We test the all-electric BYD Seal in Europe before a hopeful launch in Australia to rival the Tesla Model 3 and Hyundai Ioniq 6.
BYD’s push into Australia continues apace. We’re expecting the Dolphin small hatchback any day now, to bolster the original Atto 3 SUV in showrooms, and by the end of this year there will apparently be four offerings for customers here to consider. That will likely be thanks to the Seal, which has launched in New Zealand.
We were pretty impressed by this flagship sedan – a clear rival for the Tesla Model 3 and Hyundai Ioniq 6 – when we had a short blast in it on a test track back in 2022. But now we’ve had a proper chance to try the Seal, in final European production spec, on public roads.
To recap, the Seal is a swoopy all-electric sedan whose shape is clearly designed to be low in drag, boosting its range between recharges. It’s a bit longer than the Model 3 overall, and its wheelbase is a full five centimetres longer.
The new arrival sits on the same e-Platform 3.0 as the Atto 3 and Dolphin, but it uses a different battery installation. Called ‘cell-to-body’, it in effect stitches the 11cm-tall blade-battery pack into the Seal’s structure, so the floor you place your feet on is actually the top of the battery pack, rather than a conventional metal platform that would normally sit above it.
This compact installation increases torsional rigidity and helps to thin the floor, in turn making the Seal’s roofline impressively low (it’s about 10mm lower than it would have been without cell-to-body tech, by all accounts). The end result is a fairly dramatic-looking creation with neatly resolved lines and flanks made cleaner by retractable door handles. Less anonymous than a Model 3 at the front, tidier than the fussy Ioniq 6 at the rear, the Seal is arguably one of the best-looking cars we’ve yet seen from a Chinese brand. Even the contentious ‘Build your dreams’ slogan has been dropped from the tailgate, in response to feedback from key markets – impressively quick adaptation, we’d say.
Euro customers will be offered a choice of versions; the Seal Design has a single rear-mounted motor producing 227kW, enough for a 0-100km/h time of just under six seconds. Its 82.5kWh battery delivers 570km of range. The other variant is called Seal Excellence-AWD; as its name suggests, it adds a front motor for four-wheel drive, torque vectoring and a whopping 385kW that slashes the 0-100km/h time to 3.8 seconds. Its battery capacity is the same, though, and the extra shove reduces range to 520km.
Whichever version you go for, you’ll get a heat pump as standard, to help preserve real-world range in cooler conditions, and 150KW DC charging that can replenish the battery from 30 per cent to 80 per cent of its capacity in 26 minutes.
In the second half of 2024, BYD will introduce a more modest entry point to the range, called Comfort and featuring less power and a smaller battery.
In the meantime, BYD isn’t scrimping on spec for even the Design versions. They all get a 10.25-inch digital instrument panel, a huge 15.6-inch infotainment screen that can rotate between landscape and portrait layouts, a 12-speaker Dynaudio sound system, heated and ventilated front seats, rear privacy glass, a full-length panoramic glass roof and the ability to power external devices (vehicle to load) at up to 3kW.
Indeed, it’s hard to see why you’d feel the need to stump up for the dual-motor Seal, based on our drive in the rear-drive edition. It’s plenty quick enough, easily reaching motorway speeds, and once the low-speed warning hum has faded away, BYD’s latest e-Platform 3.0 does a good job of isolating the cabin from road and wind noise. The Seal is a refined, accomplished cruiser, therefore, and while the ride isn’t infallible, the suspension configuration (double wishbones at the front, multi-link at the rear) strikes a decent balance between body control and comfort.
Indeed, the steering is direct enough for you to take advantage of the rear motor’s punch on fast, flowing roads, allowing you to enjoy rapid cross-country pace and lean on the nicely modulated brakes. Traction control is likely to intervene if you’re too aggressive with the right-hand pedal in slower, twistier corners – but no more so than in most rear-drive EVs.
A switch on the centre console allows you to flick between driving modes, including an Eco one designed to maximise range and Snow for low-traction surfaces. But we’d probably leave the button well alone and run in Normal all of the time, because switching to Sport makes the steering feel over assisted around the straight ahead.
The four-wheel-drive Seal gets variable-frequency dampers but in our experience, they’re not quite good enough at settling down after inputs, so if anything, there’s a little more patter than on the regular set-up, even on smoother roads. The steering’s not quite as sweet either – though neither factor is likely to be a deal-breaker for those after the undeniable performance that the extra motor brings.
Regardless of powertrain, the cabin feels like another step on for BYD, with soft-touch materials in all of the right places, lots of useful oddment space (including a wireless charging pad big enough for two full-sized smartphones) and decent-quality fabrics and plastics. Some may still find the layout a little busy, but there’s a whole different level of sophistication here compared with BYD’s earlier offerings (the Atto 3’s guitar-string door pockets are missing, thankfully). As such, it’s hard to mark it down, on fit and finish or build quality, compared with either the Tesla or the Hyundai. It feels every bit as good as a range-topping EV should, in truth.
BYD’s infotainment system continues to improve, too. It’s clearly powered by a seriously grunty processor, with snappy responses to on-screen inputs and voice commands. The interface itself still resembles that of an reskinned Android tablet – which is hardly surprising, because that’s basically what it is – and the ability to rotate the display is of debatable benefit. We also wish the heating and ventilation controls would stay on screen when Apple CarPlay or Android Auto is being used. But on the whole, it’s a solid platform that BYD is tweaking with encouraging regularity.
One useful addition to the system might be an easily accessible button to deactivate or even tone down the car’s various safety-warning systems. They’re there for EuroNCAP reasons, clearly, but the implementation feels particularly intrusive with both beeps and steering wheel adjustment. Our BYD sources tell us to expect over-the-air updates to make improvements in these areas shortly.
Overall the cabin has space for five adults, including decent rear head and legroom, but the front-seat bases are too low for you to slide your feet beneath them, which might affect your seating position a little. Even so, there’s enough space for a couple of six-footers back there, and the boot is a decent size, at 400 litres. There’s also a 53-litre ‘frunk’ that’s ideal for storing charging cables.
Pricing will be key, as always, but if BYD’s approach to the Seal matches that of the Atto 3 and Dolphin, the company should have a real star on its hands. It’s as good to drive as many rivals, has better packaging and interior finish than some, and delivers a generous spec, even in base trim, plus solid range with respectable charging speeds. Impressive though its earlier offerings have been, this definitely feels like BYD’s most mature offering yet.