First let’s start with a bit of background. The Chinese automotive manufacturer BYD has just produced its six-millionth vehicle, a plug-in hybrid. To put this in context, three months ago it produced its five-millionth. Volkswagen (VW) and Toyota are producing approximately eight-to-nine million units per year, but they are manufacturing for many more years. If this rate of growth continues, BYD is on target to be bigger than VW and Toyota.
Anyway, at a recent launch I sampled their latest offering to the Irish market, the BYD Dolphin. This is targeted at the C-segment market, or what we used to call midsize cars. Basically, it is a rival to the VW ID3. Sooner or later, I’ll be telling you about the BYD Seal, a Tesla Model 3 rival, so you’d be right in thinking there’s a certain nautical theme coming through.
As I have mentioned before, BYD is also a battery company, and apparently one-in-three android phones uses BYD technology of some form or other. We are told that their car batteries can sustain 3-to-5,000 complete charges and discharges, enough for about one million kilometres (km). The warranty for the battery is eight years or 200,000km, whichever comes first. Drive units are warrantied to eight years and 150km, with a car warranty of six years and 150km. Overall, this should give peace of mind for long-term motoring and keep value in the car at trade-in time.
Something we all hope we will never need is the five-star new car assessment programme (NCAP) rating. Contributing to this figure is a list of passive safety features including: Forward collision warning; autonomous emergency braking; rear collision warning; rear-cross traffic alert and rear-cross traffic brake; lane departure prevention; and emergency lane keeping assist.
Any transgression of the speed limit or the white line will result in your passengers being made aware that you are reckless. I’m sure there must be an off switch (apart from constantly using the indicators), but I couldn’t find it. Anyway, this is a sign of the future of motoring as the EU is intending to legislate for more driver assistance systems being put in place over the next few years.
Unrelated to the NCAP there is what’s called intelligent and adaptive cruise control, fitted as standard. Many people don’t use the old fashioned “constant speed” cruise control on their cars. But when you get used to adaptive cruise, I’ll guarantee you’ll love it. It speeds up to the set maximum speed and slows down, even breaking, to match the speed of the car in front.
Another standard across the BYD range is a heat pump. Simply put, it is similar in ways to a fridge in reverse, taking heat from the ambient air and/or the motor and gearbox and putting it in the cabin. It also warms the battery to give more efficient range. You will get different answers from different manufacturers about the necessity of a heat pump, but the consensus of the unbiased is that in Ireland, yes, it is worth it.
Initially, there will be two Dolphin trim levels, ‘Comfort’ and ‘Design’, with the latter having a panoramic roof and wireless smartphone charging. The ‘Active’ and ‘Boost’ models will arrive next year with smaller batteries, and hence smaller price tags. The range is meant to be 427km on the bigger battery with 309-to-340km on the lower cost models. This is theoretically enough to go from Drogheda to Belmullet. Maybe I’ll do it some day and surprise my cousins over there.
Initial driving impressions are good. There is excellent noise insulation and the car is quiet. There are two screens, with the central one rotating at the touch of an icon. The screen in front of the driver is small, and similar to the BYD’s Atto3 – I find most of the fonts too small for me to read in comfort and at a glance. The seats are comfortably shaped with a vegan leather upholstery, and the dash also has a nice squishy feel to it. There are lots of places to hoard stuff, which will lead to regular ‘I-must-clear-that-car-out’ promises. The guitar strings of the Atto3 are absent, but the Dolphin door release is shaped like a dolphin’s fin, a nice touch.
The test car had a 204bhp motor with a 0-100km/h time of seven seconds. I didn’t feel it was as fast as that. The characteristics of most electric cars are quietness (yes), smooth power delivery (yes), and usually rapid acceleration. But I found acceleration a bit lacking and a little slow on the uptake. I didn’t get the timer out and test it on the public road, but I will at some stage. I am reliably informed that most electric cars have been dialled down power-wise to save shredding front tyres.
So what’s the opposition like? To start with the BYD Dolphin design (top spec) is listed at €37,025. The MG4 from SAIC Motor has similar power and slightly better range, costs €3,500 more, but doesn’t have the heat pump, safety features, or electric (vegan) leather seats standard on the Dolphin. The VW ID3, which is €13,000 more expensive, again lacks a heat pump and also some of the safety and comfort features, similar to the MG4. Its warranty is three years and 90,000km. Overall the other cars are bigger, but only slightly. Again, the BYD Dolphin represents good value in the C-class segment of the electric car market. All present indications are good as a long-term investment and a healthy warranty. Once again BYD have another impressive car on their hands. We can only see sales going up from now on.