Game Changer. How many times have you heard that? To me, it is a rather overused cliché, which nine times out of ten seldom accurately typifies the product it refers to. However, when one considers, on face value, the immediate impact of a company called BYD Auto on the ever-expanding New Zealand electric vehicle market, it would be difficult to use any other term.
BYD Auto, or “Build Your Dreams” if you want the full name, is the automotive arm of the largest Electric Vehicle manufacturer in the world. The multinational China-based company makes everything from trucks, to buses and forklifts, light rail and of course, cars.
They also are the world’s largest producer of rechargeable batteries. These batteries are also becoming hot property with other car makers, even a certain Elon Musk is rumoured to have dibs on an allocation of BYD produced batteries for his line-up of electric vehicles.
With a comprehensive local dealer network now up and running through New Zealand owned Ateco Automotive, BYD Auto is wasting no time in making their presence known to buyers thanks to the ATTO 3 you see here. The ATTO 3 is the first of five different models expect to arrive on Kiwi shores between 2022 and 2025.
Its also one of the most anticipated new cars to be launched this year, the likes of which seem to only come around once in a blue moon. People are literally queuing up to put their name down for one. As a result, I was dead keen to see what all the fuss is about. Could this really be a (shudder) game-changer? Or, is it a case of don’t believe the hype? Let’s see.
Straight away the ATTO 3 impresses when you look at the subject of price. The range consists of two models, the ATTO 3 Standard and the ATTO 3 Extended. The former sits at $52,990 plus ORC and the latter at $57,990 plus ORC. This is pretty good as far as New Zealand new BEVs are concerned, but when you throw in the full Government Clean Car Discount of $8,625, of which the ATTO 3 is entitled to, this is further reduced to $44,365 plus ORC for the Standard and $49,365 plus ORC for the Extended.
With that, the BYD ATTO 3 undercuts all of its closest rivals considerably. Each ATTO 3 also comes with a six year/150,000km warranty, six years road side assistance and eight years/160,000km traction battery warranty.
Talking of batteries, underneath sits BYD Auto’s Blade battery pack. This is the backbone of BYD’s battery production and features a greater number of cells for the size of battery, thus allowing greater energy and range. The Standard gets a 49.9kWh Blade battery whereas the Extended gets a 60.4kWh set up. Range for the Standard is rated 320km whereas the Extended, gets a claimed 420km of range. By now you have probably figured out why each model earns its designation.
What is really interesting however, is when I jumped into the Extended model featured here, it was actually capable of 480km of range. A nice surprise for certain but this is another major plus when you factor in that aforementioned price. Power is rated 150kW and torque at 310Nm. Said grunt is sent to the front wheels via a permanent electric motor.
The ATTO 3 is compatible with both AC and DC charging. With a run-of-the mill three-point home plug, a full charge from empty is around the 28-hour mark. However, if you utilize a CCS 2 DC fast charger, a full charge back to 100 per cent can be achieved in 45 minutes.
On the subject of looks, the ATTO 3 seems to borrow plenty of styling cues from a number of different manufacturers. From all angles you can pick up bits of Audi, Lexus, Toyota, Mercedes and Hyundai. The ATTO 3 is not what I would call a masterpiece but its still pleasing to the eye. Certain details like the full width LED lightbar, LED daytime running lights and the 18-inch alloys also have a certain degree of finesse about them. It also sits at 1875mm wide and 4455mm in length. For an urban SUV, 175mm of ground clearance isn’t too bad either, though I can’t imagine many ATTO 3 buyers will be roughing it on a daily basis.
Getting inside with most cars is achieved by way of simply pressing the button on the key fob. While you can do this with the ATTO 3, you also have the option of using a BYD credit card. Rest it on an icon on the driver’s side wing mirror, and hey presto, it unlocks the car. You can also do this if the card is in your wallet or in your phone case if you have one.
Once inside, you are greeted with an interior which is totally unique. Certain styling cues such as the funky door release, armrests and gear lever remind me of what you would see as limbs for a cyborg in some dystopian sci fi move from the 2000s. Door bin chord is also a funky touch, and if you find yourself waiting in your ATTO 3 for whatever reason and you don’t fancy using any tech, you can use these chords to play the intro riff to Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water. I know this because I have done just that.
You sit quite high up and the heated and six/four-way electrically adjustable synthetic leather seats provide the level of comfort usually reserved for something costing twice the price. There are no floormats to speak of, but I have been assured they are on their way. Visibility is very good ahead but rear vision could be improved. The soft touch dash trim feels good to touch but the materials around the air vents on the centre console feels rather second rate.
