2021 BYD e6 First Drive Review: an EV to take on the Toyota Innova Crysta
Many have tried but none have succeeded in knocking the Toyota Innova from the top of the MPV space, but could that change with the full-electric BYD e6? And would you pick this over the likes of the Kia Carnival and even the 6/7-seater SUVs like the MG Hector Plus, Tata Safari and Mahindra XUV 700? Well first things first, the BYD e6 is only being offered to fleet operators and not for personal use. But the second and more important thing to note is the BYD e6 has the highest range on a single charge amongst any electric vehicle in India. It also boasts of the lowest operating cost amongst any fleet vehicles, the equipment and cabin to be categorised a premium offering for fleet vehicles, and a revolutionary, never heard of battery warranty of eight years or five lakh kilometres. Fleet operators and managers at the transportation desk for large MNCs now have a very interesting alternative to the Toyota Innova Crysta!
Who are BYD?
Is this an all new brand, you ask? It’s not a household name, but they’ve been around for longer than you’d imagine. Having entered the Indian market in 2007, BYD has in fact very recently celebrated eight years of successful EV transportation business in India. Keen eyes would have noticed the logo on the electric buses that now ply in major cities across the country, and the tech-savvy ones would be aware about BYD supplying components, panels, and even manufacturing processes to consumer electronic giants.
The e6 is a commercial vehicle only, and BYD has made it clear that their product lineup for B2B vehicles will remain different from what you and me can buy for private use. This clear demarcation helps them focus on their products, and rightly so, the e6 isn’t trying to impress everybody. From what I gather, this focused approach has truly worked in the brands favour, the e6 is a successful vehicle across the globe bring used in commercial cabs to police fleet vehicles.
2021 BYD e6 Power, Range, Battery
First, the main talking point for any electric vehicle — the range. The BYD e6 comes equipped with a 71.7 kWh battery pack that lends it a claimed WLTC (a less stringent standard than WLTP with fewer procedures and test cycles) range of 520 kms. It’s difficult to test it all in one day but I’ve gathered some perspective. Unlike many EVs, the BYD e6 stays close to the claimed usable range, we drove it for 230 kilometres with 200 kilometres of range still left. And not even once did I try to conserve the battery or drive it like a cabbie would — we left it running for over 12 hours, at times leaving the vehicle parked with the air-con and music systems running. Their combined (city and highway usage) claimed range stands at 415 km but I think with a cabbie behind the wheel real world figures should be around 450km. Though if you’re going up the hills that will of course drop.
So what drives this EV? One permanent magnet synchronous motor that feeds power to the front wheels. The motor’s maximum output is rated at 70kW, which translates to 92.6bhp of power, and offers a maximum torque of 180Nm. Top speed is limited at 130kmph, however most fleet vehicles will be limited at 80kmph (thus conserving the battery even more!)
Let’s also talk about the charging options — you get the standard 6.6kW AC charging, the one where you can plug this into your 15 or 20A housepoint, and it also supports the commercial 60kW DC fast charger which should charge the battery in an hour and half. What’s new is BYD’s proprietary technology — a 40kW AC fast charger which allows you to charge the battery to its full capacity in two hours. BYD will sell you these AC fast chargers that can be installed at desired locations, and will be priced at Rs 3 lakh per unit.
And the best part is the claimed running cost of Rs 1.5 per kilometre! It’s the lowest operating cost of any fleet vehicle, and by a huge margin at that. Add to that the much lower servicing costs and BYD tells us that the operating costs are much lower than anything out there. It might be more expensive to buy initially, but within two years you could break even compared to the outlay on a diesel MPV and from there on it’s a bonus every time it’s on a trip.
2021 BYD e6 Interiors
Will you enjoy sitting in the BYD e6 while being chauffeured to work or the airport? I think you will. Not just you, even the driver will like it. So, starting from the experience from behind the wheel — you have a nice and wide view from outside the windscreen and that’s thanks to the low set dashboard. The instrument cluster is divided into three parts; there's a digital display on the centre that gives you details about your trip, regen mode, and state of charge (commonly referred as SOC). On the right, is your analog speed readout and on the left is a real time battery consumption indicator. All very functional and precise.
