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BYD Seal test drive

BYD’s flagship model is a saloon that challenges Tesla and others on price, performance and specification

Summary

The BYD Seal is an impressive package whether one highlights performance, specification or price. It’s without doubt a rival to Tesla.
Design
8
Comfort
8
Driving experience
7
Value for money
8.5
Safety
9

Summary

The BYD Seal is an impressive package whether one highlights performance, specification or price. It’s without doubt a rival to Tesla.

Make and model: BYD Seal

Description: Electric saloon

Price range: £45,695 – £48,695

BYD says: “Sleek and athletic in appearance, the perfectly proportioned BYD Seal is eye-catching from every angle, with impressive performance and handling to match.”

We say: Amongst a flood of new electric cars currently hitting the market, the BYD Seal stands out as a definite challenger to the big-hitters from Germany and that EV standard-bearer, Tesla.


Introduction

Anyone who regularly browses The Car Expert cannot have failed to have noticed the arrival of new Chinese brand BYD – Build Your Dreams – in the UK.

In little more than six months we’ve seen the launch of two all-new electric cars, plus an aggressive dealer opening programme which already includes a showroom in London’s Mayfair amongst the likes of Rolls-Royce, Ferrari and Bugatti.

The Seal, however, is the BYD many have been waiting for. The brand’s third release is also pitched as its flagship, a big upmarket saloon with 0-62mph times in supercar territory, plush interiors and lots of equipment, all in a package costing less than £50,000.

This is the car designed to take on the executive heavyweight players and particularly that signature producer of upmarket EVs, Tesla. And on the evidence of our first drive of a UK-specification Seal, it’s going to be a contender.

What is this car?

The Seal is the third model from new-to-the-UK Chinese brand BYD, which has long been renowned globally for its batteries. It produces the power for one in five smartphones and half the world’s iPads.

BYD’s reputation in cars has grown rapidly in recent times, the first manufacturer to produce more than five million electric vehicles and now the fourth largest global car brand in terms of sales.  

The arrival of the Seal concludes a frenetic first phase on the UK market for BYD, but while the Atto 3 mid-sized SUV launched in March 2023, and the Dolphin hatchback on sale just six months later are both mainstream models, the Seal takes BYD into new UK market territory.

BYD’s new flagship product is a large executive saloon with highly impressive performance, targeted firmly at the premium sector and designed to attract those who would normally buy cars from the likes of Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and particularly Tesla.     

How does it look?

The Seal is a purposeful-looking saloon. It’s a low, slippery shape based around new ‘cell to body’ technology, integrating the battery into the body structure – more on which shortly.

This allows a slightly lower exterior height without sacrificing any interior space. Combined with streamlined styling, the Seal cuts through the air very smoothly with one of the most aerodynamic shapes on the market. This is all the more important on electric cars as reducing drag improves the battery range – one good reason for the natty door handles that disappear into the body as the car moves away.

BYD likes to evoke elements of the model name in the visual design of all its cars and we are told the front of the Seal boasts an X-shape that “represents the ocean and the unknown,” the body contours providing “a sense of the momentum of the waves”.

Even if you ignore all that, visually the Seal is certainly a head-turner in a positive way. There are none of the featureless bluff panels that several EVs are afflicted by but instead quality detailing, from the strong converging lines up front to the light panel on a vaguely Polestar-esque rear end.

There are a couple of oddities. The boot of the upper-spec all-wheel-drive version carries a badge stating ‘BYD Seal 3.8 S’ which sounds like an engine size but actually refers to its 0-62mph time. And even more confusingly all versions carry discreet ‘BYD Design’ badges on their flanks, whether you are driving the AWD model, which is actually called the Excellence, or the lesser rear-wheel-drive version, dubbed, you guessed it, Design. That should confuse used-car dealers a few years down the line…    

We like: Distinctive shape that gives car true identity
We don’t like: Confusing badges

What are the specs like?

With the previous Atto 3 and Dolphin models we quickly learnt that BYD does not like to do options lists. So the Seal comes with an array of equipment as standard, topped by a stand-out list of safety features, including 18 active electronic systems – little wonder the car scored a five-star rating when crash-tested by Euro NCAP in October 2023. The safety body commented that in its most stringent testing yet the car proved well-equipped with an impressive range of safety technologies, including lane and speed assistance.

