The biggest brand you’ve possibly never heard of joins the Autocar fleet
Why we’re running it: To find out if this quirky newcomer is a serious prospect or a flash in the pan
Life with a BYD Atto 3: Month 1
Welcoming the Xxx to the fleet – 6 September 2023
We have seen this sort of thing before, so we all know how this is going to go already, don’t we?
A debutant from the East enters the UK market with plenty of fanfare, derivative styling and huge value for money, but ultimately it falls short against the established marques. Plucky effort. Must try harder.
See you back here in a couple of generations’ time and you might be considered a contender…
This time, though, the circumstances are a bit different. Hyundai, Kia, Ssangyong and, more recently, the reborn MG were very much on an upward learning curve when they braved British shores for the first time, meaning I had to endure cars that were – quite literally in some cases – pony before getting to the good stuff. But this manufacturer that many won’t have heard of is remarkably well established already.
BYD has been around since 1995. Last year, it produced more plug-in cars than any other brand worldwide, and it has just built its five-millionth ‘new energy’ vehicle. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at the badge on the back of the next electric bus you see pounding the streets: chances are it’s powered by BYD battery technology.
The Atto 3 family crossover is leading the Shenzhen-based battery giant’s assault on the British buyer’s pocket, with the compact Dolphin hatchback and Seal saloon (driven, p28) coming next, and it has some serious opposition in its sights, led by the smash-hit Kia Niro EV.
The fact that BYD stands for Build My Dreams is a bit, well, unfortunate, but I will gloss over that. Likewise the fact that the styling does indeed magpie others’ ideas: it’s no straight copy of any one rival, but I can see hints of the previous-generation Honda HR-V in there, along with Hyundai Kona and Cupra Born cues – the latter in the C-pillar treatment in particular.
More than one visitor to my house has asked if that’s a new Kia in my driveway, but the important thing is that the overall result is inoffensive and even bordering on the really quite handsome.
As for the other Eastern- newcomer touchpoint? The hefty kit list gets a big tick too. My top-spec Design example wants for nothing for a shade less than £40,000, offering the kind of generosity that would shame many a luxury car at twice its price. I’m talking electric panoramic roof, bird’s-eye cameras all round – the works.
There are also a few quirks that have thrilled my children, such as door pockets whose sides are made not of plastic but a trio of tuned guitar strings (they really to play three distinct notes). There’s a huge rotating 15.6in touchscreen, too.
Thr trim is pretty quirky. Sit behind the wheel nd just count the finishes: ‘vegan leather’ in not one but three different colours and a dash that blends a brushed metal effect with rolling curves in blue, black and white, with a small binnacle ahead of the driver and that vast central screen dominating proceedings.
As someone who is something of a stranger to the gym, I had to be informed that this environment was the inspiration for the interior styling. But even I got the hint with BYD’s colour names, which are a rather lame attempt to cement these active associations, with Surfing Blue, Skiing White, Climbing Grey and my car’s Parkour Red. It doesn’t make me want to start leaping from railing to railing (not with my knees), but it at least is a very attractive shade.
Try not to be blindsided by the gimmickry, though, because the Atto 3 is a properly practical car. The cabin is far more generous for space than those of many of its rivals, and it feels remarkably well-screwed together. There’s a decent split-level boot back there too, albeit with a horribly flimsy cover that reminds me of an early ’80s Vauxhall.
The sense of quality and solidity is further enhanced on the road. The BYD is a really sweet-riding machine, helped by its big doughnut tyres. The powertrain offers effortless rather than astounding pace, and while the chassis won’t win any prizes for entertainment, it is as competent as the rest of the package.
I have had one slight problem, albeit when the car was being used the tracking photography (snapper in the boot, harnessed up, shooting out the back as the subject car follows). That meant having the electric tailgate open for a sustained period while I drove around at relatively low speeds, but it was enough to really confuse the poor Atto 3, and afterwards, the boot refused to open fully or shut properly – which was doubly annoying because it disabled other systems, such as the cruise control, at the same time.
Fortunately for me, because my nearest BYD dealer is a fair hike away, that evening the car informed me it was having a software update, which cured the fault in the process. it has, however, at the same time disabled the sat-nav, so for now I’m sticking to Apple CarPlay for route-finding duties.
Some cars fall short in the harsh glare of the road test spotlight, and indeed the Atto 3 didn’t make the top five when compared to rivals in our 31 May issue, but having previously run two that pipped it in the rankings (the Born and the Renault Megane E-Tech Electric), I can’t help thinking that this car is more of a slow-burner. Even just a few short weeks in, I’m really warming to it.
My main complaint when I drove the Atto 3 was its centre screen, which is huge but doesn’t have the most logical interface. So it’s worrying that Al is already seeing glitches. Software updates are inbound, but will these improve things, or will the tech taint the overall experience?
BYD Atto 3 Design specification
Specs: Price New £39,695 Price as tested £39,695 Options None
Test Data: Engine Power 201bhp Torque 229lb ft Kerb weight 1750kg Top speed 100mph 0-62mph 7.3sec Economy 3.9mpkWh CO2 xxxg/km Faults Electric tailgate, sat-nav Expenses None