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2021 Polestar 2 second drive review: The interface is the thing

Driving the all-electric Polestar 2 is about a lot more than the drive.

Polestar 2

Understated yet a real head-turner.

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

If you've read Henry Catchpole's impressions of the Polestar 2 EV, the first all-electric car from the Volvo spinoff, you know he's a fan of the thing. After a day behind the wheel of the car here stateside, I have to concur. (And that's despite my drive happening during a hurricane.) The 233-mile Polestar 2 looks good and is a treat to drive -- as it certainly should be for a starting price around $60,000.

For my impressions, I wanted to take a little more time to delve into the experience of interacting with the car. That is, the Google-powered infotainment, the touchscreen and the many other interactive bits. The interior is, after all, the part of the car that you, the owner, will see and feel most often. While things like nice materials, clean exterior detailing and perky acceleration are hugely important, any car that doesn't nail the basic human-machine interface is going to be a daily headache.

Case in point: the Tesla Model 3. When I first reviewed the Tesla Model 3 right after its initial release, I loved the power and the feel and I didn't mind the styling, but the clumsy interface left a lot to be desired. Tesla deserves credit for improving things significantly since then through a series of over-the-air updates, but even when I drive a current Model 3 I still wish I had just a few more controls. (Like, you know, a volume knob.) And don't get me started on Tesla's stubborn lack of support for either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

To be fair, the Polestar 2 doesn't support CarPlay yet either, but the company has promised that support for that is coming. And while Android Auto isn't exactly here either, the car's 11-inch touchscreen (and the multifunction gauge cluster behind the wheel), has the next step up: Android Automotive.

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Roadshow's Antuan Goodwin has already done a deep dive on Android Automotive, so check that out if you want all the details, but in short this is a wholly comprehensive version of Android that runs natively in the car, Android phone not required.

With Android in the dash you can use Google Assistant to adjust temperatures or turn on the seat heaters by voice and, when you get your navigation going, Google Maps not only shows up on the central infotainment screen but optionally in the gauge cluster as well.

For me, the really nice thing was having all my data at my fingertips. It took just a moment to sign in to the car with my Google account (even with two-factor authentication) and, once in, the car immediately knew where I was most likely to want to go. After I installed YouTube Music from the Play Store, all my followed artists and custom playlists were ready, too.

I will say that it's fortunate I've chosen Google's media service of choice. While Spotify is also available, the selection of apps at this point is very limited. I counted 18, missing some major players in the in-car entertainment field like Audible and most major podcast aggregators. Those ranks will fill soon enough, but coming from the already middling selection of apps available on Android Auto, it's a bit disappointing to be starting back at effectively ground zero again.

The integration isn't exactly the tightest, either. For example, when I wanted to dial down the bass a smidge on the (powerful) Harman Kardon sound system, I had to dig my way through a few submenus of settings to get there. It'd be awful nice if I could do that directly through YouTube Music.

Those, however, are minor complaints. The overall experience is the best integration of modern mobile device sensibilities and design standards in a car I've yet seen. Quite simply: I want Android Automotive in my next car.

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

But it's not all about the software. Though Polestar has integrated the vast majority of the car's controls into the touchscreen, the company's designers left just enough tactile inputs scattered around the lovely, vegan, textile interior to keep me from submenu fatigue.

Traditional stalks behind the wheel let you adjust wiper speed quickly and easily. The steering wheel itself sports a pair of five-way rockers, one for each thumb, plus additional up/down toggles, just like current Volvos. The door cards offer standard mirror and window controls and, while the HVAC necessities are accessed via the bottom row of controls on the touchscreen, there is an honest-to-gosh volume knob right there in the center console that you can also press to pause whatever you're listening to.

Toggling through the gauge cluster, you have your choice of three displays. The first is a simple, clean but chunky interface that wouldn't look out of place on the USCSS Nostromo. It's my favorite of the bunch, but those wanting more data can toggle to the second screen, showing the status of the Polestar 2's safety systems. The third option brings the Google Maps interface to the gauge cluster.

As far as the other interior details, the sweeping panoramic moonroof meant I had plenty of headroom and light, the spacious trunk sports a trick flip-up divider that'll help keep your groceries from sliding around and, while the frunk is a bit on the small side, there is at least enough room up there for your charger -- or perhaps a couple of footlong sandwiches.

My biggest complaint about the Polestar 2's interior? No ventilated seats on the vegan interior, something of a missing piece in any $60,000-plus car, especially an EV, where climate efficiency is paramount. (They are available -- if you don't mind spending an extra $4,000 for the leather interior.) Otherwise, the Polestar 2 is a stellar machine, front to back, inside and out. Yes, it comes at a bit of a premium compared with something like the Tesla Model 3, but then nicer things usually do cost a little bit more.