You grab a flat bottom steering wheel with music controls on the left side. It’s chunky but the plastic doesn't feel all that well finished. Good thing is, it is adjustable for reach as well as rake. The dashboard has a gloss black panel across the width, with an illuminated brand insignia that reads Build Your Dreams. What I really like is the infotainment system — it’s a 10.1-inch screen that almost feels like a tab. What adds to that feeling is that you can swivel it and change its orientation from landscape to portrait.
It gets loads of features, and then you can download some more apps from the Google Play Store. You can also connect it with your mobile hotspot and access the web via the browser. Although there’s no connectivity for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the tab still makes do with all the apps that you’d need in a better, well integrated fashion. I ended up enjoying my Spotify user experience because of the UI, and also because the BYD e6 has four decent sounding speakers. One thing to point out, most of the air-con controls are placed within the screen and the HVAC interface isn’t the most intuitive, or user friendly. It takes a little getting used to but once that happens, you can make do with it. If there’s one complaint, the fonts feel a little too animated for my liking, but I’m sure there’s a way in there to change all of that (which I couldn’t figure).
As a commercial vehicle the BYD e6 benefits from plenty of well-thought-of and usable cubby holes and spaces, and big bins on the door card. There’s also two charging points and a 12V socket under the central armrest which is a huge storage bin in itself. And just like how well executed the storage space is, the cabin space has been carved out rather well, making it appear larger than it actually is. The front seats have a wide central console between them, adding to the sense of width. Space is generous for the front row passengers, but what isn’t is the seating experience.
The cushioning is good but the support isn’t, there’s not much that it offers for shoulder and bolster support. What also hampers the experience is the materials used — it makes your back sweat more than usual, leaving you a little uncomfortable for those long distance trips. Seat ventilation or seat covers that are better suited to our climes would have been a nice addition.
But then again the BYD e6 comes back by offering an exemplary rear seat experience. It starts with those long doors that open really wide makes for easy ingress and egress. That’s also helped by its 170mm ground clearance which means getting in and out doesn't feel like climbing a mountain. Once inside, you are greeted with a flat bench which, like the front, has great cushioning but lacks the desired support. It is however extremely functional and seating three would not be a concern. The floor is near-flat, and there’s lots of space to move around. Even with the driver's seat pushed to its maximum setting, there is still plenty of space to stretch in the back and that just shows how big this cabin is. In terms of the features, you get two USB slots, one air-con vent, and a LED light. No central armrest, however the door bins can hold large bottles. Also, the rear bench does not fold down at all, it’s a fixed seat.
It’s being called an MPV but it doesn't get a third row of seats. That said you do get a huge cargo area, 580-litres to be precise. It’s wide and flat, and loading big suitcases wouldn’t be a hassle.
2021 BYD e6 Blade Technology
Globally, the e6 has earned a huge reputation for being the perfect hauler for various applications, and that is hugely down to the battery technology that it packs. Termed as Blade Technology, this cobalt-free battery is stacked differently and makes for safer operation. It’s less susceptible to damages due to external factors or things like overcharge or multiple DC charges. And they claim to have tested it rigorously — crushing it, bending it, penetrating nails through it, heating it in a furnace to 300 degrees, and never has it exploded. Such is its performance that, through an intermediary brand, they’ve recently tied up with Toyota to help them with the Blade battery technology.
BYD tells us that these blades can be changed individually, so even if your battery cells face an issue, they will be able to help you out. Also, the drop in performance is claimed to be extremely low. BYD claims that this battery pack is optimised for heavy load operations, and can take multiple charges throughout its life and can operate over eight years, with the performance being affected only by 20 per cent in the later years. So, throughout the lifecycle of its fleet operation, this should be more cost effective than the current benchmark, and by a huge margin.
2021 BYD e6 Driving, Suspension
The BYD e6 is tuned towards efficiency, so there isn’t that sudden burst of EV torque when you press the accelerator. Not that it isn’t quick — it’s brisk enough through the traffic despite its near two tonne weight, and feels light from behind the wheel. Gain in speed feels linear and gradual, it’s like it smoothes out your throttle inputs and that’s something the passengers in the car are going to appreciate. The BYD e6 is also effortless and supremely relaxed to drive, something that drivers will really appreciate.
