Road tests

New BYD Atto 3 first drive review

The influx of Chinese cars onto the UK market is about to gather pace and the BYD Atto 3 promises much for UK buyers…

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

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If the Atto 3 is a sign of what else is to come from BYD and other Chinese car makers, then it’s great news for UK buyers. We like the Atto 3’s comfort and it’s stylish, well-made interior, while the technology is as good as it gets right now. 

The car is efficient and safe with decent finance deals on offer and a salary sacrifice scheme through Octopus that makes it hugely attractive for private buyers. The biggest challenge it has is to keep BYD’s full name quiet – having Build Your Dreams emblazoned across the back may put some buyers off.

BYD might just be one of the biggest companies you’ve never heard of. Before stepping into the automotive world, where last year it sold over 1.8m cars (the majority of in its native China), it focused on battery technology with, apparently, 20 per cent of the world’s smartphones using BYD technology.

So being a battery and technology specialist isn’t a bad place to start for a car company bringing an EV to the UK market for the first time – and the Atto 3 isn’t a bad place to start, either.

With a watchful eye on what sells, the Atto 3 is a crossover very much in the mould of the Nissan Qashqai and about the same size, too. And with prices starting at £36,490 in Active trim, it’s sat squarely up against the Volkswagen ID.3 and ID.4; it even takes a couple of design cues from the VWs – the full-width LED light strip across the front of the car and contrasting C-pillar, for example. But in many ways, BYD betters VW’s offering, especially inside where interior quality and infotainment are streets ahead.

While the look outside is smart, if a little generic despite its ‘dragon face design signature’, BYD’s design team have had more fun inside. The sweeping dash flows through to the doors with a combination of light and dark, soft-touch materials, with a small digital screen showing essential info sitting within easy sight through a small-ish steering wheel.

The party piece, though, is the slim 15.8-inch touchscreen on our top-spec Design model (lesser Comfort and Active trims get 12.8-inches) that can rotate from portrait to landscape mode. The twist operates via a button on the screen, on the steering wheel or by simply saying “Hi BYD, rotate screen.” In fact, the voice control works really well, adjusting everything from heated seats to the heated rear screen and, of course, infotainment (Spotify is fitted, although Apple CarPlay and Android Auto need a USB cable to connect).

We suspect that once the novelty of the swivelling screen has worn off, you’ll just leave it in your preferred position - unless you want to impress your friends - but the screen itself is slick to use and quick to react, although we did enjoy using the voice control more than in many other cars.

There are some shortcut keys surrounding the gear lever to avoid over-reliance on the touchscreen, while the design of the selector itself is supposed to replicate a kettlebell handle. In fact, the gym theme continues with air vents supposed to look like free weights and the door grab handles supposed to look like barbells.

That sense of fun extends to the door pockets with their ‘guitar string’ sides – apparently you can actually play a tune if you can really be bothered. Visibility is excellent, especially forward with a Tesla-style deep front screen. 

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Comfort is another theme that runs through the car. Thankfully, this isn’t a model that has been tuned to within an inch of its life around the Nurburgring in the quest for sporty handling, so it offers a greater degree of comfort over UK roads. In fact, we went hunting for potholes just to confirm that it really does ride rather nicely, even if it can feel a bit floaty over longer undulations.

There’s a bit of body roll, not that it will bother most drivers, while the steering doesn’t provide much feedback and is keen to self-centre at slow speeds. Generally, the Atto 3 is comfortable and quiet, except for a bit of wind noise around the door mirrors.

BYD has done a good job with the brakes, though. You can choose between two settings of brake regeneration – we preferred it on high, but it’s far from one-pedal driving – yet the modulation feels more natural than on many rivals.

As you’d expect given the company’s history, the Atto 3 uses an advanced 60.5kWh ‘blade’ battery, the blade referencing the set-up of the modules, which are designed to use less space and provide greater efficiency. The battery itself forms a structural part of the e-Platform 3.0 – a scalable platform set to be used for a whole range of BYDs coming to the UK – which also aids safety, helping the Atto 3 to a full five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating.

The advanced electric powertrain and standard heat pump also improve efficiency and, sure enough, our cars showed 250 miles of range in near-freezing conditions – not too shy of the claimed range of 260 miles. Efficiency on the move was impressive, too – although a little off of BYD’s 3.98 miles per kWh.

Charging speeds are okay, if not super-quick. Find a charger capable of 150kW and the car will charge from 30 to 80 per cent in 29 minutes. Efficiency may improve over time with BYD promising over-the-air software updates via its own operating system.

The compact battery also means there’s a flat floor inside the car and good legroom for rear passengers, although with a slightly knees-up seating position. The boot offers a decent 440-litres of space with a flat floor, which remains when the rear seats are folded to increase space to 1,338 litres. There’s even some storage under the floor for cables.

Although the car is on sale now, the dealer roll-out will take a little time. BYD is working with established dealer groups targeting Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham and Milton Keynes before moving south in the second quarter of the year. There’ll be 20 to 30 locations by the year’s end, with between 90 and 100 locations selling a wider range of BYDs by 2025.

Initial finance deals through BYD’s preferred finance partner Santander look appealing, too. With a £3,000 finance contribution thrown in and a 10% deposit, you’ll pay £440 per month over four years for a Comfort model and £470 for a Design Atto 3 over the same terms.

BYD has also signed up with Octopus to provide the Atto 3 on salary sacrifice schemes, while the first 500 customers will get 1,000 miles of free charging with Shell Recharge, then a handy 15p per kWh discount for the first year.

Model:   BYD Atto 3
Price:   £38,990
Engine/battery:  1x e-motor, 60.5kWh battery
Power/torque:    201bhp/310Nm
Transmission:    Single-speed auto, front-wheel drive 
0-62mph:     7.3 seconds
Top speed:   99mph
Range:     260 miles (WLTP comb)
Max charging:  88kW DC (29mins for 30-80%)
On sale:    Now

Steve Fowler has been editor-in-chief of Auto Express since 2011 and is responsible for all editorial content across the website and magazine. He has previously edited What Car?, Autocar and What Hi-Fi? and has been writing about cars for the best part of 30 years. 

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