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A new BYD to attract EV buyers

One useful but not obvious aspect of the Atto is its over-the-air software updates, which means any electronic issues can quickly be resolved much as they are on smartphones. This could address for example one potential issue that has been reported but which we weren’t able to explore during our brief test, poor smartphone integration. The car does accept both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but apparently not as intuitively as some.


10 August 2023

What is it?

The Atto 3 is a C-segment SUV and the model launching Chinese brand BYD – ‘Build Your Dreams’ and pronounced Bee-why-Dee – into the UK. While new to British buyers BYD has great global expertise in electric mobility – as detailed in our separate story here, the company has produced five million EVs and is the second largest battery manufacturer in the world, with one in five smartphone batteries being a BYD unit.

The initial attempt to attract British buyers is a compact crossover of similar size to the Kia Niro EV which is likely to be a target rival, while also going up against the likes of the MG ZS and when you look at the pricing mainstream contenders such as the Skoda Enyaq and Volkswagen ID.4.

On the outside the Atto – the name represents one quintillionth of a second – boasts acceptable if conservative styling, though it’s easy to see the Chinese dragon reference in the headlights when the man from BYD points it out. There’s a similar treatment at the rear though likely to cause the most discussion is the full ‘Build Your Dreams’ logo stretching across the tailgate. Demonstrating this new brand’s quick response to potential customer feedback, this logo is no longer mandatory but a no-cost option. “Some liked it, others didn’t..” we were told.

The interior is anything but conservative. It is apparently styled to reference a gymnasium, so for example the central gear selector has the shape of a kettle bell while the surfaces are designed to look those you find on a treadmill, the air vents like weights and so on. None of this explains the guitar-string design of the door bins, though we were told these are tuned and a quick test reveals you can strung something like a tune on them.

Dominating the interior is the central touchscreen which comes in two sizes, 12.8 inches on two of the three models available and 15.6 inches on the range-topping Design variants. Neatly side-stepping the argument as to whether landscape or portrait orientation is best for such screens, the BYD version does both, rotated by a button on the steering wheel, on the unit itself or by simply asking the car to in similar fashion to how one talks to an Alexa smart device.

Practically the car boasts space for five plus a 440-litre boot with a two-level floor, and this can be extended to 1338 litres with both seats folded flat.

It’s under the skin where the Atto 3 is most clever. It’s the first of three new cars coming from BYD to use the new ‘e-Platform 3.0’ which makes the most of  this manufacturer’s expertise in electrical matters. BYD has its own way of doing batteries – called the Blade, the pack looks a bit like planks of wood joined together rather than the individual cells of other designs. It is based around lithium iron-phosphate (LFP), the Blade pack employing no cobalt in its construction – cobalt is the most controversial of the rear-earth minerals involved with EVs because of the way it is mined. LFP is also considered to be safer than conventional lithium-ion batteries and BYD emphasises the safety of its Blade in videos on Youtube showing nails being driven into the pack and an entire pack being run over by a truck.

The Blade is also a more compact unit than a conventional battery pack and forms an element of what is described as an eight-in-one powertrain, integrating into one all the components you need for electric motoring into one and freeing up more space for occupants while further improving efficiency. These components include the vehicle control unit, battery, motor, transmission, charger and the heat pump – the latter is standard on all cars and increases thermal efficiency of the battery by up to 20% in the winter.

2308 byd atto 3 reardyn

There is just one size of the Blade battery available across the three-model Atto 3 range, a 60kWh unit that gives the car a WLTP-certified range of 260 miles, 351 in city driving with lots of regeneration. An 11kW AC unit fitted on all but entry-level Active models for overnight charging will produce a full battery in 6.5 hours (the Active has a 7kW unit taking close to 10 hours) while all versions of the car can also be charged using a 150kW DC unit which will take the battery from 10 to 80% in 44 minutes.

The Atto 3 is pretty swift too – the 0-62mph time is 7.3 seconds, which once upon a time was hot-hatch territory, and it tops out at 99mph.

