortlessly passed slow-moving tractor trailers and laboring cement trucks. As I dodged swerving campers, I remarked at how well and sure-footed the sports hatch felt at near triple digit speeds as we reached an elevation of around 4,800 feet before settling down to 3,800 at the Southwest Wine Center, which was closed until the next day when tourists typically arrive. 

A charging cord stored in the trunk of the Polestar 2.
Photo: Liane Yvkoff

Following your nose in Arizona’s wine region is hard to do with the battery only half full, but luckily I found a 240-volt charging station at the City Hall in downtown Cottonwood that didn’t appear in the navigation system. I arrived with 54 percent capacity—just as Google predicted—and found a spot nestled between a Tesla Model Y and Volkswagen ID.4. Charging during the short lunch break only increased my battery capacity to 60 percent. Despite the Polestar 2’s 11 kW on-board charger, the free juice supplied by the local utility company was likely only delivered at a speed of 6.6 kW, or may have been throttled to 3.3 kW because I was sharing a station with another EV.

Fueled by very average artisan sandwiches, I began my sightseeing and sampling in earnest, and headed out of town to the wineries nestled along the Page Springs Road. Following the river, I passed through Cornville and ended my tour at Alcantara Vineyards in Cape Verde in the mid-afternoon. 

With only 35 percent battery left, it would be a gamble to try to reach the fast charging station in Anthem, so I returned to Cottonwood’s free charging station for dinner. Two hours was enough time to reach 60 percent capacity before starting the journey home, where Google predicted I would arrive with 13 percent battery and possibly in “turtle mode.”

Reluctant to find out what “turtle mode” entails, I was banking on regenerative braking to help replenish the battery on some of the steep downhill grades. However, uncharacteristically strong winds blowing from the south at 22 mph kept my foot off the brake. Although the navigation system never presented the option, I knew if I took slower roads I could improve my driving range by exiting the freeway early and taking back roads home. I increased battery reserves by 4 percent while only prolonging my arrival time by 4 minutes, and pulled into my driveway with 16 percent battery and 60 miles of range left.

The Polestar 2 electric car parked on a dirt road
Photo: Liane Yvkoff

Features to love

The value proposition of the Polestar 2 is its effortless power and balanced performance, with customizable options that enable the driver to tune their desired ride. But it’s also equipped with features that support long road trips, such as an available suite of standard advanced driver assistance systems, including adaptive cruise control that enables the vehicle to adjust its speed depending on traffic (even down to a standstill), and dynamic steering assistance to evade or mitigate a collision with an obstacle in the road. It’s also available with blind spot warning with steering support and cross traffic alert and rear collision warning with automatic braking. 

Its large portrait touch-screen is equipped with native apps, such as Epix for watching movies while waiting for a charge and Spotify, but both require accounts for access.

Scandinavian design elements are dotted throughout the cabin: a purse hook, a pen holder in the glove compartment, a transparent clip on the side of the windshield to hold parking passes, giving it the clever feel of Ikea furniture designed by people who are used to making the most out of little space. Being able to lock the car by only touching the handle is an amazing feature for those who can never find their car keys.

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But it isn’t perfect

But the Polestar 2’s austere sensibility may not appeal to U.S. consumers who are accustomed to plush creature comforts that support life on the go, such as cup holders—there’s only one in the center console and another tucked inside the storage compartment. While a fixed panoramic roof helps bring in the light in Northern climates where the sun may not shine for the majority of the day during winter, keeping light from entering the cabin is a goal in Arizona, even if the glass blocks 97 percent of UV rays. A retractable shade would have been a nice option.  

The front seats, steering wheel, and navigation system in the Polestar electric car
Photo: Liane Yvkoff

Its portrait touch screen interface could use more contextual prompts to help guide the user. Menus would play peek-a-boo for a second before disappearing into oblivion. More than once I had to turn to forums to figure out why my vehicle wasn’t charging above 90 percent. And it wasn’t until the last day that I figured out that tapping on a darkened 360-degree button could reveal additional camera views. It also buries some of the controls that you may have forgotten about, like one pedal design and trip computers, which automatically reset after 4 hours—a feature I learned about the hard way, after I couldn’t retrieve any usable data about energy consumption. In fact, there’s an entire  “I didn’t know that” thread online for these types of hacks and hidden features in the Polestar 2 Forum.

While the Polestar 2 is an effortless daily driver and seemingly designed to take on open roads, its future as a roadtripper ironically depends on Tesla and Walmart. Electrify America, the national public EV charging network funded by Volkswagen, is working to expand its charging stations, but the roll-out has been slow and problematic. 

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To help meet demand for fast chargers, Tesla has announced it will open up its Supercharger network to all electric vehicles, but at the time of my trip, none in the area were equipped with the adapters that would enable the Polestar 2 to work with the proprietary cable plugs. Walmart has also announced that it will be installing fast chargers at its ubiquitous big box stores around the country. In the meantime, drivers will need to plan carefully and accordingly before they venture out into Arizona’s deserts in an EV.