Aug 25, 2023

Road test: Why the BYD Atto 3 is an EV world beater

My partner and I bought our first house together last year. What we ended up with ticked almost all of our boxes; three bedrooms, newish kitchen and bathroom, big garage. The lack of much grass was the only real letdown – there’s just a small triangle of the green stuff next to the driveway.

One silver lining is that it only takes five minutes to cut. Another silver lining is that the lack of any arduous mowing extends the lifespan of our dinky wired electric mower, one of the most miserable devices I’ve had the displeasure of owning.

Yet, I must confess that I was recently rather excited to yank the ineffective little Ozito out of the shed because it gave me a chance to play with a feature I’d never properly sampled before; vehicle-to-load, or V2L. The four-wheeled catalyst for this most exciting tech adventure? BYD’s flagship Atto 3 Tachyon.

A feature becoming more common by the day, V2L enables electric vehicles to power anything you can plug into a three-pin socket via a V2L adapter. BYD’s has two available ports, and operates as you would expect it to. Plug it into the car’s charging port, plug your jug, electric scooter, or lawn mower in and paint the town red.

Before I talk more about my electric lawn mower, I suppose a quick word about the BYD would be appropriate.

For those who live under rocks, BYD is a fresh-faced brand that launched in New Zealand in the middle of last year. Despite its outsider position and only offering the one model – the Atto 3 – it quickly shot to prominence as one of the best-selling EV carmakers in the country. Fast forward to today, and the only firm that has better EV sales is Tesla.

Since it arrived, the BYD Atto 3 has been on a tear. It collected the 2023 New Zealand Car of the Year gong, and has cemented itself somewhat as the country’s second most popular EV behind the Tesla Model Y. Much of this comes from the fact that it’s a fantastically good car. Handsome, decent to drive, well-built, and sharply priced.

Not to mention that, under the skin, it features one of the most advanced batteries in the EV landscape. BYD’s LFP ‘Blade’ technology is coveted due to its compact size and proven safety compared to nickel manganese cobalt pretenders.

There are some niggling issues in there. The way the rear arches eat into the boot compromises the shape of the storage space, the infotainment system is a touch undercooked, and the blue, white, and red interior is a lot to deal with. But beyond this relatively minor stuff, the Atto 3 is a very good thing.

So why are we here then? Well, BYD recently added a new range-topping model to the Atto 3 line-up in the form of the aforementioned Tachyon (pictured in red). And, simultaneously, it offered us a play with its entry-level Standard Range model (pictured in white).

Based on the 60kWh Extended Range Atto 3, the locally developed and assembled Tachyon aims to give the model a more luxurious edge. Its range of tweaks earn it a $9,000 price premium over the model it’s based on, and a $71,490 price tag overall (not including the Clean Car rebate).

The Standard Range, meanwhile, opts for BYD’s smaller 50kWh battery. Its spec is almost identical to the aforementioned Extended Range model (both use the same motor to make the same power, 150kW/310Nm), making decision-making a simpler toss-up for decisive customers. Its retail price is $58,990, althoughBYD is currently running out the model for $56,990.

Yes, ‘running out’. The brand is set to phase out the Standard Range Atto 3 in the coming months, telling Stuff that it should be able to field customer orders until around October before it turns off the tap.

The other factor to note is that, since we last drove an Atto 3, the model has inherited a series of over-the-air updates with some quite juicy add-ons.

Wired Apple CarPlay and wireless Android Auto have arrived, as has full functionality of BYD’s owner app. The latter gives users access to a host of remote features, like vehicle preconditioning, charge level monitoring, and vehicle lock and unlock.

You can even make it honk its horn via the app. Handy if you’ve lost your car in a parking lot or if you wish to exact revenge on your neighbours at 5.00am on a Sunday morning.

BYD’s Apple and Android phone projection adoption is a definitive win. It isn’t perfect; the enormous standard 12.8-inch rotating touchscreen has to be in landscape orientation for it to work. But, once it’s operational it’s quick to respond and easy to use. Best of all, those who find BYD’s standard infotainment finicky to use (count us in that group) get an ace alternative.

Something that complements the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is BYD’s intelligent voice assistant. Activated by saying ‘Hey BYD’, the assistant works much in the same way that the equivalent systems from Mercedes-Benz and BMW operate.

The difference is that, somehow, BYD has concocted a system more capable of listening and quicker responding than what the Germans have. And, because it works so well, you can trust it to do various car tasks for you without having to disengage the aforementioned phone projection.

The most useful update of them all, though, concerns the Atto’s on-board range calculator. Where in the past the BYD’s ‘guess-o-meter’ served up range estimates based on best-scenario manufacturer data, it now instead generates your estimate based on your real-time driving habits. A change that can’t be underestimated that gives real credence to how many kilometres the car says you can travel before needing a top-up.

Speaking of range, both the Standard Range and Tachyon continued to impress us with the figures they produced during our testing.

The 50kWh’s WLTP-rated 345km is surprisingly achievable for those driving predominantly in urban areas. Our motorway commuting hurt that number, but nevertheless we were on target to notch up more than 300km on a single charge with it.

The Tachyon, meanwhile, almost matched what I’ve previously experienced from the run-of-the-mill 60kWh grade (more than 400km to a charge), despite wearing a larger wheel and tyre package.

Yes, wheels and tyres. The Tachyon trades in its standard eco rubber for a set of Continental MaxContact MC6 shoes wrapped around striking 20-inch wheels. These remedy one of the standard Atto 3’s few pitfalls; its cornering abilities at speed.

Stickier rubber makes a fairly tangible difference to grip levels. It’s certainly noticeable when you drive the two tyres back-to-back as we did. The Atto is still not as sharp to drive as some of its peers, but the Tachyon is a step in the right direction.

The Tachyon also gets a raft of cosmetic changes. The huge ‘Build Your Dreams’ script on the tailgate has been swapped for a more tasteful ‘Tachyon’ badge, and a simple stripe package sits atop the sills. The biggest alterations, though, are inside. The Atto’s standard cream upholstery gets covered by black faux suede and the seats get wrapped in black quilted leather.

The group behind the changes, RVE, has done a solid job in transforming one of the ‘loudest’ interiors into something a bit more mature. Its seats are particularly convincing, looking almost original perched inside the Tachyon. The black suede across the dashboard and door cards looks good, too, although it isn’t quite as OEM looking as the seats manage to be.

The Tachyon’s handling chops and fancy wheels are welcome additions, but it’s the more muted cabin that likely appeals most to those considering it over the stock-standard 60kWh grades. Even considering the premium, it still represents sound value for money amongst its rivals.

The soon-to-be dropped Standard Range, meanwhile, remains a commendable entry point. Those lamenting the disappearance of the entry grade should note that its culling helps clear the runway for the upcoming BYD Dolphin.

Perhaps that’s just progress at work. Speaking of, how much are those wireless electric lawn mowers these days?

Bonus images

Bonus images