BYD Atto 3 review: electric SUV makes a solid first impression

The Atto 3 from Chinese manufacturer BYD has a distinctive interior and is competitive in terms of value for money and real-world range

Skirting Glasgow’s newly introduced low emission zone in a Dieselgate era-Volkswagen en route to what was the UK’s first and, presently Scotland’s only, BYD dealership, I couldn’t help reflecting on how much has changed in the car market since diesel regained its dirty reputation.

The times they are a-changin and BYD - short for Build Your Dreams - is just one of several Chinese automotive manufacturers poised to enter the UK market and take advantage of the opportunity as policies aimed at accelerating the switch to all-electric vehicles start to take effect.

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C-segment SUV Atto 3 is their first UK launch, but it will be closely followed by platform-mates the Dolphin and Seal, a C-segment hatchback and a saloon respectively. Chinese-owned MG already has a number of strong-selling all-electric models, the Ora Funky Cat has been turning heads for a year already and brands like NIO and XPENG are set to join them in entering the British market before too long.

While many established Western car manufacturers are moving away from the traditional, dealer-led sales approach in favour of a Tesla-style agency sales model, BYD has put its faith in the forecourt and aims to have a network of 90 to 100 dealerships in the UK by the end of 2023.

It’s to one of those dealerships I was headed, to be handed keys to an Atto 3 for a test drive through west and central Scotland.

Design and layout

Crossovers and SUVs now account for more than half of all new car sales in the UK and opting for the Atto 3, as opposed to something like the HAN, a car already widely available in other markets as the debutante will see BYD tap into a growing market. All the major mainstream manufacturers have skin in the game in this segment and, at first glance the Atto 3 could be from any one of them. Chrome-coloured plastic, graphic accents abound and add detail but little of interest.

The interior, on the other hand, is more distinctive. During my briefing it was explained that the cabin is inspired by the gym, the drive selector shaped like a kettlebell handle, the air vents modelled after dumbbell plates. Perhaps indicative of formative years in the cinema, rather than the gymnasium, I was more reminded of the vehicle design from Star Wars Episode One, the graceful flowing lines of the dashboard and retro-futuristic controls might not have been inspired by the visual masterpiece-cum-critical flop, but the cabin would be right at home in a galaxy far, far away.

Material choice and build quality feels in keeping with the price point, that is to say decent enough that buyers won’t feel short-changed for the high-30s price tag but still short of premium. The vegan leather seats are comfortable and supportive and there’s a generally solid feeling to the interior that’s encouraging.

BYD Atto 3 interior. Credit: BYDBYD Atto 3 interior. Credit: BYD
BYD Atto 3 interior. Credit: BYD

The dashboard is dominated by the huge 15.6-inch display (12.8-inch in Active and Comfort trim), which rotates at the touch of a button, drivers able to choose portrait or landscape mode based on personal preference. I found portrait mode advantageous while using the satellite navigation, more of the map being visible at a time. Allegedly this can also be controlled by voice command but, despite being told the magic words, our test car didn’t fancy it.

The interior feels spacious for front passengers and reasonable for those in the rear. Visibility is decent all round, although slightly less so to the rear due to a narrow and high rear aperture. This is by no means unique nowadays, however, the advent of reversing cameras - standard across the Atto 3 range - seemingly relegates the importance of rear visibility for automotive designers. The Atto 3 does have a rear wiper though.

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Boot capacity is a respectable 440l with the seats up and 1,338 with the seats flat. For comparison, that’s about 35l less than the Kia Niro with the seats raised, although the Atto 3 sacrifices just 7l with the seats down.

Technical specifications

Batteries are BYD’s strong suit - they’ve been building them for everyone from mobile phone manufacturers and other car brands since the 1990s and the Atto 3 is powered by BYD’s patented Blade technology, in this case a 60.48kWh example. While BYD makes battery tech for all sorts of businesses, only BYD and Tesla have access to the Blade configuration - an example of which was hung proudly on the wall of the dealership I visited.

The ATTO 3 has a WLTP electric range of 260 miles and up to 351 miles of city range, figures on a par with competitors like the Kia Niro EV, Soul EV or MG ZS EV, all of which are priced similarly in the thirty thousands, although the MG offering is at the cheaper end of that price bracket.

I tested the Atto 3 in the middle of a heatwave, but a point of technical interest is the integrated heat pump, which BYD say is a first for the industry that increases the battery’s thermal efficiency by up to 20 per cent in winter. By leveraging residual heat from around the vehicle, battery performance is improved and some of the range issues suffered by EV drivers in cold weather are offset.

Performance and driving impressions

BYD consider the Atto 3 as a ‘transition car’, likely to be the first EV owned by their target young prospective buyer. In plain speak that means it’s easy for a driver used to ICEs to get their head around - automatic as opposed to paddle-controlled regenerative braking and nothing mad like a steering yoke or missing pedal.

It’s comfortable and soft-riding around the city and forgiving of bumps and potholes at low speed. The soft suspension does mean that there’s a degree of body roll during cornering at higher speeds. The steering was pleasantly direct-feeling and with a stiffer suspension set up I think the car has the potential to be quite fun. As it is, though, it has a tendency to lean a bit while braking due to the soft springs.

Rear view of the BYD Atto 3. Credit: BYDRear view of the BYD Atto 3. Credit: BYD
Rear view of the BYD Atto 3. Credit: BYD

Driver assistance was slightly overactive and the slightest deviation from the centre of the road resulted in a little pulse in the steering wheel to let you know you had strayed. Thankfully this wasn’t accompanied by any audio, but there was no shortage of strange little electronic tones, bleeps and melodies throughout the drive, start-up, changes of drive mode and screen swipes all accompanied with a synthesised noise of some sort. Even the indicator emits a musical note instead of the usual mechanical click.

Not that long ago that 7.3 seconds to 62mph was considered hot, or at least warm hatch territory and, despite a bit of lag off the line the Atto 3 felt quite quick once it got going. Despite that, this is a car better suited to city driving and motorway cruises than anything else.


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In a market where the compact SUV is ubiquitous, the BYD Atto 3 does little to stand-out from the kerbside, but the quirky interior might help distinguish it from blander offerings from more established competitors. It has all the practical advantages of its class in terms of space and comfort and with decent range for the money, plus high levels of equipment across the range it makes a solid first impression.

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