BYD is keeping things very simple when it comes to specification. Prices range from £36,490 for the Active, through £36,990 for the Comfort to £38,990 for the range-topping Design, and there are virtually no options – even the five exterior finishes are a standard choice with no cost penalty. In fact the only significant differences between models are the lack of 11kW charging on the Active, and the bigger touchscreen and an electric tailgate on the Design.

Long standard equipment lists across the range include vegan leather upholstery, heated electrically adjustable front seats, a panoramic sunroof, 360-degree around-view camera, adaptive cruise control and a highly comprehensive list of active safety systems – the Atto 3 clocked up 91% for adult protection and 89% for child protection on its way to a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating.

What do we think?

The time when EVs by their quirky looks made it obvious they were different to the norm are thankfully in the past and the Atto 3 presents a conservative exterior visual presence that will not appear out of place in any company car park. The same can certainly not be said for the interior, the bright blue and cream leather and gymnasium theme certainly different but in truth not unattractive, though you may find yourself constantly trying to strum tunes on the door-bin strings… It all looks well put together too – not everyone will like the boldness but we see it as a welcome change.

Our test car was the range-topping Design version, which visually only makes its presence felt by the size of the central touchscreen which is nothing short of gargantuan – possibly an an enlargement one doesn’t need. The rotating feature, however, is in this reviewer’s view not gimmicky at all – a vertical format works so much better when using maps for example though in vertical mode the larger screen does intrude into the windscreen view.

There are very few physical buttons and those on the centre console seem to control more peripheral functions. The various important bits of the car are controlled via the touchscreen and there are a host of sub menus to range through to get to what you want. These seem initially confusing but will no doubt become second nature after any time with the car.

One useful but not obvious aspect of the Atto is its over-the-air software updates, which means any electronic issues can quickly be resolved much as they are on smartphones. This could address for example one potential issue that has been reported but which we weren’t able to explore during our brief test, poor smartphone integration. The car does accept both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but apparently not as intuitively as some.

2308 byd atto 3 int
Interior dominated by rotatable touchscreen.

No complaints on space either in front or back – the electric underpinnings free up lots of room including a completely flat floor in front of the rear seats. Headroom is good too especially considering standard equipment includes a panoramic glass sunroof. This in turn helps to produce a light and airy interior.

like most EVs driving the Atto 3 is a lack-of-fuss experience – it moves away smoothly and accelerates swiftly as befits the 7.8-second 0-62mph time. The car offers three ‘mainstream’ driving modes, dubbed ‘Normal’, ‘Economy’ and ‘Sport’, plus a ‘Snow’ mode. BYD is careful not to make any bold sporting claims for the Atto – that will come later with its Seal coupe which will offer sub four-second 0-62mph times – but we found the Sport mode the most satisfying for general use.

The suspension is quite soft making for a conformable ride around town which is generally maintained as speed increases. Mind you this does not really reward more enthusiastic driving, forceful use of throttle or brake causing a fair amount of vertical movement. This also encourages some though not excessive body roll in corners, where generally the Atto 3 is competent without producing much feedback through the steering wheel.

There are, however, one or two oddities compared to rivals. The low ‘I am an EV’ sound made at slow speeds to alert pedestrians and the like to one’s presence is not exactly the nicest tone around, while the regenerative braking is very different to what one might be used to. Initially there appeared to be none at all, courtesy of a fully charged battery, and once we freed up a bit of refill space switching through the three levels produced different amounts of retardation but nothing to the level of what’s become the norm on the market – the Atto 3 is not a car you can drive on one pedal like other EVs and a Tesla-owning colleague found it quite odd.

This reviewer also found the centre gear selector slightly challenging at the end of a drive when trying to put the car in Park, at one point thinking he’d done so and the car answering by trying to move away… Again this is something that no doubt would disappear with familiarity.

These are niggles but overall the Atto 3 is a very good start from this new-to-the-UK brand and certainly worth a look for those considering the switch to electric.

Bid Atto 3 Design

Price: £38,990  – range starts £36,490

Powertrain: Permanent magnet synchronous motor

Max power: 204hp

Max speed: 99mph

0-62mph: 7.8sec

Range between charges: Up to 262 miles

CO2: 0g/km

VED: £0

2308 byd atto 3 rearstat

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