BYD is one of the latest entrants in the UK market from China, but it’s far from being a newbie in the game. Standing for the rather cheesy Build Your Dreams, BYD has been making cars since 2003 and in 2022 it sold over 1.8 million new energy vehicles, which includes both battery-electric and PHEV. It’s one of the biggest EV companies in the world but it’s also one of the biggest technology companies. It makes half of all Apple iPads, 20 per cent of the world’s smartphones and it makes its own batteries. Its Blade battery is a very clever thing, lighter, more compact and with more power density than many others, it’s so good that Tesla uses Blade batteries in its Model Y and it also supplies Toyota.
Its first models in the UK were the Atto 3 and the Dolphin, but it’s upping the ante with its new BYD Seal, a far more premium EV that with pricing from £45,695 takes on not just models like the Tesla Model 3 and Polestar 2, but more expensive premium vehicles such as the BMW i4 and Mercedes EQE. We drove it in Cumbria to find out whether it really has what it takes to tackle the establishment.
Designed using a style called Ocean Aesthetics by former Audi and Alfa Romeo designer, Wolfgang Egger, the Seal has a good-looking four-door fastback profile, although its boot makes it more of a saloon. It’s almost Porsche-like up front in its design and has great daytime running lights, an elegant and sporty side profile, 19-inch two-tone diamond-cut alloy wheels and an upmarket design at the rear. Both the Design and flagship Excellence models have a full-length panoramic glass roof with a rather odd sunshade that you have to remove from the boot and clip in. That doesn’t detract from the very attractive looks of the Seal that give it a unique character compared to many rivals.
Inside there is plenty of space for the driver and four passengers, even with sculpted sports seats up front. Decent legroom for those sat in the back and decent headroom. The main talking point is the massive 15.6-inch touchscreen that rotates horizontally or vertically at the push of a button. It’s packed with features, everything from navigation and DAB radio to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It has Spotify streaming, multiple menus for setting the car up the way you want it and much of it can be controlled by buttons on the steering wheel or voice control, or of course stabbing at the screen.
Other tech includes an RFID card that you can give to someone to operate the car when you still have the key, a charging pad for the key and in a great piece of attention to detail, there are two wireless charging pads upfront because sometimes the driver isn’t the only one in the car. However, it’s the premium design and feel of the materials that elevate the Seal even further. There’s a mixture of leather, alcantara and good-quality plastics throughout, all with the kind of feel that makes you wonder how BYD is managing it at such a low price. It’s not perfect, there’s nowhere to rest your hand while trying to hit the right icon on the screen and the door handles feel a bit cheap and flimsy, plus the boot space seems slightly compromised compared to some rivals even though on paper it’s 400 litres with an additional 53 litres up front. On first impression though, the interior is top notch.
Both models use the same 82.5kWh usable battery pack with the single motor Design version capable of up to 354 miles and the dual motor Excellence 323 miles. The letter’s lower range is not surprising given that its 390kW and all-wheel drive help it leap to 62mph in just 3.8 seconds, something BYD is so proud of that it put a 3.8S badge on the back. We tested this on the test track of M-Sport in Cumbria, a place where many a World Rally Championship Ford has been created and it seemed fairly rapid. Not that the Design is a slouch, but its 230kW motor and rear-wheel drive reach 62mph in 5.9 seconds. We found the range to be remarkably accurate and the Seal can charge at up to 150kW DC on a rapid charger. Both models also have Vehicle-2-Load capability so you can power accessories or charge your electric bike.
Settings include Eco, Normal and Sport, but we found very little difference between them, especially when it came to mid-range power. It was more pronounced on track, but the Seal is a premium saloon with the heart of a sports car and for many the Design will have more than enough get up and go.
Both models were composed on a mixture of road surfaces, but the Excellence with its clever variable frequency dampers felt as though it thumped over undulations in the road more than the Design which has steel springs and regular shock absorbers. Clever tech isn’t always better. That said, the Intelligent Torque Adaption Control (ITAC) system on the Excellence worked superbly at keeping the Seal nice and level on both the road and on the track it really came into its own, allowing for some dynamic enthusiasm. Even the electronic traction systems kept themselves quiet and just did their own thing.
Back to that multitude of vehicle settings in the touchscreen, because the Sport mode for the steering makes it feel over-assisted, as though it is constantly trying too hard to give you feedback that you don’t need. Switch it to Comfort mode, even when you have selected Sport for the drive program and it all feels much better.
The Seal has a good dual personality, happy cruising comfortably along A-roads, but equally willing to respond to the demands of the enthusiastic driver. It’s not as precise as something like the Porsche Taycan, nothing is, but it’s significantly cheaper and for most people, probably just as rewarding.
If you didn’t take the BYD Atto 3 with its funky interior seriously, then the Seal will really make you pay attention. From its design to its handling, comfort and performance, it’s a very well-put-together EV that has the potential to hit premium automakers hard. With pricing of £45,695 for the Design and £48,695 for the Excellence, the prices are remarkably close together, even more so on a PCP or contract hire deal, which begs the question of why you would even go for the entry-level. The answer to that is its longer range and better ride quality, but with both models capable of over 300 miles on a charge, it’s almost a no-brainer, even if you don’t need to launch to 62mph in 3.8 seconds.
You do have to look past the annoying way the car bongs for every speed limit change and the irritating lane departure system. Both can be switched off but they switch back on when you restart the car, as does the steering mode but any owner will quickly learn to make the changes or they might not be as bothered as we were.
These things certainly don’t detract from an EV that is as premium and feature-packed as they come. Even better is the fact that it looks great inside and out and is at a price that will have the pricing departments of some other car makers scratching their heads in frustration. If you hadn’t paid attention to BYD before now, the arrival of the Seal means you definitely should.
Price: From £45,695
On sale: Now
Engine: 82.5kWh battery pack
Power: Design 230kW and Excellence 390kW
Performance: 0-62mph 5.9s (Design), 3.8s (Excellence)
Dimensions: L/W/H 4,800/1,875/
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