Chinese dragon fires

up for UK charge

BYD Atto 3 Design
BYD Atto 3 Design, face
BYD Atto 3 Design, side
BYD Atto 3 Design, rear
BYD Atto 3 Design, detail
BYD Atto 3 Design, interior

CHINESE auto brand BYD is happy to be labelled ‘the biggest car company that nobody has ever heard of'.

Happy in the short term at least because this newcomer to the UK market will have launched three new models into the fray by the end of this year.

The initials BYD stand for Build Your Dreams, a message prominently etched on the rear of its first UK model, the Atto 3 compact electric SUV.

And looking to the future BYD certainly has some seriously colourful dreams, as well as an interesting backstory of unprecedented success.

Founded in 1995 as a start-up by then 28-year-old Wang Chuanfu with just 20 employees and 280,000 euros, the team set about designing and producing batteries for various uses.

In fact they now sit at No 2 globally as a battery producer, to the point that one in five of the world's mobile phones is powered by a BYD battery.

Nearly three decades later, and having launched BYD Auto, it is a multi-national company operating in more than 70 countries and has delivered 3.5 million new energy passenger cars to customers as well as 95,000 pure electric commercial vehicles.

Now BYD is aiming to gain a foothold in the UK and the car leading the charge is the Atto 3, which will be followed in early autumn by the Dolphin hatchback and later by the Seal saloon.

Issues faced by other manufacturers regarding integral parts like semi-conductors, and consequently lengthy waiting lists, are not a problem for BYD as it is the only brand to design and build the core components of the electric car in-house.

Styled with European customers in mind, the Atto 3 (inspired by the smallest time scale unit in physics, the attosecond) was designed by former Alfa Romeo design chief Wolfgang Egger and is certainly a model that offers something a little leftfield.

While its brushed front grille and LED headlights, mimicking the eyes and moustache of the ancient Chinese dragon, will attract some admiring looks, it's the car's interior that really gives the Atto 3 an unconventional appeal.

Using the modern gym experience as a template, the lift-up door handles are inspired by a barbell, there are free weight-styled air vents, a treadmill central armrest and a kettlebell gear selector.

You can even play Smoke On The Water by plucking the taut guitar string door bin protectors, there's multi-colour mood lighting, a long sliding panoramic glass sunroof and the vegan leather multi-tone heated seats come with electrical adjustment.

Otherwise the real highlight of the Atto's cabin is its 12-inch rotating touchscreen that can flip from horizontal to portrait at the touch of a button.

The Atto 3 comes in a choice of three trim grades - Active, Comfort and Design - with pricing from £36,490, though the sort of features many rivals would list as extra cost options, like an electric tailgate, high beam assist and folding wing mirrors are included as standard. The car has also already achieved a top five-star safety rating from Euro NCAP.

Interior space is sufficient for four adults and plenty for the compact size of car, though you wouldn't want to embark on a long journey as a centre rear seated fifth passenger.

Officially the Atto's electric range is 260 miles - realistically more like 240 tops - and the battery can be charged from 30 to 80 per cent at a 150kW DC point in 29 minutes or overnight from empty to full in 6.5 hours.

Our drive from the quaint Last Drop Village on the edge of the West Pennine Moors in Lancashire took in a variety of town and country roads in foul mist-shrouded weather that smacked more of February than July.

The range-topping Atto 3 Design, which costs £38,990, proved well up for the challenge with its composed dynamics, well weighted steering and, when required, its acceleration (0-62 in 7.3 seconds).

There are also four driving modes of Sport, Normal, Economy and Snow and though most of our driving was completed in Eco setting a switch to Sport noticeably sharpened the responses.

It's a very competent crossover model with some unique features, a light airy interior, impressive carrying capacity (1,338 litres with the rear seats folded flat) plus stand-out looks.

And having announced a partnership with the Pendragon and other dealership groups we will be seeing a lot more of BYD in the coming months.

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