BYD Dolphin Extended Range long-term test: electric hatch is in the pink

David Linklater
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  • Simply brilliant city car
  • Great battery tech and range
  • Classy and comfortable cabin
  • Too many errant driver assists
  • Tyres have a tenuous grip
  • We’d love this spec with a smaller (cheaper) battery

A true test of a long-term car is not necessarily the facts-and-figures stuff, but whether we still look forward to driving it when it’s become a familiar member of the fleet, and whether we truly feel sad when it goes. Our three-month BYD Dolphin gets a big tick on both counts.

BYD Dolphin Extended Range
Go for Coral Pink and the Dolphin goes from two-tone to three tone.

We weren’t bored with the Dolphin by any means, but for our last two weeks we thought we’d switch it up visually by swapping our Atlantis Grey test car for a rather striking Coral Pink one in an identical specification. The pink extends to the interior, too, with some cream and lavender for good measure. Ostensibly shocking, but actually many people thought the whole colour scheme was great and really suited the car.

BYD’s supermini-sized hatchback is not the perfect vehicle by any means. But our enthusiasm for it really developed when we started to discover just how fit-for-purpose it was. Like many “owners” we used the Dolphin as an urban commuter and traffic-terror, and in this context it’s fantastic.

We voted Dolphin the Best BEV of 2023, partly thanks to BYD’s industry-leading battery technology, but also because it makes urban EV driving fun. It was also a finalist for the overall award, ultimately beaten by the MG4.

BYD Dolphin Extended Range
MG4 and BYD Dolphin rivals on the road.. and in our COTY last year.

The MG4 got the nod for its broad model range and wide-ranging abilities – it’s an accomplished family hatch that just happens to be electric. It can be different things to different people. The Dolphin is more focused than that: it’s an urban hatch first and foremost.

We love the seat comfort and cabin architecture: not as polarising as the Atto 3 (at least not in darker tones!).

Definitely a hatch, not an SUV, but the Dolphin’s upright driving position and large glasshouse makes city driving a pleasure. It’s front-drive and the suspension is tuned for comfort, not cornering speed. Those last two things might sound like criticisms, but they make the Dolphin an awesome urban express.

BYD Dolphin Extended Range
Definitely hatch rather than SUV and all the more likeable for it, we reckon.

Ours was the Extended Range model, with a 427km WLTP rating. It consistently did more than that on each full charge; to be honest that’s more than a city car really needs. But the $5k-cheaper Standard Range (340km) has a lot less power and less sophisticated rear suspension, so we’re happy we stuck with the bigger battery.

The comfort suspension we love, the less-than-grippy Linglong Comfort Master tyres we don’t.

We love the seat comfort and cabin architecture: not as polarising as the Atto 3 (at least not in darker tones!) and actually quite stylish, although there’s plenty of Ocean Series-themed detail there to find, like gills on the dashboard or pectoral-fin door handles.

BYD Dolphin Extended Range
Check out the pink model's cabin! Relax, other colours are available.

We’ve talked about BYD’s voice assistant in reference to the Atto 3 and Seal, and it’s equally good here.

BYD is a very digital company, but there are also plenty of physical controls for important cabin functions. We like that. If only the scroll audio volume control didn’t double as the off button, because so many times you reach for it, accidentally tap it and… you’ve lost your entertainment.

The Dolphin was so often first choice when we had a short way to go and a short time to get there.

So much to like. And yes, a lot that’s not quite there yet.

BYD Dolphin Extended Range
Love the physical buttons, although the volume control (far left) could be a challenge.

The BYD-signature rotating screen is a nice novelty, but it’s hard to read in portrait mode while wearing polarised sunglasses – nor does it display Apple CarPlay or Android Auto (both wireless) unless it’s in landscape. So really, you just leave it alone.

The comfort suspension we love, the less-than-grippy Linglong Comfort Master tyres we don’t. The chirps away from the lights are fun, but the understeer and wet-weather anxiety aren’t. Then again, they have a picture of an actual Dolphin on the sidewalls, so points for that.

BYD Dolphin Extended Range
Parking is a doddle with the 360-degree camera system.

The Dolphin is lavishly equipped with a huge range of driver assists, but as with so many modern cars, they don’t always work well. The lane-assist is over-eager and at times just aggressive and jerky; BYD NZ says it’s getting engineers here at some stage to calibrate it better for Kiwi roads, and of course the software is easily updated via the car’s live internet connection once it’s sorted (over the air updates, or OTA). But it’s not done yet.

The speed limit warning is less than reliable (sometimes it reads signs correctly, other times it doesn’t) and the chiming quite insistent. And so on.

BYD Dolphin Extended Range
Loaded with safety tech, but some functions are not as smart as they should be.

Yes, you can turn it all off. But it’s not that easy to do and it all defaults to the on-position at startup. We did learn a more convenient shortcut that you can set up to disable the speed warning when we attended the Seal launch last year (thanks, BYD people). But you still have to do it every time you drive.

All quite annoying, but nothing truly unique to the Dolphin. Lots of carmakers are really grappling with getting this active safety stuff to work reliably without driving you crazy. And BYD is one of the more proactive makers with OTA, so there’s always potential for your Dolphin to get better. Or not better.

BYD Dolphin Extended Range
It's far from perfect, but Dolphin is clever and packed with character. In any colour.

We had two OTA updates during our time with the car: one modified the fake engine noise to make it less intrusive and added an “off” option (that was good), another increased the volume of the speed warning… without improving the speed warning system’s accuracy (that was bad, obviously). Life’s never dull with a Dolphin.

But overall, we loved our time with BYD’s baby. It was so often first choice when we had a short way to go and a short time to get there; it helped make city living fun.

The Dolphin has something so many small cars and/or EVs lack, and that’s character. It looks a little weird and it’s not something you’d choose to take down your favourite backroad; we’re not saying it’s a brilliant all-rounder. But that’s also part of its appeal – it’s just so good at its chosen field, end of story. It did become part of the family over those three months and as much as it’s a cliché to say so, we will really miss it.

BATTERY: 60kWh battery with single electric motor
POWER: 150kW/310Nm
GEARBOX: Single-speed automatic, FWD
0-100KM/H: 7.0sec
RANGE: 427km (WLTP), maximum charge rate 80kW
PRICE: $55,990


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