Polestar 4 Prototype Review: Don’t Look Back

By | March 25, 2024

SANDHULT, Sweden – Categorizing objects allows us to divide our world into neat little compartments. Although often highly subjective, this is how we tell a good book from a bad book, a big car from a small car, and a warm coat from a car that lets the wind cool your bones. The new Polestar 4 is an outlier in this structure: it is a versatile electric car that is difficult to put an accurate label on.

Polestar claims the 4 is its second SUV and is marketing it as a sportier and coupe-like alternative to the Polestar 3. That is an extension of the definition of the term ‘SUV’ pizzaiolo preparing the thinnest crusts. It’s not really a sedan either, not entirely. Back soon? Kind of. Crossover? Kind of. Delving a little deeper into the Swedish car repertoire, the 4 is in some ways reminiscent of the original Saab 900, which was offered as a four-door hatchback during its production period, but with more ground clearance.

The name refers to Polestar’s fourth model and not to its placement within a size or price hierarchy, but is the next step in the brand’s emancipation from Volvo. It’s built on the modular SEA architecture, which also underpins the Volvo EM90 minivan sold in China, but it shares more design features with the 3 and the Precept concept than anything you’ll find in a Volvo showroom find. It’s a relatively large car: it has a 118-inch wheelbase and is 190.5 inches long, 79.1 inches wide and 60.4 inches tall.

Polestars 3 and 4

Whether or not the 4 deserves the SUV label is likely to be overshadowed by a much more controversial issue: it lacks a rear window. This isn’t unprecedented, but the other windowless cars you can buy new are the ones you use for moving – the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter, for example. This isn’t that.

So…why did the back window fly out the window?

“We wanted a coupe body style for aerodynamics and at the same time a very spacious interior,” explains Maximilian Missoni, head of design at Polestar. Lacking a rear window, his team was able to move the D-pillar rearward. “Another problem with coupes is that you see (in the rearview mirror) a lot of your own interior – you see the headrests and maybe your passengers too.”

Polestar boss Thomas Ingenlath also defended this choice, and his opinion carries weight. Although he has led the brand since its launch, he was in charge of Volvo’s design department for many years.

“This is not a gimmick. This isn’t something we did because we wanted to be talked about. We truly believe this is a great innovation that will advance automotive design technology.”

Instead of a window and a conventional rear-view mirror, a 2.5-megapixel camera is integrated into a small alcove protruding from the roof, sending images to an 8.9-inch digital rear-view mirror. The system comes from Gentex, the Michigan-based company that invented the auto-dimming rearview mirror and designed the dimming windows of the Boeing 787. Given our experience with such camera-based ‘mirrors’, most recently in the Volvo C40, we have doubts about the consistent performance of this system, even though Polestar has taken steps to address some obvious issues. To ensure it isn’t rendered unusable by rain or road grime, a small spray nozzle can clean the camera, although Polestar also insists the camera won’t get dirty due to where it’s placed. To ensure you can still give your kids that mean look, the in-car display can fold down and turn into a normal mirror, allowing the driver to see the backseat passengers.

Apart from the ‘mirror’, the interior of the 4 has the same focus on minimalism as the 3, without going overboard. The driver faces a digital instrument cluster and there’s a portrait-oriented 15.4-inch touchscreen for the Android-powered infotainment system, but Polestar retained a steering column-mounted gear selector and integrated the switch that activates the wipers into the turn signal stalk. and turn the volume knob (hooray!) on the cool double-decker center console. However, adjusting the vents requires you to poke into the touchscreen, which reflects a trend that is slowly but surely spreading across the industry, even if one of the first to implement this, Porsche, has already given up on this attempt.

The infotainment system is very similar to that of the 3. While there’s a lot of information integrated into the display, Polestar has made it all easy to find by using color-coded tiles instead of lists. The screen also houses one of the 4’s more unusual features: solar system-themed mood lighting. Tap Earth to make the ambient lighting a darker blue, tap Neptune if you want a lighter shade, choose the Sun to turn yellowish (astronomers will note that the Sun is actually white), select Mars for reddish, and so on. Each image has fun facts: Did you know that a day on Saturn is only about 11 hours? What about the fact that Mars’ diameter is about half that of Earth?

“We’re not here to talk about space; Get out there and drive that thing, will you?’ says you, the reader. Good point.