However, while the ATTO 3 misses the mark with certain aspects of interior quality, it more than makes up for it when it comes to on-board tech. BYD have filled the ATTO 3 to the point of bursting with gadgetry which boggles the mind at this price point.
In front of you sits a floating 12.8-inch touchscreen infotainment system. It is very much like a smartphone in operation and can even rotate to sit either in landscape or portrait layout which is pretty darn cool. It is from here you are able to operate most of the toys and safety tech. The tech list contains a clear 360-degree view monitor reversing camera, dual zone climate control, almost limitless options for interior ambient lighting, adaptive cruise control, auto emergency braking, front and rear collision warning, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, rear cross traffic alert and rear cross traffic brake.
Both the Standard and Extended get both the same level of kit which also includes a panoramic sunroof, a 5-inch digital instrument panel, a centre console storage compartment with USB port, wireless charging and a Dirac HD sound system which isn’t too bad.
One feature which deserves special mention is the ATTO 3’s on-board camera. This camera is able to record two-minute slots of footage as you drive along. The built-in traffic camera also allows you to shoot video and take pictures at will from within your car. It is incredibly clever. This is probably the first car I have driven which you can take selfies with and share them via the ATTO 3’s on board WIFI. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also on the way but won’t be here until the fourth quarter of 2022.
Open the one-touch electric tailgate to reveal an average 440L of cargo space which can expand to 1340L if need be. There are ISOFIX child restraint mounting points in the rear and in the front passenger seat. Rear head and legroom are also more than adequate.
A press of that imitation crystal starter button and the sound, or lack thereof, of EV silent running makes itself known. However, select drive and creep forward and said silence is drowned out by a rather loud Star Trek-esque hum through the speakers. This hum can be tweaked to be in normal or dynamic mode, the latter making a sound similar to that of an air raid siren.
Needless to say, I decided to have it in Normal mode for much of my motoring as it was in a slightly fainter and higher register, which sounded much nicer. Then again, once you are off and settling into a suburban cruise, the noise dies away all together and you are back to, as Simon and Garfunkle would say, the sound of silence.
Through inner-city Christchurch the ATTO 3 feels far more refined that you may think. Its Batman rubber, yes that is actually the brand name, provides minimal tyre roar over a variety of road surfaces. Only when crossing really coarse bitumen is it noticeable. There are also no squeaks or rattles from any trim pieces. Honestly, it feels as tight as a drum.
The Atto 3’s ride is one of softness and comfort. While the bumps aren’t really cause for concern when it comes to ride comfort, its softness does mean things get a bit feel a bit underdamped.
The Blade battery pack with electric motor sending that electric grunt to the front wheels is a very well sorted unit. It allows you to choose from three different drive modes, Eco, Normal and Sport. Selecting either of these will also not greatly affect the range like most EVs.
There are also two levels of regenerative braking which can be changed via the left rear centre console mounted toggle switch. “Standard” provides the normal level while “Larger” increases it, resulting on you relying less on riding the brake pedal going down hill or coming to a stop on the flat. The gains here are there but not as much as I was expecting. I also wish there were multiple levels to choose just how severe you want the braking forces to be.
For that quick off the mark EV torque, the ATTO 3 responds best when left in Sport mode. Both Eco and Normal work well in stop start situations and sauntering along, though you will need a firm right shoe to get up to speed. Those with a penchant for getting their BYD up to speed smartly will find Sport mode more than up to the job.
Pointing the ATTO 3’s nose towards State Highway One and it shows itself to be a supple devourer of motorway miles. With the radar cruise set just so and lane keeping assist on, it isn’t long before you realize you have travelled longer and further than you wanted to.
The ATTO 3 is a pleasant drive by all accounts, however for those wanting an edge-of-your-seat, dynamic electric thrill ride will probably look elsewhere. Its steering is direct but unless you select its sportiest setting, there isn’t much in the way of feedback.
Its softness underneath also means coaxing it through the sharp left and right handers sitting high above Lyttleton harbour is not what one would call a dynamic experience. Then again, the ATTO 3 was never about eating up bendy bitumen, but about moving you, and your nearest and dearest, in comfort at a good price. It’s a jolly fine tool, but not a toy.
Despite this, and those niggles previously mentioned, the positives considerably overwhelm the negatives. The BYD ATTO 3, when factoring in price, tech and usability as a BEV, is certainly worthy of the all its lavish attention and regard. Game changer? We shall see. Though after experiencing New Zealand’s newest BEV, I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up being just that.