BYD Atto 3 first drive: living the dream

David Linklater
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Base price
Boot Capacity
Range (km)
0-100 km/h
  • Upmarket feel at mainstream price
  • Advanced powertrain
  • Nicely integrated tech
  • Generic exterior styling
  • Some OTT cabin elements
  • Have to wait for some equipment items

New electric vehicle brands in New Zealand: get used to ’em. It’s a Clean Car world and it seems the Kiwi market is a land of opportunity for brands keen on extending their international reach. Not massive volume, but a brilliant test market.

China’s BYD is the latest, launching in NZ through Ateco Automotive (which also distributes Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Jeep, Maserati and Ram). It’s a young brand by global standards: founded in 1995, with the automotive division established in 2002. But that’s not especially young by Chinese standards and it’s certainly not a small company: BYD made 1.1 million cars last year and looks set to hit 2m for 2022; it holds a 30 per cent market share in new-vehicle sales in China and is the third most valuable carmaker in the world by market value, behind Tesla and Toyota (and in front of Volkswagen).        


It’s not just about cars, though: BYD is heavily invested in buses and forklifts under the automotive division, for example, not to mention electronics of all kinds, rail transit and renewable energy.

It’s the many layers of BYD that make EVs a logical path for the company. It didn’t start as a carmaker (not all “legacy” carmakers did either, to be fair); its core business is batteries, especially rechargeable ones. Big and small, including mainstream supply to Motorola (2000) and Nokia (2002).

This is all sounds very educational. Sorry about that. But the point is, if you’re wondering where this new BYD Atto3 SUV-BEV suddenly came from, it came from somewhere big.

No surprise, then, that BYD considers its proprietary Blade battery technology a key selling point of its EVs. It’s big brain stuff, but the company has succeeded in making lithium-ion phosphate (LFP) work where most other EV batteries employs nickel manganese cobalt (NMC). While most batteries have multiple modules, the Blade stacks all the cells together.

The company claims this tech package is more compact and superior in heat management, energy density and crash safety. Google “nail penetration test” and you can see what it’s on about.

You’re probably more interested in the finished SUV product, though. The Atto3 has been launched in one (very high) specification, but with two battery sizes: the 60kWh version (420km range, 80kW maximum DC charge rate) is $57,990, while the 50kWh model (320km, 70kW charging) will be $52,990 when it arrives later this year. Both are eligible for the full $8625 Clean Car Discount. Same performance for both: a 150kW/310Nm single electric motor (FWD) giving 0-100km/h in 7.3 seconds.

BYD is even keeping it simple with colours. There are but three: the “hero” Surf Blue, Boulder Grey and the very cool Ski (off) White we grabbed for our photography. White's the only free one, by the way: the others are $750.

From the outside it’s a sharp-looking, if rather conventional small-medium SUV. Size, price and plug-in power put it up against the likes of the MG ZS and Hyundai Kona Electric, although BYD argues the Atto3 is a little more premium than that in concept and execution.

The interior adds some weight to that argument. It’s high style to be sure – there’s very little in there that hasn’t been deliberately designed or shaped. It won’t be to all tastes and it’s pretty wild in places, themed around exercise/athleticism: ventilation outlets that look like dumbells, a centre console trim that echoes a treadmill, and dashboard finish that looks like muscle and sinew. Feels it too actually, with a thin layer of soft trim over a hard base; you can wiggle it like skin. Hmmm.

The cabin’s party piece is a 12.8-inch screen that can be in landscape or portrait orientation at the touch of a button. That might seem gimmicky, but carmakers are now choosing equally between the two, so why not have both? It’s a nice idea. There’s a lot of processing power in there, too: the Bluetooth is lightning-fast to connect, for example.

BYD stands for “Build Your Dreams”. We know this because it’s written across the tailgate. Elements like that and dashboard trim that feels like skin come across as a little cheesy, but the hardware and software in the Atto3 is solid and impressive.

Performance is smooth and on a drive day of nothing but torrential rain, the traction control system kept the eco-tyres seamlessly in check in way that doesn’t happen with its MG or Hyundai rivals.

It’s a mature-feeling car, from the powertrain right through to the huge suite of driver-assistance technology, which gets on with business and avoids feeling intrusive most of the time. Not all, but most.

All Atto3 models are “live” with a SIM card, meaning over-the-air (OTA) updates and the potential for interesting apps; 2GB of data every month is included, exclusive of OTA. Those apps are not yet a reality for the Atto3; the local BYD app store is still under development, with a launch later in the year. That means buyers also have to wait for their Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. But when it’s available, existing customer cars will of course be automatically updated.

The same goes for another toy-to-come, a V2L adaptor that allows the Atto3 to charge or power other electrical devices via its AC port. Not a new idea (Nissan Leaf, Hyundai Ioniq 5, Kia EV6), but what is new is that BYD is providing the adaptor free of charge with the car; or at least it will once it’s finished and certified, later in the year.

There are now four BYD showrooms open (Newmarket/Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch). Another three are opening in September and eventually the plan is for the network to stretch from Whangarei to Invercargill.

The BYD model range will stretch to suit. The Dolphin small-car (which may be called Atto2 for export) and the Tesla Model 3/Polestar 2-rivalling Seal (or perhaps Atto4) sedan will arrive next year. Both are on the same e-platform architecture as the Atto 3.

Also promised is a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) of some kind combining a 1.5-litre petrol engine with smaller Blade battery. That’s all on the way to a “full model mix in the next decade” says BYD NZ, including vans.

The company isn’t talking sales aspirations, but says interest is high: on the Saturday following our media launch at the Newmarket, Auckland store, there were 62 test drives booked (yes, you do have to book).

Supply from the factory is good, says BYD NZ, and has not been affected by semiconductor shortages… because BYD has owned its own semiconductor manufacturing operation since 2010. That’s how it does things; that’s the dream.

ENGINE: 60kWh or 50kW battery with single electric motor
POWER: 150kW/310Nm
GEARBOX: Single-speed automatic, FWD
0-100KM/H: 7.3 seconds
CONSUMPTION: 16kWh/100km, range 320-420km (WLTP)
PRICE RANGE: $52,990-$57,990


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