Polestar 3 first drive: the electric SUV that thinks it’s a sports car

Polestar’s new full-size SUV mixes Scandi-cool with a sporty drive and a killer sound system

Polestar 3
(Image credit: Future)

This is a very big year for Polestar, as the Scandinavia startup grows from a one-car company into a three-car business. The four-year-old Polestar 2 will soon be joined by the 3 (the full-size SUV driven here), as well as the smaller, sleeker 4. Next year we'll see the Polestar 5, which is expected to be an up-market rival to the Porsche Taycan and Audio e-tron GT, and the Polestar 6, a convertible sports car, is due in 2026.

Here I’m focusing on the Polestar 3, which I first sampled as a prototype on a frozen Arctic lake, and have now driven on the roads of Madrid. Priced from £75,900 (or about £1,000 a month), the 3 is available to order now and deliveries of the ‘launch edition’ version (which costs £4,000 more) are due to kick-off in September. It’s a dual-motor, all-wheel-drive electric car, with a single-motor variant joining the lineup later.

Dimensions and performance

Polestar 3

(Image credit: Future)

Like the 2, the Polestar 3 is a tricky car to define. I’ve already referred to it as a full-size SUV, but it’s strictly a five-seater with no option for seven, and the low roofline suggests it’s not really an SUV at all. But then it’s based on the same platform as the upcoming Volvo EX90, which is most definitely an SUV. Perhaps “SUV” doesn’t really mean anything anymore?

Best to stick to the dimensions and let you define it yourself. The Polestar 3 is 4,900 mm long, 1,614 mm tall and 1,968 mm wide. Its relative lack of height, paired with a roofline that slopes downwards at the rear and the use of black trim along the sills, makes it seem more compact than it really is. This sensation remains when you step behind the wheel, but from the rear seats you realise just how big the 3 is, as there’s acres of leg room in the second row, and a good amount of headroom too.

The exterior design is sharp and distinctive, with LED lights front and rear, flush door handles that protrude electronically when they’re needed, and a glass house that tapers dramatically to a point at the rear. A clever approach to aerodynamics sees the 3 gain a spoiler at the front as well as the rear, the former guiding air over the bonnet and steeply-raked windscreen, while the rear cleans up air as it departs from the roof and shallow rear screen. I think it looks fantastic, especially in Polestar’s ‘snow’ white paint option, while the gold brake callipers, seatbelts and tyre air valves look a lot classier than they sound, but are only available as part of the £5,600 Performance Pack.

Polestar 3

(Image credit: Future)

Speaking of performance, the Polestar 3 is powered by a pair of 180 kW permanent magnetic motors, with one on each axle to create all-wheel-drive. The rear motor offers torque vectoring – which I explored in my Arctic drive of the 3 earlier this year – and disengages when cruising to improve efficiency.

The total combined output is 360 kW, or 483 horsepower. Torque is a chunky 841 Nm (620 lb-ft), the 0-60 mph time is a claimed 4.8 seconds and the top speed is 130 mph. The Performance Pack adds an extra 27 horsepower and 69 Nm and reduces the 60 mph sprint to 4.5 seconds, while v-max remains the same. Crucially, the extra power sees the WLTP range fall from 392 miles to 348 miles. Given the marginal performance gains on offer, I feel the Performance Pack won’t be worth it for most customers.

The Polestar 3 has a large, 111 kWh battery pack that uses a 400-volt system architecture. I’d like to have seen Polestar take the leap up to 800 volts, as Kia, Hyundai and Porsche already have, but the 3’s maximum charge rate of 250 kW is still impressive. Polestar claims the battery can charge from 10 to 80 percent in 30 minutes when connected to a 250 kW charger, or from zero to 100 percent in 11 hours using an 11 kW wall box at home.

There are three levels of regenerative braking. You can either have it switched off, set to a one-pedal driving mode where the 3 will bring itself to a stop without you pressing the brake pedal, or a halfway house.

Tech and infotainment

Polestar 3

(Image credit: Future)

Those three regenerative braking options are selected by jumping into the settings menu of the Polestar 3’s huge, 14.5-inch touchscreen display. This runs the Android Automotive operating system, with native Google applications like Google Maps and the Play Store, plus voice support from Google Assistant.

Although it is broadly similar to the systems of the Volvo EX30 and EX90, Polestar is keen to stress how much effort it has put into making the user interface its own. The company even created its own icons for the UI, and has clearly thought long and hard about how drivers use the system.

Instead of confusing and potentially distracting the driver with pages of adjustable settings arranged into lists, like that of Volvo’s UI, the Polestar 3 uses large icons and high-contrast colours to aid menu navigation. Icons of the grid-style interface turn from black or white to orange when they are selected, making it easier to interpret with a glance. As with all modern cars with large touchscreens, the system takes time to learn – more time that is usually available on test drives like this. So, while I can say the navigation is intuitive and it’s easy enough to play music and adjust the cabin temperature, I’ll reserve judgement on the infotainment as a whole until I’ve spent time truly living with it.

