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BYD Atto 3 test drive

The BYD Atto 3 fulfils most of the practical needs one looks for in a new car – a newcomer worth checking out

Summary

A creditable first effort with some distinctive elements, though these could equally turn off some buyers.
Design
6.5
Comfort
7
Driving experience
6.5
Value for money
7
Safety
10

Summary

A creditable first effort with some distinctive elements, though these could equally turn off some buyers.

Make and model: BYD Atto 3
Description: Electric compact SUV
Price range: £36,490-£38,990

BYD says: “The BYD Atto 3 combines modern aesthetics with exceptional intelligence and efficiency derived from pioneering electric vehicle technology and smart connectivity.”

We say: A fair first effort from a new badge to the UK, with some distinctive elements.


Introduction

Latest in the swathe of new EVs coming from a host of equally new to the UK and mostly Chinese brands is the Atto 3 from BYD – which stands for ‘Build Your Dreams’.  

The Atto 3 is the first UK launch from BYD which while new to British roads globally is a big name. BYD has produced more than five million electric vehicles so far but is even better known as a manufacturer of batteries – the power pack in one in five smartphones came out of a BYD factory.

You might not have heard of BYD but the brand intends that you soon will. Major UK car dealer groups are being signed up to sell the cars and BYD plans to have 30 outlets by the end of 2023, growing to closer to a hundred in the following 12 months.

Those dealers will be showing off three models by the end of the year – the Atto 3 will be joined by a mid-sized hatchback called the Dolphin and then the Seal, a ‘sports saloon’ with the top versions promising sub four-second 0-62mph times. It’s believed a hardcore off-roader will be added to the line-up next year.

What is it?

The Atto 3 (just in case you are wondering, an atto is one quintillionth of a second) is a compact SUV with the likes of the Kia Niro EV, MG ZS EV, Skoda Enyaq and Volkswagen ID.4 in its cross-hairs. As such, it dives into an extremely competitive market that’s growing almost every week.

BYD believes it can attract customers, however, with distinct elements including a different, high-tech and arguably greener battery pack. Another potential advantage over rival brands will be fact that BYD makes every part of its cars, and especially the batteries, meaning customers are likely to get their cars sooner after ordering them.

How does it look?

On the outside the Atto 3 looks, well pretty much like any other car of its size, the styling pretty conservative particularly in the EV market. There are some distinctive touches – the headlamp shape is said to reference a Chinese dragon with a similar treatment applied at the rear – once it’s pointed out, you can see the idea.

Less conservative, or attractive, is the entire ‘Build Your Dreams’ brand message written as a script across the car’s rear flank, just below the screen. BYD has, however, reacted quickly to customer feedback and this branding is now a no-cost option.

According to the man from BYD, some people actually liked it. Most, we’d assume, will prefer not to have it…

We like: General exterior styling is pleasingly normal
We don’t like: ‘Build your Dreams’ across the rear – thankfully now not mandatory

What are the specs like?

Deciphering specification lists and what one gets for the money is a familiar chore of car buying, but not with BYD. There are three versions of the Atto 3 and a virtually non-existent options list – even the five different body colours don’t cost any more money.

The starting point for the range is the ‘Active’ trim at £37,195 (as of September 2023). It comes with lots of toys you wouldn’t expect to find on a base model, such as vegan leather upholstery, a 360-degree around-view monitor, front seats that are both electrically adjustable and heated, a panoramic sunroof and even adaptive cruise control.

An extra £500 buys the ‘Comfort’ version, with the only difference being a faster 11kW on-board charger – however, this assumes that your overnight charging point (usually home) can provide the extra charging speed. The range is topped by the ‘Design’ trim level at £39,695 – that’s £2,500 over the base model, to save you the maths – and for this you get a much larger interior touchscreen (more on which in a moment), an electric tailgate, some extra interior lighting and a more advanced air purfication system for the cabin.

BYD also ticks the boxes on safety. It’s no surprise that the Atto 3 scored a five-star Euro-NCAP safety rating when tested in 2022 as every version comes with an extensive suite of active safety systems.

We like: Long standard equipment list
We don’t like: Not the cheapest out there

What’s it like inside?

Remember we said the exterior styling was conservative? You can’t say that about the inside… 

According to BYD, the style is influenced by a gymnasium – the surfaces are finished to represent that of a treadmill, the air vents hint at weights, the gear selector a kettle bell. Framing them all is vegan leather upholstery in an anything-but-ordinary blue and cream finish. 

Some of these design references are more recognisable than others, and we don’t quite get the gym connections in the guitar strings forming the door bins – these are apparently tuned, by the way, and we did get a passable note or two on them! It’s certainly not dull – to be honest, it’s oddly appealing.  

You can’t fail to miss the central touchscreen, especially if you choose the top model as it measures a gargantuan 16 inches. The other two versions get 13-inch units, which is still pretty large.

A novel touch is that this screen rotates between landscape and portrait format, either at the press of a button or by asking the car to “rotate screen” by voice command. Gimmicky? Maybe, but particularly when using sat-nav, a vertical screen does seem more sensible. The only problem is the larger screen aligned this way does start intruding on the windscreen view.

This screen controls most of the car’s important functions – the few buttons on the dash are for more peripheral functions. There do seem to be an over-complex number of sub-menus to traverse when making changes, but these will no doubt become second nature with daily use. Smartphone capability for both Apple and Android is included, though in our short test we were unable to confirm stories that such functions are not as user-friendly as in some rivals.   

