BYD Atto 3 first drive review
BYD stands for Build Your Dreams. Not many might have seen or heard of this brand, except while following an electric municipal transport bus but in the electric future this could arguably be one of the most prominent companies. And the first taste for what is in store for us, private car owners and buyers, is the Atto 3. Ok there’s also the E6 MPV that was first only available for fleets, but this Atto 3, it really is very interesting. Backed by BYD’s enviable EV ecosystem and the Blade battery, touted as the safest battery in the world right now, the Atto 3 packs a solid punch in the EV-space. In fact, after the E6 and the initial response to the Atto 3, BYD has set an ambitious goal to gain 30 percent of the EV market share in India by 2030. So before we get to the car, it’s imperative to know a bit about the brand.
Wang Chuanfu, a chemistry professor in a Chinese university specialised in batteries in the early nineties. China’s tech revolution was underway and by 1995 he was confident that batteries would play a key role in the future. He found investors to back him and he founded BYD, and ever since building the battery and a robust ecosystem around it has been the key focus for the company. In 2003, Wang saw an opportunity to expand the battery business in the automobile sector. He bought a small car company called Qinchuan Automobile. Incidentally, Qinchuan back then used to manufacture the Alto (the Maruti 800 in India) under licence from Suzuki and soon after the agreement expired, couldn’t sustain itself. BYD bought the company and started reverse engineering cars like so many Chinese carmakers did in the last two decades – think Corolla rip offs. The reverse engineering gave BYD deep pockets very quickly and towards the end of the decade, the company had already transitioned to making fully electric cars.
China went through a phase of subsidies to encourage car makers to make hybrids and electric cars just like our FAME subsidies have made Indian brands push towards EVs. This further helped BYD grow, gave it the funds to build a solid ecosystem that would support its future plans including buying lithium mines around the world – BYD claims that it owns between 10-12 percent of the global lithium reserves. Things fell into place with the success of the blade battery.
Exterior of the BYD Atto 3
Sorted technology aside, the design of the Atto 3 will make you curious. The Atto 3 sports what’s coined a Dragon Face 3.0 family design language. If that isn’t Chinese enough for you, the interior design is called ‘rhythmic interior’. That said, the Atto 3 does look smart in the metal if a bit too busy. It’s a considerably bigger car than the MG ZS EV with 140mm more in the wheelbase and larger 18-inch wheels. Cabin space optimisation is impressive and overall, on the outside, the light detailing, alloy wheel design, sporty bumper, all the cuts and creases, they all make the Atto 3 feel considerably premium in comparison, justifying the higher price. At Rs 33.9 lakh, ex-showroom, it comes at a premium, but the money seems well spent. BYD has already received 1500 bookings for the Atto 3, their Chennai plant is capable of annually assembling 15,000 units of the Atto 3 and E6 combined, so sales are off to a promising start.
Interior of the BYD Atto 3
Step in and the car gets funkier! The design is nothing like you have seen before on a production car. The dashboard is dominated by what looked like a shredded muscle man, extending all the way from door to door. It takes a little getting used to but it also signifies the bold approach on the inside. The 12.8-inch central infotainment screen can swivel from landscape to portrait mode at the touch of a button, there’s a beautiful airline-style gear selector, you get a wide centre console, and a deep cubby hole under the armrest. The doors have an interesting opening mechanism with the door handle neatly integrated over a tweeter. The driver’s digital screen though is a bit too small and takes a lot of effort to read. You get everything from wireless charging to a panoramic sunroof, even an NFC key card to enter the car at the tap on the wing mirror that can be stored in your wallet. You won't ever need the car’s key! There’s also a 360-degree camera, a dash cam that can be used for photos and videos, and a SD card slot to store all this data. The hardware for the main screen is made by BYD, and even the OS is theirs, which shows in how smooth it is to use. We did miss Android Auto/Apple CarPlay at the media drive but BYD says it will be ready by the time deliveries start in January. The best feature on the inside are the front seats that are well bolstered and offer superb lumbar support; it really makes the Atto 3 stand out.
Blade Battery in the BYD Atto 3
On the face of it, an LFP battery isn’t revolutionary. The chemistry has existed for a long time and compared to Lithium-Ion batteries, LFPs offer lesser energy density. However, the chemistry is more stable and something a carmaker like BYD could build on with their own ecosystem supporting it from what is a ‘farm to table’ approach in the battery world. The lithium is sourced from their own mines, the design, engineering and manufacturing is also done in-house, so the pack itself is highly optimised. Focus could go into improving safety of the pack from the grounds up, and that showed in acing the nail penetration test, the toughest test for batteries that aims to trigger thermal runaways. The battery was even subjected to the load of a 46 tonne truck over it, and it came out unfazed. The battery was fitted back in the car and it worked like nothing had happened. So the Blade battery won’t give you the best range out there, but it will be efficient, much closer to manufacturer-stated range, and will work well across wide operating temperatures (-30 to +60 degree celsius). Safety is the Blade’s USP, which is why Toyota, a very conservative carmaker, has chosen to use these batteries in their new EVs. Tesla too is rumoured to soon use it in the Model Y and there are a few more such alliances in the pipeline.
Performance, ride and handling of the BYD Atto 3
A single PMSM (Permanent Magnet Synchronous Motor) powers the front wheels and makes 201bhp and 310Nm. It’s fairly quick with a 0-100kmph sprint done and dusted in 7.3 seconds, similar to the Mahindra XUV400 that will begin deliveries soon. But with the Atto 3, the acceleration feels unhurried. The 18-inch wheels on 215-section tyres get you going without drama and multiple such runs didn’t seem to drain the battery at an alarming pace. The Blade battery in the Atto 3 has a 60.5kWh capacity, and BYD claims that it runs up to 89 per cent efficiency and over large operating temperature ranges of -30 to +60 degrees celsius. During the drive, we were impressed by the accuracy of the range, sticking very close to the number of kilometres driven. You get three modes – Eco, Normal and Sport. There is very little difference between the three except for the force required to be applied in the throttle pedal. The ride quality is good at low and medium speeds, feels a little soft at high speeds, but the energy retardation and brakes do a good job of slowing down the car. The softer setup leads to roll in corners when pushed hard and the torque clawing at the front wheels will make you understeer if you aren’t prudent with your throttle inputs.
Verdict on the BYD Atto 3
BYD isn’t just another Chinese EV brand. They are deeply invested in the EV space and have built such a robust ecosystem, that it has helped with packaging the cars well. The Atto 3 is kitted to the gills with features, packs more than adequate performance and the Blade battery promises reliability and safety that comes from a lot of experience in making EV powertrains. Top that up with the funky interiors and a spacious cabin and you can’t find much fault with the car if you don’t plan to drive the socks off it on a winding road. It can also take DC fast charging up to 80kW all the time and has a battery life of over 5 lakh kilometres. I wouldn’t be surprised if whatever they can assemble flies off showrooms floors double quick.