The massive central screen is joined by a secondary 9-inch display ahead of the driver. This clearly shows vitals like your speed and the local speed limit, as well as battery percentage and estimated range. It can also be configured to show navigation instructions or driver assistance information. On that note, the Polestar 3 is offered with an optional LiDAR system that sits on the roof, scans the road ahead, identifies objects up to 250 metres away and creates a 3D view of the car’s surroundings. This should help the car see more clearly at night and in bad weather, since LiDAR isn’t affected by rain and fog in the way normal cameras are, but the Polestar 3 I drove did not have this system fitted.

Dolby Atmos by Bowers & Wilkins

Polestar 3 Bowers & Wilkins

(Image credit: Future)

Buy your Polestar 3 with the Plus pack and the 10-speaker sound system is upgraded to a 25-speaker, 1,610-watt setup from Bowers & Wilkins. This isn’t the first time the luxury British audio company has appeared in a car, but the Polestar 3 has a trick up its sleeve, in the form of Dolby Atmos.

You’ll likely be familiar with how Atmos works with cinema systems, where the viewer is surrounded by a virtual sphere of sound, into which film score composers and audio engineers place individual elements of the soundtrack. Instead of a sound merely being behind or above you, each element is configured to appear in a specific place, at a specific time.

This all works for Dolby Atmos music too, with the Polestar 3’s 25 speakers working together to create one of the best in-car audio systems I’ve ever experienced. The way the music sounds depends on how it was created, so Polestar made sure we had a playlist full of Dolby Atmos tracks to enjoy, plus a set of atmospheric scores that made us feel like we were driving through a movie soundtrack. There’s no denying the 3D surround sound made a drive through Madrid rush-hour more exciting, but with regular music the effect is more subtle.

There’s real potential here though, as musicians start to experiment with how a voice or an instrument’s position relative to the listener can be changed, adding a new dimension to music. The Bowers & Wilkins system also uses active noise cancelling, like you get in the best wireless headphones, to help cancel out the monotonous drone of wind, tyre and road noise. There’s even a pair of 40mm speakers in each of the front headrests to further enhance the surround sound experience, and those on the driver’s side can be used to discreetly deliver phone calls and navigation instructions without disturbing the passengers.

Driving impressions

Polestar 3

(Image credit: Polestar)

Polestar likes to position itself as a sportier alternative to Volvo, while still packing a whole heap of Swedish style and sensibility. With the 3, it has nailed the brief. This is a big car that feels much smaller than it really is, thanks to the composure of its dual-chamber air suspension and the eagerness of the steering. It doesn’t feel overly alert, or pretend to be something it isn’t, but there’s a sharpness that disguises the weight and encourages the driver to push the 3 more than I suspect they would in the related Volvo EX90.

The 3 hides its weight well – at almost 2,600 kg, that's quite the achievement – and gives the driver plenty of confidence to press on when the mood takes them. It’s not really a sports car, despite what Polestar’s marketing material says, but it’s certainly an SUV with an engaging and sporty feel.

I drove the regular 3 and felt its 483 horsepower was plenty. It might be tempting to tick the Performance pack box, but an extra 27 horsepower and a slightly quicker 0-60 mph time (4.5 vs 4.8 seconds) doesn’t seem worth it. I’d rather stick with the base model and enjoy the extra range – a WLTP claim of 392 miles, versus 348.

On that note, the car I drove indicated a maximum range of 329 miles, but that estimate will have taken the driving style of the previous journalist into account, so it doesn’t tell the whole story. With regard to average efficiency, I saw the Polestar 3 range from 20.5 to 28 kWh per 100 km. This equates to between 3.0 and 2.2 miles per kWh. I’m keen to spend more time with the Polestar 3 and see how that efficiency averages out over longer journeys.

Should I buy a Polestar 3?

Polestar 3

(Image credit: Polestar)

The Polestar 3 does not disappoint. From the restrained but recognisable Swedish styling, to the spacious interior, intuitive tech and sporty driving dynamics, the 3 is a fantastic addition to the Polestar family. It’s undoubtedly a large car, and while some buyers will look elsewhere due to the 3’s seating for five instead of seven, those who don’t need a third row will love the masses of space the airy cabin provides.

Some might also question the lack of physical controls, but to its credit Polestar has clearly put thought into the user interface. While I’d still prefer physical controls for things like the mirrors, steering wheel and cabin temperature, the UI is among the best I have used, and the inclusion of a driver display is welcome.

The 3 isn’t quite the sports car in SUV clothing Polestar claims, but it comes surprisingly close. Packing both power and poise, it’s a surprisingly fun car to drive while still being comfortable on a cruise.

I’m still curious to know whether that near-400 mile range is truly achievable in everyday use, or if the realistic range is closer to 300 miles. Even still, that’s an impressive feat for such a big car – and quick charging means long-haul drivers won’t be stationary for long. There’s a lot to like here, and while £80,000 (or £1,000 a month) positions the 3 well above the circa-£44,000 2, the Polestar brand feels more than capable of venturing up-market.

Alistair Charlton

Alistair is a freelance automotive and technology journalist. He has bylines on esteemed sites such as the BBC, Forbes, TechRadar, and of best of all, T3, where he covers topics ranging from classic cars and men's lifestyle, to smart home technology, phones, electric cars, autonomy, Swiss watches, and much more besides. He is an experienced journalist, writing news, features, interviews and product reviews. If that didn't make him busy enough, he is also the co-host of the AutoChat podcast.