One related positive, though, is that BYD is heavily into over-the-air software updates and so bugs can be addressed pretty quickly, the same way you update your smartphone.

BYD has done a good job of getting the essentials right. The interior fit and finish is of suitable quality and the space in the car, both for occupants and their luggage, is adequate if not generous. There’s 440 litres on offer in the boot, which has a two-level floor, and dropping the rear seats extends the volume to 1,338 litres.

It’s a bright space to be in too, thanks to the standard-fit panoramic sunroof, and this does not intrude too much on headroom, as in some other cars.

We like: Distinctive styling, though some might be less impressed
We don’t like: Complex menus on a screen that’s perhaps a bit too big…

Under the bonnet

The powertrain is where the Atto 3, and the BYD models to follow it, will create most interest. Yes it’s an electric vehicle, but BYD does batteries rather differently to other manufacturers.

BYD’s battery is called a Blade and rather than having various individual cells, it looks more like planks of wood joined together. This layout is strong and safe – BYD has proven this with videos showing nails being driven into the pack and trucks running over it. Just as importantly it uses no cobalt – the most controversial of the rare-earth minerals employed in traditional lithium-ion battery packs.

The battery is the largest of all the essential EV elements which BYD integrates into a single unit, these elements including a heat pump which helps with battery efficiency in colder temperatures. Incidentally, if you want a heat pump on a Skoda Enyaq or Volkswagen ID.4, it will cost you an additional £1,000. On a Kia Niro EV, it’s £900 extra and then only on selected models.

There’s only one battery size available for the Atto 3, a 60kWh unit that provides in an offical driving range of 260 miles. Rival EVs go further but such a range will be enough for most, and in stop-start city driving it can increase to more than 350 miles if you’re really trying.

In terms of charging, all variants can be charged with a 150kW DC unit (that capability costs an extra £324 on a Porsche Taycan…), which results in a boost from 10% to 80% charge in 44 minutes, taking a bit longer than rivals. For overnight charging, the entry-level model has a 7kW charger taking ten hours for a full charge while the other two are fitted with 11kW versions, cutting the wait to less than seven hours. 

How does it drive?

Generally, the BYD Atto 3 displays on-road performance that’s entirely familiar for an EV. It moves away smoothly and (almost) silently and then accelerates swiftly thanks to the instant torque of the electric motor. Then cruising along, even at motorway speeds, it behaves itself well.

The suspension is quite soft compared to some rivals, which adds to the comfort of slow-speed progress around town, though if you try to indulge in more enthusiastic driving the body roll in corners becomes noticeable, if controllable.

In truth, this is not a car that you’ll want to be over-enthusiastic in, anyway. The Atto comes with the choice of three drive modes dubbed ‘Normal’, ‘Economy’ and ‘Sport’ plus a mode for slippery surfaces such as snow, and we found the Sport mode was actually the most satisfying. It’s not really sporty, though, so don’t expect a lot of feedback through the steering wheel in corners.

There are quirks too, most pertinently the regenerative braking – initially we thought “what regenerative braking?”. With a full battery, there’s none of any note to be had – once you’ve gone a few miles you can swipe though three levels of retardation, but it’s nothing like as noticeable as traditional rival EVs. This is certainly not a car to be driven on a single pedal.

Like others, the Atto makes a low-speed noise to warn other road users and pedestrians of its approach, but the low hum is not a very nice tone and could have benefited from some input from whoever tuned those interior guitar strings.

The safety package includes one of those assistants that provides voice alerts to changes of speed limit, whether you are exceeding it and such. Said voice is, however, very abrupt and rather intrusive. Thankfully, dialling through enough of those sub-menus can turn it off…

We like: Smooth drive with enough potency
We don’t like: Odd regen and overbearing alert messages

Verdict

As a first contender from an all-new name, the BYD Atto 3 offers enough to make the car worth looking at among those considering the switch to electric motoring. It fulfils most of the practical needs one looks for in a new car and offers some distinction (at least on the inside) while for those seriously concerned about their carbon footprint, the battery technology and lack of cobalt will be an attraction – it’s a newcomer definitely worth checking out.   

Atto 3 highlights

  • Clever powertrain
  • Strong, simple spec
  • Distinctive interior
  • Strong safety package
  • Rotating touchscreen

Atto 3 lowlights

  • Range could be better
  • Charging could be quicker
  • Some over-quirky elements
  • Interior will not be to everyone’s taste
  • Too many sub menus and overbearing voice alerts

Similar cars

Audi Q4 e-tron | BMW iX3 | Ford Mustang Mach-E | Hyundai Ioniq 5 | Kia Niro EV | Kia EV6 | Mercedes-Benz EQA | Polestar 2 | Skoda Enyaq iV | Tesla Model Y | Volkswagen ID.4 | Volvo XC40 Recharge

Key specifications

Model tested: BYD Atto 3 Design
Price (as tested): £38,990
Motor unit: 150kW electric
Gearbox:
Automatic
Power: 204 hp
Torque: 310 Nm

Top speed: 99 mph
0-60 mph: 7.8 seconds
Battery range: 262 miles (WLTP combined)
Euro NCAP safety rating: Five stars (October 2022)
TCE Expert Rating: 65% (as of September 2023)

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Andrew Charman
Andrew Charman
Andrew is a road test editor for The Car Expert. He is a member of the Guild of Motoring Writers, and has been testing and writing about new cars for more than 20 years. Today he is well known to senior personnel at the major car manufacturers and attends many new model launches each year.
A creditable first effort with some distinctive elements, though these could equally turn off some buyers.BYD Atto 3 test drive