Overtaking does require some planning, however it’s able to get past traffic once you plan and commit. It felt capable of climbing inclines too and feels confident while traversing through various road conditions though I have to say we didn’t drive it in the hills so cannot tell you for sure what it will be like on outstation trips. What I like is the ride quality — it’s supple in the way it moves. This is a monocoque, not body-on-frame and the fully electric e-platform stays flat and calm on the regular Indian highway while also containing body roll rather well. Even the ride isn’t as bouncy — the MacPherson struts in the front and multilink rear setup combination has been used in plenty of vehicles and they seem to work just fine for our Indian conditions. The e6 has this additional layer of sophistication, it’s a lot more mature and refined in the way it rolls around.
The steering setup has a great duality to display — it’s light at low speeds and weighs up adequately well at higher speeds. Due to this, the BYD e6 is easy to maneuver in the city and feels confident while tackling triple-digit highway cruising. Sure it lacks the desired feedback but just like the rest of the MPV it has got this purpose built approach. Braking duties are taken care of by disc brakes on all four wheels and they seem to offer the desired bite for the BYD e6. The 170mm ground clearance might look a little low and in some situations it might tend to touch its belly (also due to its long wheelbase). But through the day's use we never faced any issue, so it doesn’t seem to be a problem.
Because this is an electric car, the cabin remains extremely quiet and calm. No vibrations inside the cabin and even the sound insulation and NVH levels are good. It’s a very ‘premium’ experience which not a lot of commercial cars would be able to offer, even at this price point. Except that constant hum under 30kmph from the pedestrian safety system that it comes with. If only there was a way to switch it off!
The e6 comes with two drive modes – Eco and Snow. While Eco can be thought of as its standard mode, the Snow mode further dulls the throttle response and is clearly designed for extremely slippery road conditions. It’s great to see the BYD e6 make use of two regen modes — the standard and the large. Regen is made possible from speeds as low as 2km, and if you know how to drive your EVs, you can actually extract more than the indicated range. It’s quite effective in conserving it’s batter and works well in city spaces.
2021 BYD e6 Looks and Styling
Not that looks matter for a commercial-only vehicle but still, the BYD e6 looks like an attractive thing out on the road, especially in this shade of blue with the contrasting dual-tone treatment. It’s comparable with an Innova in terms of the length and the wheelbase, and similar to the Ertiga in terms of height. As you can imagine then, it looks long rather than tall, giving it that low slung, teardrop-esque Honda Odyssey look.
I feel the design is very safe and conventional, nothing too shouty. It’s designed to suit a wide audience and that’s exactly what is expected from the e6, it’s a global product that is sold in close to 30 countries. The front wears large headlamps which use LED DRLs, but the rest of the illumination is halogen powered. Not a bad thing because these halogens powered lamps actually work better in Indian conditions. The ‘dragon grille’ is a flat perforated mesh that decorates the face of the BYD e6, below which sit the functional cooling vents. Judicious use of chrome to separate it from the crowd, and the e6 does have a distinctive identity of its own.
The side features a flat windowline, no prominent cuts; it's relatively clean and flowy. I like how the wing mirrors are placed on the door and not the pillar, aids better visibility for the front row-passengers. The roof joins a spoiler on the rear, which is again, just like the front, very safe in terms of its design. The split wrap around tail lamps make use of LED and halogen illumination, and are very smartly designed.
It’s smart looking, not attractive or beautiful, but functional and smart. Something that fits the corporate bill rather well.
2021 BYD e6 Verdict
Should you still opt for the Toyota Innova Crysta, or take the leap of faith and yourself a BYD e6? With a starting price of Rs 29.15 lakh, the BYD e6 is definitely much more expensive than the Crysta, and still misses out on a third row of seats. I’m not sure if stuff like a panoramic sunroof and wireless charging would have increased the BYD’s appeal but rear window blinds and a rear armrest would definitely be welcome.
There’s of course the limitation when it comes to infrastructure and you still cannot run an EV as a taxi for long outstation trips. And will anything be as reliable and indestructible as the body-on-frame Innova? Many have tried, none have succeeded, and I don’t think that is going to change here either.
But of course those sitting with a calculator will be quick to realise just how cost-efficient it is to run the BYD e6, especially considering the fact that commercial and fleet vehicles rack sky-high mileage very quickly. It’s a tool more than a driver’s car, one that’s aimed at electric commercial vehicle operations. And that it does rather well, especially when it comes to space, practicality and range. Add to that the industry leading 8 year / 5,00,000km battery warranty, and all that extra money seems well spent. If the switch to electric mobility is anywhere on your corporate to-do-list, the BYD e6 could be an effective solution towards that.