At launch, Polestar will offer two versions, both built on a 100 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack. The entry-level model in the series is a rear-wheel drive variant with one engine, with a power of 268 hp and a torque of 253 Nm. Next up is an all-wheel drive version with two motors, good for 536 horses and 506 pound-feet of twist. The two 4s take 7.1 seconds and 3.8 seconds respectively to reach 100 km/h from a standstill; the lower number makes the all-wheel drive model the fastest Polestar ever.

The 400-volt electrical system can charge up to 200 kilowatts. Polestar quotes a maximum driving range of up to 360 miles with all-wheel drive and 600 miles with rear-wheel drive, but note that these figures were obtained using the European WLTP test cycle. The EPA’s numbers will be lower.

Unlike the 3, which rides on an air suspension system, the 4 gets a conventional steel setup; it’s stuck in the rear-wheel drive car and is adaptive, with three driver-selectable modes to choose from if you have all-wheel drive. Remember that the 4 is sportier alternative at 3, it is not below it in the Polestar hierarchy. Then why the difference in suspension? Joakim Rydholm, head of chassis development at Polestar, gives me a simple answer.

“Air suspension is not necessary,” he says, smiling. That’s a very strong statement from a man who talks about damping ratios with the passion of a Spanish chef who explains the intricacies of making authentic paella, and whose driving skills make even a crash-test dummy feel safe. The more SUV-like 3 calls for an adjustable ride height, made possible by the air springs; something that is not necessary for the road. 4. However, don’t assume this means one will be more comfortable than the other.

“It’s much easier to get really good comfort with steel springs,” says Rydholm. “It sounds strange because everyone thinks that an air suspension is like a hot air balloon, but it is actually quite difficult to get it to work properly.”

I drove both versions of the 4 on a handling course at Volvo Hallered proving grounds in southwestern Sweden, and the cars Polestar gave me were pre-production prototypes. Put another way, what I experienced isn’t exactly what buyers will experience when deliveries begin, but it’s close.

The rear-wheel drive 4 doesn’t get off the line extremely quickly, but it still feels relatively sporty in a corner thanks to the communicative steering with three driver-selectable weight levels and a chassis setup that ensures sharp, controlled handling. It’s not an exaggeration, we’re not talking about a brash track car, but it’s better at connecting the driver to the road than you’d think given the sheer amount of technology working hard behind the scenes. It carries its weight quite well, too: Although it tips the scales at around 5,000 pounds, its center of gravity is on par with the 2 and there’s little body roll. I haven’t driven the 3 to confirm Rydholm’s claim, but I can at least say that the 4’s drivability doesn’t come at the expense of comfort: as a rear passenger, sitting on a well-padded seat with an electric – adjustable backrest, the 4 provides a smooth, quiet ride at highway speeds.

An interesting side effect of placing the heavy battery pack under the passenger compartment is that the difference in driving behavior between the rear- and all-wheel drive versions is virtually unnoticeable. There’s more grip, sure, but the single-engine car doesn’t feel much more rear-biased than its all-wheel drive counterpart unless you really start pushing it. With all-wheel drive you have a 50/50 weight distribution from front to rear. With rear-wheel drive, 2% of the weight shifts to the rear.

Acceleration is the biggest contrast between the two 4s and you feel it immediately. While the rear-wheel drive version slides off the line, the all-wheel drive version zips away and builds up speed like a sports car. He also brakes like this. My test car was equipped with the optional Performance Pack, which includes 22-inch alloy wheels, super-sticky Pirelli P-Zero tires, a package-specific suspension system and, crucially, four-piston front brake calipers and ventilated 15.4-inch front calipers. rotors. Press the brake pedal from highway speeds or higher, and the 4 stops quickly, without alarming vibration or fade.

I didn’t miss the rear window while driving, but the digital rear-view mirror takes some getting used to if you’ve never been in a car with it before. For example, you can’t move your head and shift your eyes to get a different angle of what’s behind you, although this produces a clear and wide image. I found the actual mirror too close to the driver’s seat, but that’s a personal preference. Try it; Maybe you hate it, or maybe you never want to drive without it again. Rear passengers are likely to miss the rear window more than the driver: if it’s not present, the rear feels darker and less open. It’s a shame, because there’s a ton of space back there, even with two tall passengers in the front.

So what we have is an electric car marketed as an SUV coupe with the interior space of a large sedan and an engaging ride. And of course no rear window. Polestar may have created a new segment.

Initially made in China, the Polestar 4 is expected to hit the US market in late 2024 as a 2025 model. Pricing information has not yet been announced. The brand notes that a factory in Busan, South Korea, jointly operated by parent company Geely and Paris-based Renault, will also produce the 4. Which market will get cars from which factory has not yet been decided.

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