Laugh all you like at the rather cheesy "Build Your Dreams" tagline, but the Chinese BYD conglomerate is no joke. Components made by BYD Electronics can be found in dozens of products our readers use every day while BYD Auto overtook Tesla in 2022 to become the largest manufacturer in the world of electric cars. And now it has the European market firmly in its sights, including Ireland.
Motor Distributors Limited (MDL) will import and distribute BYD's vehicles in Ireland and, following the announcement of that agreement in February, there has been a whirlwind of activity to set up an initial three dealers, organise a shipment of cars to Ireland and get ready to sell cars. The line-up is expected to expand rapidly to as many as nine different models in just a few years, and the first BYD to be offered to the Irish public will be the Atto 3, an electric crossover.
The name of the car is quite technical in itself, as 'atto' is 10 to the power of -18, an infinitesimally small unit. An attosecond, for example, is 0.000000000000000001 of a second, also known as a quintillionth. It's the smallest currently measurable unit of time. More simply the '3' in the car's name refers to the electrical architecture underpinning it - titled e-Platform 3.0.
In the metal
Though in no way offensive or off-putting, neither is the exterior style of the BYD Atto 3 particularly memorable. It works best with bright colours to give it some life. The front end is neat enough, though, with sharp, slender headlights joined by a silver-coloured strip carrying the BYD name. The smooth silver finish can be found on the roof rails and side window surrounds, too, and on the D-pillar, disguising its thickness somewhat. The rear end is quite generic, sticking to the current trend of full-width LED taillights above a rather featureless tailgate. The only item of note back there is the 'Build Your Dreams' script, which some will find a little cringeworthy.
The charging port is behind a flap above and behind the right-front wheel.
The BYD Atto 3 measures 4,455mm long, 1,875mm wide and 1,615mm high, with a 2,720mm wheelbase, making it smaller in all directions (aside from width) than the Volkswagen ID.4, for example. The Kia Niro EV is a better match for its size, though the Atto 3 is taller and wider, giving passengers a little more breathing room inside.
And that's where the Atto 3 is a little more interesting than most cars mentioned on this page. A large (12.8-inch), clear touchscreen dominates the centre of the dashboard and it's superbly quick to respond to touch and easy to use. The graphics are crisp too and while it's unfortunate that the air conditioning and heating controls are only accessible via the screen, at least the menu is always visible and easy to quickly use.
The screen has a party trick, too. Press a button on the chunky steering wheel and the display electrically rotates through 90 degrees. Use navigation with it in this orientation and you'll wonder why more car makers don't adopt this layout.
We're not so keen on the Atto 3's air vents. They appear to take their influence from aircraft controls - as does the more successful drive selector - but they're comically oversized and don't offer a lot of adjustment of the airflow. There are other unusual features found on the door panels. Instead of conventional door pockets, there are three strong strings to hold items in place. Once someone points out that they look like the strings of a guitar attached to the door speakers, you'll never again see them as anything else.
Design quirks aside, the interior generally feels well made. The synthetic leather seats are excellent with plenty of support and - on our test car at least - electric adjustment to allow fine-tuning while driving along. Those in the back are well catered for too, with their own set of weird air vents plus two different types of USB port. The floor is completely flat and six-foot tall adults should find it easy to get comfortable.
The Atto 3 is wider than many similar electric SUVs, so we do wonder if that'll translate into the capability to accommodate three child seats in the back. There are ISOFIX points in the outer two seats only of course - plus another in the front passenger chair.
Those rear seats split and fold down to expand the boot, which holds a useful 440 litres of luggage otherwise.
Not that it will matter to the majority of buyers of the Atto 3, but our assessment of the car on smooth Spanish roads in warm conditions was undermined a little by the presence of chunky winter tyres. These were a little noisy during faster cornering (though not audible at a modest cruise) and severely lacking in traction when accelerating hard from low speeds. Even so, it was a little surprising that the traction control system didn't keep wheelspin better in check.
Regardless, the Atto 3 is a perfectly good car on the road. The electric powertrain is incredibly quiet, spoiled only by the cartoonish synthetic noises emitted at low speeds and the strange indicator sounds. It pulls strongly, too. The front-mounted electric motor is rated at 150kW (204hp), and it can produce up to 310Nm from zero rpm. Those figures are identical to the outputs of the ID.4, but the Atto 3 is smaller and lighter so it's faster accelerating, with a commendable 7.3-second 0-100km/h time. Hopefully regular tyres can cope and provide better traction than we experienced.
The Atto 3 isn't particularly engaging to drive, though, as the steering and brake pedal are lacking in feedback, though the steering is adequately direct and well-weighted. There are Eco, Normal and Sport driving modes but we found little difference between them. The driver can choose between two different levels of brake energy regeneration, too, though neither is strong enough to be called 'one-pedal driving'.
Left in its default settings, the Atto 3 is commendably comfortable and also really quite composed, soaking up bumps easily yet keeping unwanted body movements in check. It does everything in a competent and safe fashion, essentially, which is all that most buyers will want.
It would also appear to be quite efficient. Officially the Atto 3 manages up to 420 kilometres from its 60.5kWh battery pack thanks to an average energy consumption figure of 16kWh/100km. In the warm conditions of our test, which was partially hilly but didn't include much in the way of high-speed motorway driving, the car appeared to be on track for over 400km of range. We'd expect less on a cold, windy day in Ireland on the motorway, but the heat pump should help with some of that.
What you get for your money
BYD Ireland has confirmed that the Atto 3 will start at €37,128 including incentives at the time of writing (24 April 2023). That's for the entry-level Active model, though there's not a very steep price walk to the Atto 3 Comfort (from €37,596) and the top 'Design' version, priced at €38,964. Indeed BYD expects the latter to be the most popular, especially among those opting for car finance. A PCP rate of 5.95 per cent means a monthly cost from €391 over three years, or €524 per month over five years on HP at the same rate.
All models feature a heat pump, navigation and the rotating touchscreen, along with a high level of equipment as standard.
The BYD Atto also comes with a comprehensive warranty package, starting with four years/120,000km for the car itself, eight years/150,000km for the drive unit, eight years/200,000km for the battery and 12 years (with no mileage limit) for the bodywork.
BYD Ireland's sales network is already open for business, with its first showroom - BYD North Dublin - on the Navan Road, followed by BYD South Dublin in Deansgrange and BYD Cork at Eastgate Business Park in Little Island. Go to www.bydauto.ie for full details.
The BYD Atto 3 is likely to find plenty of homes in Ireland, certainly enough to justify its position and help launch the BYD marque here. It doesn't hurt its cause that supply should be strong of course, but buyers tempted to take a closer look by that fact - and the strong pricing - will find plenty more to like, too.