New BYD Seal U 2024 review: should be a hit if the price is right
We drive the new BYD Seal U in China ahead of its arrival in the UK and Europe later this year
While the BYD Seal U might not have any important stand-out features, the overall package is inoffensive and the car should come well equipped. It has that all-important interior space that families in particular will desire, and if BYD can continue with its keen pricing, then the Seal U stands a chance of becoming another huge hit for the Chinese brand in this part of the world.
Chinese EV behemoth BYD is showing no signs of letting up on its entry into the UK market. The Seal U (the U standing for utility) is a five-seat mid-size SUV that will be the next model to arrive on our shores, following the Tesla Model 3-rivalling Seal saloon that recently went on sale.
If you thought the standard Seal had a hint of Model 3 about its appearance, then the Seal U will seem even more familiar. It sits in a highly competitive segment, going up against household names including the Ford Kuga, Hyundai Tucson and Volkswagen Tiguan.
At 4,775mm long, it slots neatly into that mid-size SUV segment. It has similar styling cues to the saloon around the front, but rearwards of the A-pillars, it all gets a bit generic. That’s unlikely to upset the SUV-buying masses, and BYD’s designers haven’t gone out of their way to make it stand out from the crowd.
Inside, there are a few novel features, including the sizeable 15.6-inch central touchscreen that – as per other BYD models – can rotate 90 degrees to switch into portrait mode. Aside from that, the clean and clutter-free cabin design is modern, and features such as the dual-wireless charging pads and all-digital displays meet market demands.
The material quality isn’t too shabby, either. There’s a mixture of piano black and metallic surfaces, with softer leather-like coverings on the lower sections of the dashboard. It follows on from what we’ve seen in the BYD Seal saloon, though we’ll have to wait until later in the year to see if European-spec cars differ much from our Chinese-market test car.
Many buyers will like the elevated driving position, which includes ample adjustability, and the outward visibility is quite good, helped by the slim A-pillars and a low bonnet and dashboard. A wheelbase of 2,765mm provides a decent split between rear passenger space and cargo volume, though the latter isn’t what we’d call class-leading.
As with the brand’s current line-up, the Seal U will be offered as a fully electric car, with 71.7kWh and 87kWh versions that use BYD’s proprietary Blade Battery tech. However, plans are also afoot to bolster its appeal with a plug-in hybrid model in certain markets.
The DM-i designation here refers to the Seal U’s plug-in hybrid powertrain comprising a 106bhp 1.5-litre petrol engine and 194bhp electric motor that’s powered, in this case, by an 18.3kWh battery. BYD also offers the Seal U with a larger 26.6kWh battery in China.
Our test car was fitted with 19-inch alloy wheels and Michelin tyres, with road noise kept to a minimum. Ride quality is good and body control is kept well in check, though the suspension — McPherson struts up front and a multi-link rear — is notably softer than in the Seal saloon, resulting in some body roll when cornering.
In spite of that, the steering has a light yet accurate feel, giving the Seal U a degree of poise and agility. While it is unlikely to impress more enthusiastic drivers in the way the dual-motor Seal saloon can, the Seal U is a surefooted and polished drive nonetheless. We expect the fully electric version, with its lower centre of gravity, to have slightly keener handling to go with its faster performance.
For most of our driving time in the Seal U, it remained in its electric mode, with the petrol engine only kicking in when the battery level dropped below 20 per cent. As in many plug-in hybrids, you can keep the car in EV mode until the battery charge depletes completely, if you so desire.
The Seal U is certainly shaping up to be a competent and practical car. However, we suspect that in this PHEV model we haven’t seen the best of what it can offer from a driving perspective — the fully electric version that’s due to come later in the year should make an even better impression, continuing BYD’s sharp upward curve in terms of appeal and sales.
|BYD Seal U DM-i
|1.5-litre 4cyl petrol PHEV
|106bhp/135Nm (petrol), 194bhp/325Nm (electric)
|Single-speed CVT automatic, front-wheel drive