Mind you the standard safety specification does include BYD’s now better but still over-aggressive ‘aids’ – the scolding voice should you dare to stray even slightly over the speed limit or drive too near a school has thankfully been replaced by a single note of warning, but it can become repetitive and irritating.  

Plenty of other equipment that the executive buyer will expect, but also expect to pay for, comes at no extra cost on the Seal, such as keyless entry and start, an electric tailgate, upmarket audio, electric seats that adjust in multiple directions, voice control, wireless phone charging – the list stretches long and even includes a full length panoramic glass roof on every model. All versions also offer ‘vehicle to load’, allowing use of the battery to power electrical equipment outside of the car, this at the launch event being a DJ’s record decks…

Then you look at the price – the choice comes down to the rear-wheel-drive Design, which costs £45,695, or the AWD Excellence at £48,695. The £3,000 pays for a more powerful battery and faster acceleration, as we’ll see shortly, while sacrificing a little range, but these are highly competitive prices event before one factors in what you get for the money.

We understand, by the way, that BYD is also planning a more entry-level Seal, dubbed the Comfort, but there’s no clue yet as to whether it will be sold in the UK.

We like: Standard equipment list, especially safety aids
We don’t like: Audio safety ‘advice’ by means of bongs

What’s it like inside?

Executive cars must feel plush when one slips inside them and the Seal certainly meets the brief. The interior is finished to a high level in muted shades that compliment the car, while the delicate stitching in the seats is just one of many upmarket elements.

We’re told that the centre console design represents a seal leaping from the sea. Not quite sure about that one, but it is a sensibly laid out design, dominated as in all BYD models by the gargantuan (15-inch plus) and rotatable infotainment screen in its centre. Even in vertical mode this screen actually seems most at home in this car – put Google Maps in satellite mode on it and it looks quite something…

Talking of mobile phones, there are not one but two wireless charging points in the front centre console, preventing potential occupant arguments. And while the car follows the trend of just about everything being done via menus on touchscreens, using them soon becomes second nature.

One aspect that certainly impresses, mostly, is the interior space, something that BYD has promoted as an advantage of using its different to the norm Blade battery system.

Front and rear-seat passengers have plenty of room to stretch out and one can easily imagine eating up lots of motorway miles carrying five adults in the Seal. There’s plenty of luggage room too, 402 litres in the boot plus a little usefully hidden 53-litre compartment under the bonnet which BYD dubs a ‘frunk’.

The only area in which space is slightly compromised is above the head. All Seals come with an enormous sunroof as standard, basically the whole upper surface is glass, and this does make things a little cosy for taller occupants. Mind you it does also make for a very bright and airy interior.   

We like: Overall space and airy feel, fit and finish
We don’t like: Compared to other measurements headroom is not that generous

Under the bonnet

In our previous launch reports on the Atto-3 and Dolphin we’ve explained BYD’s rather different battery technology, the Blade, which is more effective and rather safer than a traditional EV battery pack, while not using the controversial rare-earth minerals, especially cobalt, required for typical lithium-ion cell productions.

The Seal takes the technology rather further, being the first BYD car to actually incorporate the battery into the structure of the body shell, adding significantly to its rigidity which is better for both safety and handling.

This ‘Cell to body’ technology has caused questions in some quarters as to what might happen when or if the battery needs replacing. BYD answered this in emphatic fashion with a video at the launch event which showed the battery pack of a crash-tested Seal being simply unbolted, bolted into a new chassis and then driven away.

The drivetrain of the Seal follows BYD’s established ‘8 in one’ methods which incorporate all the elements required for electric propulsion into one integrated unit. Included as standard is a heat pump which greatly reduces the fall-off in performance that typical EV battery packs suffer in cold temperatures.

The rear-wheel-drive Seal has a single 230kW motor driving the rear wheels, while the all-wheel-drive version adds an extra 160kW motor on the front axle. This makes for some astonishing acceleration – 5.9 seconds to 62mph for the RWD model is fast enough, but the official 3.8 -second time of the AWD model is up with the best performance sports models. And on a closed track and using the ‘launch control’ feature that comes fitted to the car, your correspondent actually managed 3.7 seconds…

The extra power of the AWD model does mean a slight reduction in range, but a WLTP-certified 323 miles is still well out of range-anxiety territory – how many owners will routinely need to do more than 320 miles in a day? The RWD version will go up to 354 miles before needing plugging in.

