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There’s a surprising new contender for 2020’s best and most advanced new car: The Polestar 2.

The handsome four-door fastback from Volvo’s performance and technology brand is loaded with useful features and accelerates and handles like a first-rate sport sedan.

Don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of Polestar. The brand’s a baby, founded by Volvo and its Chinese owner, Geely, in 2017. The Polestar 2 goes on sale in September, but the brand’s total presence in America so far is about 150 units of the Polestar 1, an expensive carbon-fiber plug-in hybrid.

The 2021 Polestar 2 is the brand’s bid for wider awareness, but it’s not exactly mainstream. True to its Scandinavian roots, a “vegan” interior  — no leather and no wood — is standard on the $59,900 base model. Leather is not exactly disapproved— Swedes are practical people; hand them a check, they’ll cash it — but it is a $4,000 option.

The Polestar 2’s features include all-wheel drive with a motor on each axle and the first production use of Android Automotive. Not to be confused with the Android Auto smartphone — right, that’ll never happen — Android Automotive provides voice recognition, navigation, music, control of some vehicle functions and more through Google computing.

You can also set it to provide information about road conditions to Google, making it a precursor to the connected vehicles expected to reduce traffic congestion in the future.

The car can even connect to your Google account for full access to addresses, calendar and more, but that’ll be a bit Big Brotherly for some, so it’s optional.

I spent a recent afternoon driving a Polestar 2 around lakes, highways and cities in Southeast Michigan. I barely scratched the surface of its features, but it was fun to drive and the features seemed reasonably easy to use.

Driving impressions

The Polestar 2 has all the best driving characteristics of an electric vehicle — instant torque, low center of gravity, regenerative braking that can virtually replace the brake pedal — but it takes remarkably little time to adjust from a conventional vehicle.

Acceleration is immediate and satisfying, as you’d expect with 487 pound-feet of torque available at all times.

Polestar claims a 4.45-second 0-60 mph time, and 12.76-second time in the quarter mile because you just know EV drag racing will be a thing.

The 51/49 weight distribution and low center of gravity — both thanks to locating the heavy batteries low and in the middle of the floorpan — keep it planted on the road. Direct tuning and a slight rearward bias in power delivery mimic the feel of a well-balanced rear-drive performance car.

You can set the brakes to mimic the feel of a conventional car but why bother, when you’ve got the “one-pedal driving” setting in the portrait-style touch screen? The setting maximizes regenerative braking, the amount of power recovered and fed back to the battery when you release the accelerator pedal. The vehicle slows so quickly that I had almost no need for the brake pedal after a quick learning curve. Because it charges the batteries, the feature also extends driving range.

The steering is also adjustable. I usually prefer the “sport” setting, but it seemed to deliver higher effort and less feedback in the 2. I found the base setting for steering most satisfying.

The 2 is very quiet on the road. Even with summer tires, frequently on rough country roads, wind and tire noise are minimal. When it’s moving, the 2 generates an unobtrusive but noticeable sound to alert pedestrians and animals to its approach. It sounded a bit like an approaching Roomba, the stealthy little autonomous vacuum.

The front seat has plenty of room, but there’s no sunshade for the fixed sunroof. The glass panel has a mild tint, but I’d still like a shade for particularly hot days.

The Google-powered voice recognition is excellent. It executed every command for audio tuning, climate and navigation correctly on the first attempt.

It’s hard to be sure after a brief drive, but I think the touch screen’s command structure will feel natural after a few days driving the 2.

I thoroughly enjoyed my afternoon driving the Polestar 2 on city streets, highways and winding country roads.

Safety and driver assistance features

  • Adaptive cruise control
  • Blind spot alert with steering support
  • Cross traffic alert with automatic braking
  • Lane keeping aid
  • Fordward collision alert
  • Rear collision warning and mitigation by steering and braking
  • Front and rear parking assist
  • Hill start assist

How much?

Prices for the Polestar start at $59,900. All-wheel drive, twin motors and a battery pack projected to deliver 275 miles of range are standard. As with most electric vehicles, the transmission is a single-speed automatic.

The company expects to sell about 2,000 2s in the U.S. through four outlets this year. It plans to have 10 U.S. dealers by mid-2021 and about 30 U.S. dealers by the end of 2023. Polestar aims for around 50,000 sales a year eventually, probably with four or five models. They’ll all be electric. Next up, a sporty SUV, probably in 2023.

The Polestar 2 is based on the same CMA (compact modular architecture) underpinnings as the Volvo XC40 small SUV. Polestar is a separate brand and will have separate showrooms from Volvo, but it will take full advantage of the engineering, purchasing, sales, distribution and service networks the older brand has as part of Chinese automaker Geely.

Visually, the Polestar 2 is clearly related to Volvo’s styling theme. The headlights even share the brand’s “Thor’s hammer” look. The fastback has 5.9 inches of ground clearance, enough for good visibility and easy step-in, but unlike many new vehicles, the 2 is not a car trying to pass as an SUV.

The Polestar 2 is loaded with standard equipment:

  • Heated front and rear seats
  • Heated steering wheel
  • Keyless entry
  • Power adjustable front seats
  • Memory for driver settings
  • Weave Tech synthetic upholstery
  • Automatic two-zone climate control
  • Harman Kardon audio w/13 speakers, 600W
  • 4 USB-C ports
  • Apple CarPlay coming via over the air update in 2021
  • Google Assistant
  • Google Maps
  • Google Play
  • 60/40 split folding rear seat
  • 11.15-inch portrait orientation touch screen

The only available options are:

  • Paint. Any color but white costs $1,200.
  • Nappa interior  leather, available in one color, Barley, for $4,000. 
  • Performance Pack, $5,000. Includes Öhlins dampers; four-piston Brembo front brake calipers; 20-inch forged aluminum wheels; Continental SportContact 6 summer tires; upgraded spring and stabilizer rates; high-gloss black roof; gold seat belts and tire valve caps.
  • Optional 20-inch tires and wheels without the Performance Pack, $1,200.

2021 Polestar 2 at a glance

Base price: $59,900

As tested: $66,100 (excluding destination charges)

Four-wheel-drive, five-seat four-door fastback

On sale in the U.S. in September 2020

Power: Two electric motors, one for each axle

Output: 408 hp; 487 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 1-speed; ratio 8.57:1

Estimated EPA range: 275 miles

Charging time: 40 minutes to 80% at 150 kW; 8 hours for full charge at 240v

Wheelbase: 107.7 inches

Length:  181.3 inches

Width:  78.1, including mirrors

Height: 58.2 inches

Ground clearance: 5.9 inches

Curb weight: 4,680 pounds

Weight distribution: 51/49 front/rear

Assembly:  Luchow, China.

Follow Detroit Free Press auto critic Mark Phelan on Twitter @mark_phelan.

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