Doctor on the Road: BYD Atto 3
A solid buy for any medic looking for an entry family-sized electric SUV. That’s the verdict of our motoring correspondent, Dr Tony Rimmer, on a new offering from China.
We have been using equipment with Chinese-made components for some years without really realising it in both our medical work and our personal lives.
The contents of many of our phones, computers and the electronic diagnostic equipment we use are sourced from China. And this is also true for the cars we drive.
Globally, the US has the greatest reliance on car parts made in China, but most of the European manufacturers, particularly German ones, also rely on the supply chain from this vast industrial base.
With the advent of electric vehicles (EVs), the need for specialised electronics and batteries has only increased. This has put the established Chinese manufacturers of EVs, which it has been selling in its home market, in pole position to start exporting to other countries including the UK.
This has already happened with brands we recognise such as MG and Polestar, whose cars are all made in China. But now there is a new wave of Chinese cars arriving from brands that we have never heard of before. They promise great value in products that will rattle the established market leaders such as Tesla, VW and Kia/Hyundai.
Bigger than Tesla
One important new Chinese entry to the UK electric vehicle marketplace is BYD, which stands for ‘Build Your Dreams’. It has actually been around since 2003, making everything from lorries and buses to cars and, in 2022, was the biggest producer of EVs in the world – even bigger than Tesla, which is saying something.
It has launched the Atto 3, a medium-sized SUV to compete with the VW iD4 and the Kia Niro among others. It has an up-to-date second-generation EV platform, a 60.5kWh battery and a 201bhp electric motor driving the front wheels.
It has a claimed range of 260 miles and costs from £36,490. There are three trim levels – Active, Comfort and Design.
I have been testing the top-of-the-range Design model, which gets a bigger 15.6-inch tablet-style touchscreen that has a party trick: it can rotate 90° from landscape to portrait mode with the touch of a button – impressive, but not really very useful.
The exterior of the Atto 3 is pretty unremarkable and it could be mistaken for any other medium-sized SUV on the market. The interior, however, is a different kettle of fish.
BYD has been adventurous with some unusual design features such as the elasticated ‘guitar strings’ used in the side pockets to secure different items. The sweeping dashboard is impressive and although the centre infotainment screen is vast, clear and fast-functioning, the driver’s display is a little small and simple.
There is plenty of room for passengers in the rear, although three adults abreast is a bit of a squeeze. The boot is as roomy as in all its rivals and you can store the cover under the boot floor when not needed – a welcome feature.
Interior trim feels solid and the plastics are soft, giving it a more premium feel than the VW EVs. So, what is it like to drive?
Good ride quality
Well, if you are looking for a sporty drive like the MG4 or the Cupra Born, you will be disappointed. The steering is a bit numb and the handling is underwhelming. What is good, though, is the ride.
In many EVs the ride is too stiff and harsh – take note, Tesla Model Y – but the Atto 3 glides around town with great smoothness.
Unfortunately, it does get unsettled at speed and wind noise intrudes more than it should, but, generally, you travel in comfort. Performance is in line with all its rivals and it never feels lacking.
In many ways, this BYD is a very capable ‘white goods’ vehicle with some interesting interior design features and an excellent ride in the urban environment.
It offers great value as an alternative to the usual EV players and it bodes well for future models. It would be a solid buy for any medic looking for an entry family-sized electric SUV.
The range, at around 200 miles in the real world, is long enough for most needs and its practicality and useability is spot on. Just don’t expect to get excited behind the wheel if you are a keen driver.
Dr Tony Rimmer (right) is a former NHS GP practising in Guildford, Surrey