 In terms of charging all Seals carry an 11kW three-phase onboard charger as standard, while also boasting technology to suit the 420 to 750-volt range of the most modern chargers – plugged into a 150kW DC fast charger the battery can be boosted from 30 to 80% in just under half an hour.     

How does it drive?

When one steps into a car with the knowledge that it will sprint from rest past 60mph in under four seconds, it’s very easy to wax lyrical about such performance.

At the UK launch, BYD positively encouraged this by basing the launch at the Cumbrian headquarters of a professional motorsport organisation with its own private test track.

A few laps around this track with the AWD Seal proved that for a large car it is surprisingly agile as well as being swift. Such prowess is no doubt aided by BYD’s ‘iTAC’, which stands for Intelligent Torque Adaption Control – this system basically monitors such things as wheel and motor speeds, we are told some 300 times faster than any previous technology, and can predict such situations as a loss of traction and accordingly reset all the dynamics, adjusting power, increasing or reducing torque, to prevent any issues.

All of which means the Seal is a capable performance car – not quite as satisfying to drive on the limit as some rivals, but not far off. However, very few owners will of course routinely be hustling their car around race tracks – the Seal’s natural environment will be mile after mile of motorway, and no matter how much power it has it will need to sit in traffic jams like everything else.

Extensive road driving in both versions on the UK launch event proved that there has been no sacrificing of on-road versatility for performance headlines. The Seal is an equally capable machine on motorway or A-road, a supremely comfortable car to travel in or drive. It cruises along in a refined and totally unflustered manner, with the very useful extra of when necessary being able to dispatch a crawling vehicle in front in very few seconds indeed.

One surprise of the road route test was the performance of the rear-drive version. This is of course under-powered when compared to its sibling, but feels nothing of the sort, relaxed and smooth except when one requires it to be very perky indeed, when it answers the throttle with great eagerness.

That said, the Seal RWD is only £3,000 less than the AWD version. If one is spending more than £40,000 on an electric car, is the extra really too much to find when it will reward you yes with more potency but crucially the extra security all-wheel-drive brings, especially in the kind of wintry weather that much of the UK encounters each year?      

We like: Versatility – relaxed cruising with potency when needed
We don’t like: Restricted view from small rear window

Verdict

So many new electric cars have arrived on the market in recent times, especially from China and bearing names unrecognisable to UK buyers, that it’s easy to be hesitant when shopping. But the BYD Seal is definitely a newcomer that should not be passed by, particularly for those in the executive market.

The Seal does the upmarket necessities of comfort, quality and tech very well, stirs in a whole lot of performance, and packages it all with a price that will buy something much more ordinary from a European manufacturer. Would you rather drive a Tesla Model 3 or Hyundai Ioniq 6 than something called a Seal? You could well be missing out…   

BYD Seal highlights

  • Performance to challenge supercars
  • Quality build
  • Strong specification with few options
  • Extensive active safety package

BYD Seal lowlights

  • Doesn’t drive quite as well as some rivals
  • Still some electric oddities
  • Not so generous headroom

Similar cars

Alfa Romeo Giulia | Audi A4 | BMW 3 Series | BMW i4 | DS 9 | Genesis GV60 | Hyundai Ioniq 5 | Hyundai Ioniq 6 | Jaguar XE | Kia EV6 | Mercedes-Benz C-Class | Polestar 2 | Tesla Model 3 | Volkswagen ID.7 | Volvo S60

Key specifications

Model tested: BYD Seal AWD Excellence, RWD Design
Price (as tested): AWD £48,695; RWD £45,695
Powertrain: Twin 160 and 230kW (AWD), single 230kW (RWD)

Gearbox: Single-speed automatic
Power: 530hp (AWD); 313 hp (RWD)
Top speed: 112 mph
Acceleration (0-62mph): 3.8 seconds (AWD), 5.9 Seconds (RWD)

Range: 323 miles (AWD); 354 miles (RWD)
CO2 emissions: 0 g/km
Euro NCAP safety rating: Five stars (2023)
TCE Expert rating: 69% (as of November 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.
The BYD Seal is an impressive package whether one highlights performance, specification or price. It’s without doubt a rival to Tesla.BYD Seal test drive