From £45,6957

Nascent Chinese electric car brand expands UK offering with stylish, range-conscious new Tesla Model 3 rival

You might expect a carmaker entirely new to the European market to start by dipping a toe in the water with a single model, but less than a year after the launch of its first model, BYD is now introducing its third car to the UK market: the BYD Seal.

BYD is not just throwing new models at the European market – it has also committed to local production with a factory in Hungary. It is the first Chinese manufacturer to do so since MG closed the Longbridge plant.

The Hungarian factory is still a few years away, but here today is the Seal. Mock the cutesy name all you like, but this is a very serious car.

The BYD Atto 3 and BYD Dolphin are aimed at slightly lower segments, being a front-wheel-drive crossover and a hatchback. Neither really does anything to worry the class leaders, but the Dolphin just about makes sense on price.

The Seal, however, ups BYD’s game with rear-wheel drive, a big battery, a handsome, aerodynamic body and big power.

At first glance, the Seal looks like a credible Tesla Model 3 rival, so we have put a single-motor, rear-wheel-drive version through the full road test to see how serious that threat is.

The range at a glance

Models Power From
Design 308bhp £45,695
Excellence AWD 523bhp £48,695

The main choice when you buy a BYD Seal is whether you want the single-motor Design or dual-motor Excellence.

Those names suggest they come with different levels of equipment but, apart from the head-up display on Excellence, that’s not the case. The only cost options are premium paint colours.

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DESIGN & STYLING

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byd seal review 2024 02 panning side

BYD’s design studio has been led since 2016 by German design veteran Wolfgang Egger (formerly of Audi and Alfa Romeo), giving the modern BYD range a cohesive, if somewhat bland, design language.

The smooth and aerodynamic (BYD claims a drag coefficient of 0.22) saloon body takes more than a few cues from the Model 3, but the slightly more elaborate details mean it just about manages to be its own thing. For those details, the Seal leans into its marine name more than previous BYDs. Look closely and you’ll spot some ‘gills’ behind the front wheels and at the end of the sill, as well as some ‘scales’ on the C-pillar.

LED headlights are standard but there is no matrix function. They seem to be a blend of the new Tesla Model 3’s and of Renaults of the 2010s, but are sleek and purposeful enough. Black panels incorporate the daytime-running lights.

BYD’s dedicated EV architecture, the e-Platform 3.0, also underpins the Atto 3 and Dolphin, but for the Seal the main drive motor moves to the rear. At the centre is what BYD calls the Blade Battery. Unlike almost every other EV maker, BYD designs and produces its own batteries.

Rather than the more common nickel-manganese-cobalt chemistry, it uses lithium iron phosphate (LFP), which contains fewer rare earth materials, has a far lower risk of thermal runaway when damaged and supposedly lasts longer, while its longevity isn’t affected by being fully charged or discharged. For all that, LFP batteries have a lower energy density (you need a bigger and heavier unit for the same number of kWh) and don’t charge as quickly.

BYD has partially addressed the former by changing how its battery packs are constructed. Instead of many small cylindrical or prismatic cells being arranged in modules, which are then assembled into a pack, the Blade skips the module stage.

The cells are more like long planks that are arranged longitudinally in the pack. That saves space and weight, as does the lack of liquid cooling, since the LFP battery can cope without

Clever stuff, but the Seal still proved quite heavy on Millbrook’s scales, weighing 2116kg. That’s a fair bit more than the claimed 2055kg, and the 1846kg of the dual-motor Model 3 we weighed recently.

The Seal’s battery pack is an integral part of the car’s structure, improving torsional rigidity. BYD claims 40,500 Nm/degree. Car manufacturers don’t usually quote this figure, and it’s not something we could ever verify, but that is an impressive amount.

There are two versions of the Seal. The single-motor Design has a permanent magnet synchronous motor on the rear axle for 308bhp, and the Excellence adds a smaller asynchronous one at the front for four-wheel drive.

For both versions, suspension is by double wishbones at the front and multi-link at the rear, but the Excellence gets uprated dampers of the frequency-selective type that Mercedes and Vauxhall also use. 

INTERIOR

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byd seal review 2024 10 dash

BYD interiors, with their wild shapes and unusual colours, are an acquired taste but, in a world of drab black and grey rubber and plastic, are also quite refreshing.

The Seal clearly espouses the same philosophy as other BYDs. So long as you don’t mind the synthetic and slightly weird-feeling vegan leather, the Seal is a step up from other BYD cabins (which already tend to feel plusher than their rivals). Almost all of the dashboard and door mouldings are soft-touch and feel pleasingly solid, and even the gloss black plastic has been livened up with some line patterns. 

