What’s the point in buying a huge electric SUV, when you can have more fun around city streets and country lanes for less money? We thought the Honda e was a brilliant first attempt, but appreciate why motorists demanded models that could go further per charge. The fabulous MG4 is one of the best examples of this thinking, and now another Chinese brand has thrown its hat into the ring: BYD.
The BYD Dolphin is the third model from the company alongside the Atto 3, which is an SUV, while the Seal covers the saloon segment. If you like the look of the MG4 and don’t want anything as dinky as an electric Fiat 500, the Dolphin may well be worth investigating. The most affordable model starts at just £26,195, for a 45kWh battery that promises 211 miles of range.
In Design spec with all the trimmings, you’re looking at £31,695 for a bigger 60kWh battery and up to 265 miles of range. There’s a healthy selection in between, so seemingly BYD has something to suit a variety of budgets and tastes. So far, so good.
Full marks should go to the BYD design team: this hatchback looks a treat, especially in the Surf Blue you see here. The neat range of colours also includes a Coral Pink hue that might hit the right note for some. Considering BYD is going after value-minded customers, the appearance is more premium than expected. Start poking around and the quality feel is even more obvious.
There’s a choice of four trim levels – Active, Boost, Comfort and Design. Base trim cars start off with 16in alloys, but further up you get 17in. It’s the Comfort trim model that most folks seem to think represents best value, even though all cars are nicely specced. With this you get a better audio system along with front parking sensors and comfort add-ons, like heated seats. That said, the panoramic roof in the top-of-the-range Design model we experienced added a real airy edge to the car and might be a solid bet if you’re not convinced by the more upright design of the Dolphin. It certainly feels bigger with the extra glass.
While the main interior feels roomier than you think, there’s a bit of a compromise at the back. The hatchback lifts to reveal a boot space that’s not quite as impressive, with only 345 litres of storage. It’s fine for something like a weekly shop, but the upright layout means you’d struggle with anything wide or bulky. The 60:40 split rear seats subsequently offer up over 1300 litres of space if they’re folded down, though, so don’t consider this a dealbreaker.
Initially then the BYD Dolphin provides plenty of fun. It feels compact and easy to manage, with fairly light steering that some drivers might prefer to tweak via the in-car settings. Drive modes are kept simple and can be switched using a selector that forms part of a physical selection of tabs along the lower dash. Sport provides the car with a little more spring in its step, but Normal feels well suited to both the dimensions of the car and the power on tap.
The front-driven electric motor in the Comfort and Design spec cars can get you from a dead stop to 60mph in a swift 7.0sec, and on to a 99mph top speed. The Boost and Active variants aren’t quite so nippy, and make do with a smaller battery that provides less range.
On rough roads the BYD Dolphin tends to roll around a little when hitting particularly bad spots, but generally speaking, it holds its own very nicely. In fact, it verges on being a bundle of fun. That is, until the Lane Keeping Assist and other driver aids come into play.
These are on by default each time the car is started up, and if you’re not ready for it you’ll soon encounter some of the most brutal steering wheel correction currently on the market. It proves disconcerting to say the least if you’re not ready. BYD tell us this has already been noted, so hopefully we’ll see that dialled back a touch via software updates. Other than that, the BYD Dolphin is a cracking little thing on the go.
All cars across the line-up have a 360-degree camera, which is a boon for reverse parking given the somewhat restricted interior view. What it sees see is displayed on the widely-talked about rotating 12.8in central touchscreen. This looks good and can be oriented from portrait to landscape depending on your preference. Seems a little needless to us, but the execution is neat to look at all the same.
Although some physical controls sit along the bar beneath the screen, you’ll need to dip into the screen to adjust things like climate. Along with the at times patchy cocktail of graphics, this is perhaps the only aspect of the cockpit we’re not so keen on.
You’ll find the customary selection of connection ports dotted throughout the cabin, although plugging in your phone cable is a little fiddly due to how the dash juts out above it. Nevertheless, it’s easy to make use of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto if you like to do your own thing.
One other thing that could prove to be a handy bonus if you need it is the Dolphin’s ability to discharge power using Vehicle-To-Load technology, which means it can power a device or appliance. However, when it comes to replenishing the car’s battery pack, the maximum charge rate is 88kWh, which could be better. It’s still enough to get you from 30% to 80% in about 30 minutes, or one toilet break and a large latte, depending on how you like to measure these things.
BYD Dolphin verdict
There’s already growing choice in the smaller electric hatchback arena. Aside from the aforementioned MG4, Peugeot’s e-208 impresses on the design front, as does the new Smart #1. However, the BYD Dolphin manages to exude even more personality from its design lines than those models, even if its boot is perhaps the biggest drawback if you’re in need of space.
Combined with the fit and finish, the solid specification even on the lower trim levels and (in the main) a pleasing drive, this is a top value offering to consider. If BYD can make a few little tweaks, mainly in the driving aids department, then for the money it’s a very solid option. Anything with a range over 200 miles is always a bonus too, so if you can stretch to the premium trim levels with the bigger battery you’ll be quid’s in. Granted, it lacks the planted, ground-hugging appeal of the MG4, but it’s still very good.
Great looks, decent range and more space inside than you think makes the BYD Dolphin top value.
BYD Dolphin technical specifications
|Powertrain||150kW electric motor, front-wheel drive|
|Cargo volume||345 litres|