EV road trip: an architectural tour of Norway in a Polestar 2
A road trip to rural Norway in an electric car? The Polestar 2 takes it in its stride as Wallpaper* contributing editor Emma O’Kelly discovers remote cabins, saunas and a country leading the electric charge
The idea of venturing to Valdres, a remote valley four hours north of Oslo in an EV was nerve-wracking. Where would we charge? How would we charge? What would happen if we broke down in the Norwegian woods? My companion Maija Astikainen, a photographer from Helsinki, was equally anxious.
She drives a VW Transporter that she has converted into a camper van. It runs on biogas and in Finland, she can fill up everywhere. In London, I drive a Volvo XC60 hybrid and outside my house is a charging point that is usually either broken (Camden Council, take note) or being hogged by a non-EV.
My worries, the Polestar team reassure me, are because I’m British. In 2021, 65 per cent of all cars sold in Norway were electric. As a result, there would be charge points everywhere. Of course, we had our own set of cables in the bonnet should we need them, and we could always call Polestar’s new Norwegian head office, Polestar Space Oslo, if things got really bad.
The first of many Polestar Spaces to be opened around the world, the Oslo Space takes the same minimalist, anti-auto establishment route as that set by the company’s sleek HQ building in Gothenburg, designed by Swedish architects Bornstein Lyckefors.
Our ride was the Polestar 2, the second car built by Sweden’s newest car company. The Polestar 2’s interior looks faintly familiar, with similar knobs and handles and graphics to my Volvo. (Polestar is owned by Volvo and Geely, a group based in China, where the EVs are made.)
But that’s where comparisons end; Polestar 2 has vegan upholstery, and frameless mirrors that dim bright lights in the dark. It feels cool to drive in comparison to the old-fashioned frumpy cousin that is my own school-run carry-all. I open the door by running my hands along a metallic strip and Maija adjusts her seat straight upwards a bit, to give more of a ‘van perspective’.
We feel like Thelma and Louise racing into the unknown, families left in our (non-existent) exhaust fumes. Then we pull up the GPS. Oslo to Vang (our stopover point) is a round trip of 453km; there are four charging stations along our route. By clicking on them, we can see how much battery we will have by the time we get to each.
We decide to stop when the battery is on 30 per cent, so that if the charging point is busy or doesn’t work, there’s another further along the route within our charge range. We feel smug that we have a back-up plan.
Maija drives first, as the Norwegians and Finns travel on the same side of the road and the traffic around Oslo is heavy. Before long, we’re soaked in scenery so stunning it’s hard to look at the road. Semi-frozen lakes shimmer in the spring sunshine and dense pine forests are capped in shade; the Polestar hums quietly along without disturbing the peace.
The car can accelerate from 0-100 km/h in just five seconds and we put it to the test as we overtake a tractor on a straight bit. It’s easy to cruise at 90km/h without noticing – until we remember that a traffic fine in Norway can be upwards of 700 euros. And that’s before points.
Our first stop is at Hallingby, a cluster of newish houses built along the main road. It has a Kiwi supermarket and a Recharge charging station with two empty charge points. There’s not a car in sight, just a few people out on their porches enjoying the sun.
We pull up and plug in, tap a key fob onto the screen, which debits payment from our account, and choose the right kind of plug (CCS). We stroll along to the regular gas station to grab a coffee while we charge and after half an hour, the battery is at 90 per cent.
Our final destination for the day is Lerhol Farm outside Vang. Our host Knut Lerhol has given us directions: ‘Take the E16 for 3.5 hours. Right at the bridge with yellow railings, pass a sign for the Riddarstøga Museum, a big stone and a huge waterfall, where you drive down to our farm. Good luck!’
We pass several wrong stones and wrong waterfalls, but luckily the Polestar is nifty at three-point turns on mountain switchbacks, even with summer tyres. We pull up at the farm next to a tractor and Lerhol’s dog Kvikk skips over and urinates against the 20in forged aluminium wheels. Lerhol’s family has owned 50,000 acres in Vang since 1647, over 16 generations. They also own the Riddarstøga Museum, which holds 15 vintage tractors and items from a Norwegian mountain farm from the last 100 years.
The museum is open by appointment, but it’s not the reason we are here. Lerhol rents out a summer cabin and a sauna called Eldmølla, which he built with the aid of architecture students from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology – structures that will ultimately appear in a book Maija and I are writing about modern sauna culture.
We need to go 3km up a snowy track to reach them, and the best way is by foot, the way Lerhol’s ancestors have always done it, only they were herding the cows. When we get there, we steam in the sauna, jump into the waterfall beneath it to cool off and have a picnic in the cabin where Lerhol’s family spend every July and August. ‘The goal when I take over the farm is to live off tourism and milk production,’ he explains over a cheese sandwich made from bread baked by his sauna collaborator Hallgrim Rogn.
Before we head back to Oslo, we charge near Vang at the (empty) Tesla Supercharger station. Vang has a population of around 2,000 and at least four electric charging stations, all built within the last five years. ‘Only about 30 per cent of people in Vang have an electric car,’ says Lerhol. ‘It’s a slow take-up because of the climate and topography. You often need a 4x4.’
The Polestar 2 certainly suited our needs. And our journey both ways cost NOK290 (£24) and would have been far less if we had been able to charge at home.
What I initially saw as the future is fast becoming an everyday reality. Norway has decreed that sales of all new cars and vans shall be zero-emission by 2025. Polestar is one of the manufacturers that will make this possible. The company is committed to creating Project 0, a fully climate-neutral EV, by 2030, a goal that will mean bringing production back from China and removing all greenhouse gas emissions from the supply chain and end of life.
Meanwhile, the forthcoming Polestar 3 and 4 models will be electric SUVs – a good option for the people of Vang, perhaps – with the Polestar 5, due in 2024, reportedly based on the elegant Polestar Precept concept.
Helping keep emissions down will be Norwegian aluminium and renewable energy company Hydro, which uses electricity powered by waterfalls, just like the one we swam in – Hydro’s collaboration with Polestar, e-bike maker Cake, and designer Konstantin Grcic was ushered into being by Wallpaper* in 2020.
Zero emissions is one thing, but climate neutrality is a loftier goal and a far harder trail to follow. Polestar looks set to be lighting the way. §