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: Month 3
Automatic headlights are responsive, but poor on dipped beam - 21 November
The Atto’s headlights are something of a contradiction: excellent on full beam but bordering on inadequate on dipped beam. Perhaps I need to delve into the menus again to try to adjust their height. Fortunately, the automatic functionality is superresponsive, flicking them back to full as soon as oncoming traffic has passed. And the light bar that runs across the nose looks cool.
The Atto 3 is pricy, but comes with some premium kit - 1 November
A few people have said that the BYD seems expensive for a newcomer, at a little under £40,000. But its features match far costlier cars’, not least the exceptional 360deg camera system, something that was once the preserve of seriously high-end cars. The range of views is remarkable and the accuracy is pinpoint, plus it appears on the touchscreen automatically to help you see out of tricky junctions
Life with a BYD Atto: Month 2
Lock and load: our EV makes easy work of both those jobs - 25 October
A lot of my driving life seems to revolve around my cars’ load-carrying ability, to the extent that boot space has become a bit of an obsession: I’ve got two highly strung dogs who don’t like being too close together, I regularly carry huge loads when restocking the local food bank, I’m the school run taxi most days for four kids and, in the case of an EV, I’m often having to get the charging cable out.
With all that in mind, I was a little concerned about how the Atto 3 was going to work out in daily life, given its published capacities of 440 litres of boot space, rising to 550 litres when filling to the roof and 1338 litres with the rear seats folded.
In practice, however, I can’t help feeling that those numbers are a little pessimistic. I’m presuming they were measured with the two-level floor in its uppermost position – which leaves a huge space beneath to store the two very bulky charging cable bags – and further impacted by the weirdly low-set rear parcel shelf, which is a disappointingly flimsy item in comparison to the impressive quality of the rest of the interior.
In that state, you get a nice high load level but a really compromised boot (although the large cubbyholes on either side are useful to prevent smaller items sliding around once on the move). You also get a surprising amount of bump-thump from the rear suspension, which is amplified by having what is in effect a speaker box on top of it – despite the ride itself being really quite good.
Drop the floor to its lower setting and that noise becomes more muffled, and the boot suddenly feels generously deep and spacious – particularly with that fiddly and cheap-feeling parcel shelf relegated to the house. The dogs don’t mind the drop over the load lip, and the bespoke rubber mat fitted to my car is more than up to protecting the carpet beneath from their claws.
It’s a shame BYD didn’t see fit to add release levers at the back of the boot for the split rear bench. You need to go round to each back door in turn to free the seatbacks by pulling a little strap behind the headrest, having tucked the seatbelts out of the way to allow them to drop down.
And you’ll need to remember those seatbelts when putting it back to passenger spec, too, because they are all too easy to trap in the mechanism. But once you’ve folded them, you can fit a pretty decent amount in there – with a near-flat load bay for larger items if you have the floor raised, or dropped for extra space (in that mode, 30 plastic 25-litre boxes is my record so far).
An electric tailgate is something I never thought necessary before having a car fitted with one, but I now find it really useful – in particular, the ability to close the boot from the driver’s seat when distracted/sleepy children have taken their bags out and forgotten to press the button before wandering off into school.
It’s a shame the Atto 3 doesn’t have the ‘magic foot wave’ option for hands-free operation (or if it does, it doesn’t work). But the lock button on the boot itself is really useful, securing all of the doors once the tailgate is down and automatically closing the windows and panoramic sunroof for peace of mind.
On a charge
The wireless phone charger is perfectly sited ahead of the gearlever and seems to be very efficient (unlike some).
A clash of cups
Why bother fitting the car with two cupholders if they can’t accommodate two cups? The BYD’s are far too close together.
BYD's are still few and far between in the UK -11 October
You could almost hear the confusion. I was calling the ‘meet and greet’ parking service from the arrivals hall at Gatwick and she was confirming the car’s details: “Metallic red… BYwhat? Is that its name or part of the registration?” I keep telling people that Build Your Dreams will soon be as ubiquitous as Kia and Toyota, but that day feels some time away. I’ve still yet to see another Atto 3.
Life with a BYD Atto 3: Month 1
Wireless Android, but not Apple CarPlay... - 27 September
This is one to file under ‘first-world problems’, but it is mildly irritating that Apple CarPlay only works with your iPhone tethered to the car – and only via a traditional USB-A cable, even though there is a USB-C port, too. I wouldn’t mind except that the sockets are hard to reach (see above), and for some reason Android Auto works fine via Bluetooth.
Charger issues cause considerable panic and electrical glitches strike - 20 September
If you drive an electric car and plan on visiting Horsham, West Sussex, make sure you charge it before leaving. I thought I’d done so, but I must have forgotten to turn on my EVIOS charger and only noticed when I looked at our predicted range halfway there... and realised that we were only just going to make it.
With my daughter already late, I had to nurse it to gym practice, then go off in search of charge to get home. After checking my various apps, I dismissed the low-power options and plumped for a nearby Shell Recharge. Ideal – except when I got there, it was out of service.
Next I tried a BP Pulse device, but the app wouldn’t let me reset my password, so I couldn’t log in. Increasingly panicked, I gambled on a longer run to Pease Pottage services, where I was saved by a pricey (69p per kWh) but fast Gridserve station, arriving with just 7% battery.
It made me yearn for times when cars were less complicated – although I won’t go as far as my mate Martin, who has built himself an Austin Seven Special that provides the perfect juxtaposition to the BYD’s sophistication.
With headlights being about the extent of his Austin’s electrical system, he won’t be suffering the frustrations I have of late. The Atto 3’s built-in nav still doesn’t work, which isn’t a great loss because I can use Apple CarPlay, but of more concern are a few recent glitches.
First, on two occasions, the cruise control has cut out on the motorway, accompanied by a tyre-pressure warning light. Before I found somewhere safe to pull over, it had gone out again and all was well – but a worry, nonetheless.
The second was a bizarre incident when I was on a phone call and it cut out. I couldn’t reconnect, then subsequently realised that the
radio wouldn’t work and even the indicator sound had gone. The car was completely silent. I resolved to contact my nearest dealer, but the following morning it had found its voice and has been fine ever since.
Despite these niggles, the BYD is a very pleasant car to live with. More loungewear than race suit, for sure, but there are plenty of times when I know which I would rather be wearing.
Surely there are few cars this bland that attract so much attention. You just don’t see BYDs on the road. But that won’t last...
Please shut up!
The collision warning sensor appears to think I’m going to crash into every parked or oncoming car and therefore chimes incessantly
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 Your 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.
The trim is pretty quirky. Sit behind the wheel and 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