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Chinese giant’s second UK offering brings long range and impressive practicality to small EV class at very keen price

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The BYD Dolphin is the second step in the Chinese giant’s plans to become a major presence in the UK. Bobbing in the wake of the BYD Atto 3 crossover, it's an electric hatchback sized roughly between the Vauxhall Corsa Electric and the Volkswagen ID 3.

Yes, we've driven the BYD Dolphin before, and it was also in Spain, but our earlier drive was a quick taster, limited to two laps of a race track. And as much as I would support a one-make race series, I suspect that’s not how most owners will use their Dolphins. Now that we’ve driven a production car on the road, we can give a fuller verdict.

This first wave of BYDs is pretty much how they're sold in China. Over time, BYD plans to add features that should be more to European tastes, such as cloth or leather seats, and more directly accessible climate controls.

Under the body – which doesn’t really look like other BYDs, apart from sharing a weapons-grade inoffensiveness – sits the e-Platform 3.0 with BYD’s own lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) Blade. This is a cobalt-free battery that has its cells arranged in strips along the length of the car, rather than in the more traditional cylindrical or cuboid cells. It’s available with either 44.9kWh or 60.4kWh of usable capacity.

How much power and range it has depends on the version. The entry-level Active makes do with just 94bhp and ekes 211 miles out of the small battery. Boost has 174bhp for 193 miles from the same battery. Comfort and Design both have the same drivetrain as the Atto 3 (60.4kWh and 201bhp) for 265 miles.

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Rapid charging can happen at up to 60kW for the small battery or 88kW for the big battery.

BYD Dolphin driving rear

Unsurprisingly, given the near-identical hardware, the Dolphin drives much like the Atto 3, which means it’s softly sprung to the point of floatiness. The Dolphin's shorter sidewalls mean it's slightly less absorptive in town, but this is sill sacrifices plenty of body control for a comfortable ride. Certainly don’t expect dynamism. In dry conditions at least, the Linglong Comfort Master tyres cling on surprisingly gamely, but the steering is light and numb and mid-corner bumps can make it feel all at sea. Nomen est omen…

With the same 201bhp motor as the Atto 3 motivating less weight, the Dolphin is plenty sprightly and the 7.0-second 0-62mph time felt easily achievable. So far we've only driven the long-range model.

201bhp is also enough to give the front tyres a workout. If you get on the power hard in a corner, the driven wheels can scrabble a bit, but the traction control manages to keep things orderly. Again, wet condition might change things, as it does in the Atto 3. Then again, the Dolphin suffers from far less torque steer than the Atto.

In short, if you don’t push it to the limits (and few owners will, I dare say), the Dolphin drives fine. Some other annoyances remain however, such as the lack of a strong regen mode, the mushy brake pedal, and the fairly big turning circle.

05 Byd dolphin fd 2023 wheel 0

Inside, the Dolphin is only slightly less wacky than the Atto 3 but still looks smart and generally feels well finished, especially for the price point, although there is quite a strong chemical smell.

The driving position is fine and has a good range of movement on the electrically adjusted seats, although they lack lumbar support and tilt adjustment.

Certainly there’s no doubting the Dolphin’s practicality. There are plenty of trays and cubbies up front, including one just underneath the central touchscreen that’s very useful for a phone or glasses.

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Meanwhile, rear leg room is ample for tall adults and the 345-litre boot is impressive for a small hatchback. A variable-height boot floor is standard.

The tech on board suffers from the same quantity-over-quality issue as the Atto 3. The rotating 12.6in touchscreen is crisp and responds well, but the interface has too many sub-menus and doesn't use its generous acreage to best effect. The climate controls are hidden in a sub-menu, which is just not acceptable.

Adaptive cruise control with lane following is standard and works okay, but there are much smoother systems out there. Being new for 2023, the Dolphin also has bongs and a spoken message berating you for going over what it thinks (but often isn’t) the speed limit. It’s annoying and hard to turn off. Button, please!

08 Byd dolphin fd 2023 dash screen portrait 0

So is the Dolphin about to shake up the small EV market? Well, a look at the pricing suggests that it might just be able to.

The Active model costs £25,490, but we would avoid it for its torsion-beam suspension and lack of power. A £1000 extra gets you the Boost. The Comfort, with the bigger battery, is £29,490. And the fully loaded Design is £30,990. Apart from the MG 4 EV, whose slightly dour interior suggests it's courting a different buyer, anything else available for this price is either considerably smaller or has a considerably shorter range.

Speaking of range, for this size of car, it's very good indeed. In our road test, the Atto 3’s efficiency indicator proved very optimistic, so we will take our Dolphin test car’s claimed 4.1mpkWh (which would translate to 249 miles of range) with a pinch of salt. Still, 200 miles should be comfortably doable.

BYD says it wants people to buy its cars because they love the style and individuality, rather than because they’re cheap. As it stands, however, the Dolphin lacks the polish – in its multimedia, its chassis, and some of its interior materials – to really impress, but its pricing is actually looking attractive enough that a lot of its flaws might be excused.

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Illya Verpraet

Illya Verpraet Road Tester Autocar
Title: Road Tester

As part of Autocar’s road test team, Illya drives everything from superminis to supercars, and writes reviews, comparison tests, as well as the odd feature and news story. 

Much of his time is spent wrangling the data logger and wielding the tape measure to gather the data for Autocar’s eight-page road tests, which are the most rigorous in the business thanks to independent performance, fuel consumption and noise figures.