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Yangwang U8 review: super-heavyweight Chinese Bentley overloaded with tech

Yangwang is BYD’s premium brand and the U8 is a monstrous SUV that can turn like a tank and double as a boat

Verdict

The Yangwang U8 is a shining example of how one size really doesn’t fit all. It’s too big, too heavy, and too inefficient to succeed over here – and that’s before you consider the unknown badge and sky-high price. The Chinese manufacturers are a force to be reckoned with, but the UK isn’t (and may never be) ready for this kind of car.

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Yangwang probably isn’t a name you’re familiar with. But in its home market, this BYD subsidiary sells the most expensive mass-produced Chinese car ever built: the 5.3m-long U8 SUV.

This is a Land Rover Defender-rivalling luxury off-roader with a retail price of 1,098,000 CNY (around £120,000). It has four individual motors, which combined produce 1,180bhp and 1,280Nm of torque. Its powertrain isn’t a conventional petrol or electric layout, but instead blends both in a range-extender set-up; the engine acts as a generator and is not directly connected to the wheels.

Domestically, Yangwang is seen as BYD’s Bentley and alongside the U8, also sells the sleek U9 electric supercar. Neither has been confirmed for the UK, but you only need to look at its parent company’s assault on the European car market – three model launches in 12 months, plus another incoming – to get a grasp of how serious it is about gaining a foothold over here.

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To get a better understanding of what Yangwang is all about, the company brought four of its flagship SUVs to the UK for selected media to try. They’re not yet homologated for Europe, so our first drive was restricted to a few laps of Goodwood’s fast and unforgiving historic race circuit. Talk about a fish out of water…

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Part of the reason the U8 hasn’t been cleared for UK sale is weight. Tipping the scales at 3.6 tonnes, anyone who passed their driving test after 1997 would need a special licence (or additional training) to drive one. And that’s before you consider what a car like this might cost to run.

Yangwang’s solution to the second of those conundrums is to use a 49kWh battery – give or take the same size set-up as you’ll find in a Vauxhall Corsa Electric and big for a range-extender hybrid – mated to a 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine. Yangwang claims a China-certified 112-mile EV range, which would cost just a few pounds on an off-peak energy tariff. Combined with the petrol engine, the maker says the U8 can do up to 1,000km (620 miles) before needing to be refuelled.

As mentioned, that generator isn’t directly connected to the wheels, but instead charges the battery which feeds the four individual e-motors. And while that’s fine when it’s running purely on electricity – Yangwang claims the U8 is “as quiet as a library” – the background hum from the four-cylinder engine isn’t the most pleasant sound when it’s not.

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The on-paper performance stats make this thing out to be some kind of rocketship, too. Yet even with a racetrack at our disposal, the U8 never felt close to being as quick as its numbers (0-62mph in 3.6 seconds) suggest. It’ll squat to the rear when you put your foot down, but in truth, the car feels like it’s running at around 25 per cent of its claimed output. 

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Of course, a lot of that is down to weight – something simple physics is unable to disguise through the corners. Tip it in and the U8 (and its occupants) clings on for all it’s worth, with no amount of hydraulic body control able to contain all 3.6 tonnes and the lofty centre of gravity. The steering has a nice weight to it, but there’s no doubt a Mercedes G-Class would show it a clean pair of heels through the bends.

Part of this is probably down to the U8’s old-school ladder-frame chassis, which we’re assured makes it untouchable off-road. Indeed, it has several features that should give it the edge – not least its 205mm of ground clearance, and a floating function whereby the Yangwang can double as a boat. The entire car is apparently sealed and can stay operable on water for up to 30 minutes, though we’re told it must only be used in emergency situations; the car needs a full inspection afterwards.

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There’s also a tyre blowout function, which uses the complex quad-motor set-up to keep the car driving in a straight line should the driver suffer an irrepairable puncture. A video demonstration even showed the car negotiating a tight turn within some cones, almost as if it was driving on four fully-inflated tyres. Clever kit.

And then there’s the Yangwang U8’s party piece. A tank-turn function that allows the huge SUV to rotate on a sixpence – and on any surface. It works by rotating the wheels in opposite directions, and is initiated via the central infotainment screen. The promotional films show it spinning on sand, but bosses say it’s probably more useful for tight car parks or driveways, where you’d ordinarily need to perform a 10-point turn. We experienced the technology both inside and outside the car, and while it’s certainly impressive, we can’t help but question the damage repeated use on Tarmac must do to the suspension and tyres. 

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We mentioned the desired associations with brands like Bentley, and it’s clear Yangwang has pulled out all the stops when it comes to cabin quality. There are screens for the driver, passenger and central infotainment, plus one on each of the back seats and another small display in between. There’s also a 22-speaker stereo with Dolby Atmos, plus all the latest LIDAR kit and driver assistance systems. The tech feels slick, and the materials that cover every surface – think Nappa leather and Sapele wood – are built to a very high standard.

The seats are super comfortable too, with pillow-like head restraints and big armrests. There are chunky toggle switches below the main curved OLED screen, and the column-mounted gear selector frees up space for two wireless charging pads on the centre console. It’s definitely plush, but more Lexus than Lamborghini.

Space isn’t a concern, though there’s currently no seven-seat model planned – despite the U8 being as long as a Defender 130. Still, Yangwang claims a 1,031-litre load bay with the rear seats in place, or 2,050 litres with everything folded down; the only issue being the side-hinged tailgate and boot-mounted spare wheel, which require consideration when parking up. 

Model:Yangwang U8 Premium Edition
Price:£120,000 (est)
Engine:2.0-litre 4cyl turbo petrol, 49kWh battery, 4x e-motor
Power/torque:1,180bhp/1,280Nm
Transmission:Single-speed auto, four-wheel drive
0-62mph:3.6 seconds
Top speed:120mph
Range/charging:112 miles (est)/100kW, 30-80% in 18 mins (est)
Fuel economy/CO2:TBC
L/W/H:5,319/2,050/1,930mm
On sale:TBC
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Deputy editor

Richard has been part of the team for over a decade. During this time he has covered a huge amount of news and reviews for Auto Express, as well as being the face of Carbuyer and DrivingElectric on Youtube. In his current role as deputy editor, he is now responsible for keeping our content flowing and managing our team of talented writers.

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