Sell it to me in a sentence…
The BYD Atto 3 is a family SUV to rival the likes of the Volkswagen ID 3 and Renault Megane E-Tech that will lead the Chinese firm’s UK expansion plans – and you’ll be able to buy one before the end of this year. 300kw Soft Starter
It stands for Build Your Dreams. Founded in 1995 largely as a battery firm, BYD has risen to become one of the leading electric car firms in China – which, given the size of the EV market there, effectively makes it one of the biggest car firms in China full stop. And it has some pretty keen expansion plans.
You might actually have been on a BYD product pretty recently: it has a major presence in the UK electric bus market in partnership with Alexander Dennis. If you’ve been on an electric bus in London or several other major cities, chances are it was a BYD machine.
And now the firm is bringing its passengers cars to the UK. And soon.
If they’re coming by the end of the year, why am I only just hearing about this now?
That’s because BYD has kept pretty quiet about these things while it’s been getting ready for a European expansion. Company bosses suggest that’s because it prefers to be quiet and humble, but make no mistake: BYD could rapidly become a pretty big deal.
BYD has dabbled in Europe before – the old e3 saloon was very briefly offered to fleets in the UK – but started a serious expansion into the market last year, launching the BYD Tang large SUV in Norway.
By design, that was a soft launch – see, we’re back to that whole ‘quiet and humble’ thing – but now BYD is stepping up its ambitions. The second phase of its European launch involves expanding a three car line-up in a number of Benelux and Nordic countries. Soon after that – and, by soon, we’re talking delivering cars to customers before the end of this year – BYD will launch in the UK.
Read our latest e-car content here
Now, because of the need for right-hand drive conversions and so on, BYD will only bring one car to the UK initially. So the BYD Tan? No. Nor will the sleek BYD Han saloon be the solo car to reach the UK. Sorry.
Subscribe to the Move Electric newsletter
But the UK will get the most exciting car of the trio: the BYD Atto 3 you see here. It’s a family SUV that sits somewhere between the Volkswagen ID 3 and ID 4 in terms of size (it’s longer than the ID 3, but actually has a shorter wheelbase), and is also built on BYD’s new e-Platform 3.0 bespoke electric architecture.
So what are the specs?
To run through the dimensions, the Atto 3 is 4455mm long, 1875mm wide and 1615mm high – right in the heart of mid-size SUV territory, then. It’s also got a decent 440-litre boot, which expands to 1338 litres of capacity if you fold the rear seats.
The e-Platform 3.0 is designed to allow front-, rear- and all-wheel-drive powertrains, but the Atto 3 is currently offered in a single spec, with a 150kW, 229lb ft motor that drives the front wheel. It has a claimed 0-62mph time of 7.3 seconds and a top speed of 99mph.
The car is powered by a 60.5kWh (usable) battery, which gives an official WLTP range of 261 miles. While the platform can run at up to 800V, the Atto 3 doesn’t feature that, so the maximum charging speed is 88kW on a DC fast-charger. That’s enough to allow for a 30-80 per cent charge in 29 minutes.
Notably, the car features BYD’s Blade battery, which has an innovative different layout that allows it to go without the modules the pack is usually split into. That allows BYD to pack in more cells, allowing greater energy density in the same space, and also means that it can charge at the maximum 88kW for an extended period.
It also has a heat pump fitted as standard, which should help the range in colder weather.
Let’s talk about the styling…
The Atto 3’s exterior styling certainly fits into the electric SUV class nicely, with a few distinct touches. The front of the car features BYD’s distinctive ‘Dragon Grille’ design, 18in wheels and a full-width lightbar across the back (where the firm’s Build Your Dreams name is spelt out in full). Notably, there are a few features that seem to be ‘inspired’ by Volkswagen’s EVs, such as the badges near the wheel arches in front of the doors, and the rippled silver panel effect on the C-pillar. It’s close enough to follow the class conventions, but without looking copycat.
At first glance, the interior seems quite ID 3-esque as well. There’s a big central touchscreen, a dashboard that’s been stripped of most buttons, a smaller digital driver info display that pops up behind the steering wheel and a large centre console with the key drive select controls on.
But there are some neat, characterful touches to be found: there’s tightly wound string to keep items in the door pockets – which have a pleasant twang if you strum them like a guitar – and the air vents are a distinctive circular design that looks like you could rack CDs in them (kids, ask your parents).
The piece de resistance is the 12.5in touchscreen, which rotates. Yes, you can choose to have it in portrait or landscape, so if you’re one of those people who can’t decide which way round the infotainment screen in a car should go, this is the machine for you. Yes, it a bit of a gimmick, but given some apps works better in different formats we can see a use for it. Otherwise, the infotainment is reasonably slick, with an interface that will be familiar to anyone who’s used a smartphone.
