2020 Polestar 2 Design Analysis: It’s Electric, but It Doesn’t Look Like It

Which is a shame.

I have no absolute ideas about how electric cars should look. Apparently, no one working in car design today has any more certainty than I do. But I can tell you that this Polestar 2, pleasant as it is in conventional terms, is far from any Platonic ideal of an electric car. Tesla is the world standard for electric vehicles at present, but so far all its products—like the Polestar 2—just resemble very nice gasoline or diesel cars. Tesla’s initial Model S had a disgraceful black oval on the front to suggest a radiator grille. That was finally expunged in a facelift, and successive designs such as the Model 3 never suffered the indignity of false frontal air intake grilles, as this Polestar does. This year’s Geneva Motor Show was full of various electrics that either resembled Italian supercars or were Italian supercars—but with electric propulsion. And of course there were multiple electrified versions of standard cars. Volkswagen and many others offer battery-laden electric standard sedans, hatchbacks, or SUVs that don’t reveal their method of energy consumption visually until you’re close enough to read their badges. I believe that’s just wrong.

That’s not a new attitude for me. I attended an auction of some of Bill Harrah’s collection 30-some years ago and was impressed by an air-cooled 1932 Franklin V-12. It had a huge, tall grille adequate for any water-cooled V-12 but no radiator behind it. Given that from the early years of the century until the 1920s there had been distinctive snub-nosed fronts on Franklins, I thought it unfortunate it was deemed necessary to have such a derivative, artificial aesthetic. So it’s sad this handsome Volvo-like sedan also has a derivative, artificial aesthetic. It’s quite a good-looking object, but it does not in any way correspond to what I want to see for a car that has limited energy capacity and must be recharged over a fairly long period. You can top up a liquid-fuel car in only about five minutes, a realistic self-serve time. But the very best current electrics take longer—much longer—to resupply with propulsive energy. So they really should be as perfectly optimized for low drag as modern airliners, which no longer have distinctive vertical tail profiles as marks of identity. Efficiency trumped styling.

With this and almost all other electric cars I’ve seen, disguising the difference between them and a “real” car seems to have been the paramount styling concern. It shouldn’t be. I’m very much in favor of a vehicle’s shape and detailing declaring in clear terms its purpose and function. The Polestar 2’s shape does tell you it’s safe and comfortable, that it’s not meant to go very fast or attract unwanted attention, which is all to the good. But it doesn’t in any way tell us it manifests a different and better method of individual transport or that it’s ecologically clean and won’t gas you in city canyons. And that’s too bad.

1. This single, smooth transverse line at the front of the hood gives an impression of elegance and simplicity.
2. The extended daylight running light bar thrusts forward, adding visual length to the body.
3. This odd little SHARP point is a manifestation of a recurrent theme all over the exterior.
4. A slight indentation above each wheel opening, as on previous Volvo concept cars, provides an “eyebrow” effect without trim pieces, thus at no cost.
5. It’s almost a fastback, but not quite. The little break in the profile is quite charming and does no harm to smooth airflow.
6. There is a substantial bulge around the rear wheels . . .
7. . . . and the body side indentation ahead of it shows clearly by the door cut.
8. More sharp points, of which there are many more on the exterior. Multiplicity and consistency make them a rational theme.
9. Multiple horizontal dead-straight lines across the nose suggest width and the impression of a high, blunt front. Which is there, all the same.

1. Notice that there is a hard line setting the hexagonal grille frame apart from the bumper mass, underlined by a little indentation below it. Yet it’s probably just molded in for effect, not a separate piece of plastic. Cheap and effective.
2. Hard to discern, there’s a beady little round “eye” lamp in each triangular front corner slot.
3. It’s also hard to understand the purpose, visual or functional, of these little panels, but they do provide many more sharp corners to punctuate the form.
4. Parallel lines on the hood aligning with the upper grille corners without actually touching them result from indenting the outer hood panel. Subtle and very nice, indeed.
5. Four little lamp units on each side give an impression of a high level of technical competence. Complexity almost always does that.
6. Shiny black horizontal bars add a bit of visual width to the total graphic composition.
7. There is an unobtrusive slot below the lower two-bar grille. It may be the only one of the three frontal features that actually passes air through it.

1. An interesting and well-executed surface detail is the sharp change of direction at the hood cut that defines the fender profile, flows back into a crease along the top of the doors, and begins to be undercut as it continues all the way around the back.
2. Door handles seem large and obtrusive, but remember Sweden is ultra-cold in winter and people habitually wear thick gloves. Global design is always subject to local conditions.
3. Side glass composition begins with a sharply leaning A-pillar, runs straight, and ends in a three-straight-element quarter light shape that makes the painted C-pillar seem less blind.
4. I particularly admire the elegant shape of the fuel door, aligning with the rear door at the front, curving up in opposition to the leading diagonal of the taillight at the back.
5. The backlight is very steep and allows the flat profile over the passenger compartment, which provides excellent rear headroom not common in fastback sedans.
6. The taillight composition partially surrounds a concave band across the upper rear facade. It all looks rather simple, but it is actually an artfully complex rear end.
7. More sharp points as the painted portion of the body joggle upward to encompass lower reflectors and again for the license plate.
8. It’s hard to see surfaces on a white car, but the central door cut makes clear the shaping of the body sides.
9. Orange brake calipers add a slight touch of color to the severe black and white scheme, along with the red rear lamps and—amusingly—orange valve stem caps.

The Polestar 2 cabin may appear to be a black hole, but the formal simplicity and the richness of the materials negate that. This is a great place to be.

1. The choice-of-direction control (you can’t really call it a shifter) is an open loop that feels really good in the hand.
2. This cowl above the instruments would not be out of place in a sporty GT car. It flattens on the sides and carries across the car in a simple plane.
3. The Tesla-like tablet face is large and legible . . .
4. . . . and its background recaptures the orange color accents outside.
5. Interior design leader Juan Pablo Bernal is proud of the careful texturing of this panel, the one immediately below it, and on the inside of the center console “bowl,” justly so.
6. Plain in appearance, the seats are supremely comfortable.

1. The spoiler lip, like the front of the hood, is a single, smooth transverse line, very elegant.
2. The crisp horizontal datum line emphasizes body width.
3. The roof is elegantly thin and rather flat, assuring the maximum of interior room.
4. There is a great deal of play of surfaces, plans, and depths in what seems a simple linear taillight ensemble. The sharp points theme is expressed in the inner ends of the upper loop and in the badge.
5. Unobtrusive, elegantly rounded in plan view, the red elements suggest concern for precision and formal elegance.