We also quite like the interior door handles, which take the form of a lever that wraps around the side speakers. It all gives the interior a little bit more quirk and character than some stripped back EVs we’ve driven.
So what’s the Atto 3 like to drive?
We’ll give you the caveats first: our initial run in an Atto 3 took place on the flat, narrow access roads of a disused airfield in The Netherlands, so this isn’t a definitive review.
But even from limited running, it’s clear that the Atto 3 is… fine. Which might sound like a bit of faint praise, but you suspect is what BYD is aiming for. This isn’t a performance machine, it’s a family SUV, and the focus has clearly been on offering a predictable, safe and balanced performance.
So the acceleration is brisk but not rapid, and the steering is consistent but not compelling. It cruises nicely at speed, and has enough power for any situation you might find yourself in. The ride is pretty decent, with the caveat we didn’t exactly get to test it over hills or uneven terrain.
Ten electric car myths busted
There are three drive modes – Eco, Normal and Sport – although don’t expect Sport mode to transform this into a performance hatch. There are also two levels of brake regeneration, although even on the High level it’s quite conservative. This certainly isn’t an EV you can drive with just one pedal.
Dig into the menus and you can adjust both the brake feel and steering between Comfort and Sport modes, although the margins are relatively small.
Certainly, the Atto 3 is well-tuned to meet most of the demands and expectations that buyers of electric SUVs will place on it. It’s comfortable to drive and spend time in, which is key for that market.
So when can I buy one and what will it cost?
This is where we get into the unknown bits. At this stage, BYD has yet to announce a set on-sale date for the UK, exact specs of the Atto 3, pricing or where you can buy one.
What we do know: the firm insists that customer deliveries will start in the UK before the end of this year, which means it’s likely to be going on sale within the coming months. It’s also in talks with UK dealers and has committed to selling it through a dealer network. That’s a bit of a contrast to a lot of new electric brands that focus on online sales, but it could work well: the firm thinks that a physical presence and working with proven local dealers will be vital to convincing people to take it seriously.
As for price? Well, BYD bosses really aren’t saying anything other than the firm is aiming for a ‘premium accessible’ market. Looking at the pricing in other markets, we’d expect the Atto 3 to be somewhere around £35,000-£40,000 – comparable to an ID 3 and other upper-mainstream electric SUVs.
BYD is set to announce more plans at the Paris Motor Show in October, so we will hopefully find out more soon.
You might not have heard much about BYD, but it’s definitely a firm to take seriously. Just look at how quickly it has grown in the UK’s electric bus market. BYD has the capacity, production and manufacturing capability to operate at scale – and to really deliver on some fairly bold ambitions.
And the Atto 3 is certainly well-designed to help the firm do so. It’s a convincing and credible contender in the fast-growing electric SUV market, and while it plays it safe in terms of driving dynamics there’s enough character and quirk to help it stand out among a big pool of rivals.
Much will depend on price and positioning, of course, but this is a car that should be on your list of contenders if you’re shopping for a family electric SUV.
Given the speed with which BYD intends to reach the UK, we should find out more soon – and drive the Atto 3 for enough to draw a firm conclusion. But we’re intrigued. Build your Dreams? Well, they’ve built it – and here they come.
Motor: Permanent magnet synchronous motor Gearbox: Automatic Driven wheels: front Maximum power: 150kW Maximum speed: 99mph 0-62mph from: 7.3secs Battery size: 60.48kWh Electric range (official): 261 miles Maximum charging speed (DC): 88kW CO2 emissions: 0g/km Kerb weight excluding driver: TBC Height: 1615mm Length: 4455mm Wheelbase: 2720mm Maximum boot capacity: 440 litres
Subscribe to the Move Electric newsletter
Ten electric car myths busted
Video: Can the National Grid cope with a surge in electric vehicles?
What to look for when buying an e-bike: Move Electric's top tips
The rise of Volt Bikes: 'when we launched, people thought we were mad'
Maeving RM1 electric motorbike review
Q&A: Zapp founder on why electric mopeds are the future
Government plans 2035 ban on new non-zero emission motorbike sales
Tier to upgrade e-scooter fleet with a smart 'Parrot'
Q&A: Neuron Mobility's UK boss on e-scooters, safety and helmet selfies
Polestar to supply battery tech to electric boat firm Candela
Engineering giant ABB working on electric Dover-Calais ferry
China Vfd Frequency Inverter 250hp Up, up and away: even hot air balloons are going electric