When you turn off the car, the following message appears in the gauge cluster: “Warm tip: the car has a reservation charging function, you can set the charging time on the multimedia.” Your guess is as good as ours.

If the light blue colour scheme is a bit too much for you, there is a more subdued black option. That should also be a lot easier to keep looking clean – our test car showed plenty of dirt after only a week.

The one thing that detracts from the premium experience is the smell. It’s not quite as unpleasant as in the Atto 3 and Dolphin, smelling like a weird chemical approximation of lavender, but multiple testers remarked on it.

Almost everything is controlled through the massive 15.6in screen, which can be rotated 90deg. There are a few physical controls, but the selection is odd: things like the mirror adjustment, media volume and auto hold are helpful, but the buttons for blindspot warning, mud and snow mode and climate control off could have been dedicated to more frequently used functions.

Everything else requires a trawl through the haphazardly designed touchscreen interface. Thankfully, the screen responds quickly and has crisp graphics, but almost everything is buried under several layers of menus.

To adjust the temperature, you need to swipe up from the bottom to show the controls. The heated seats require the same, plus two further taps to arrive at the right menu. And when you do that, the heated seat menu will take over the whole screen. Getting back to Apple CarPlay requires a further two taps. 

You can define some shortcuts, but they don’t actually make things much easier. Voice control isn’t all that helpful either, because you need to speak extremely clearly for it to understand the most basic commands, and there are many things that it will simply tell you it cannot do. Some of the strange translations and erratic punctuation in the interface don’t help either.

The Seal’s cabin has twin wireless charging pads, some decent-sized cupholders, a deep centre armrest bin and a big tray underneath the centre console. We wish this tray was rubberised or carpeted, because when you put things in it, they rattle and slide around.

Rear leg room is slightly less generous than in a Hyundai Ioniq 6 in absolute terms, but there’s much more head room and the bench is at a more comfortable angle, so rear passengers are better off in the Seal. 

Infotainment

The screen’s vast 15.6in diameter and rotation function are certainly eye-catching, and following a cursory prod and swipe, one might even be impressed with the screen’s resolution and responsiveness.

However, once you start to use this interface, particularly on the move, it’s hard not to get frustrated with its convoluted structure and poor use of screen real estate. As a result, frequently used functions are buried deep in menus.

The navigation system is clear enough but sent us straight into a traffic jam. There is both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto but no wireless functionality for either. CarPlay also takes over the whole screen, rather than integrate into the native interface, and also disables the rotation function.

There’s a useful-sounding split-screen function, but it only works with the native navigation and the built-in Spotify app.

The hi-fi is by Dynaudio, a well-regarded Danish firm whose wares also optionally appear in the Volkswagen Touareg. Indeed, the Seal has warm, clear and very pleasant audio.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

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byd seal review 2024 03 cornering rear

Dual-motor Seals come with a barely believable 523bhp and a 3.8sec 0-62mph time, while rear-wheel-drive cars still have a very healthy 308bhp, which is more than all of its single-motor rivals. At a cold and damp Millbrook Proving Ground, the RWD Seal narrowly missed its 5.9sec quoted 0-62mph time, needing two-tenths longer.

For an electric family car, it is certainly not short of performance. With that said, it is interesting to note that the rear-drive Tesla Model 3 is just as quick on paper, despite having less power. You can blame the Seal’s hefty kerb weight. It keeps accelerating smartly right up to its limiter, which kicks in at 118mph.

BYD realised that European buyers aren’t too keen on the ‘Build Your Dreams’ script on the back of the Atto 3 and Dolphin, so it’s not there on the Seal. It does leave the rear end looking slightly empty and featureless.

On the road, it feels pleasantly brisk at all times. The power drops noticeably when the battery gets below 30% or so, but when there is 308bhp to start with, you can afford to lose a bit.

There is some trickery going on with the throttle response: in all drive modes, if you floor the accelerator, the car will ramp up the power gradually. This is nowhere near as bad as on the Smart #1, where there’s a delay before anything at all happens, but it still makes the Seal slightly less intuitive to drive than necessary. In Eco mode, total power is also limited.

The Seal offers two regenerative braking modes. Standard mode hardly slows down at all, while the stronger mode is still fairly mild and doesn’t have one-pedal functionality. We’d expect more configurability from a modern EV.

A braking distance of 51.4m from 70mph sounds rather long, but is fine for the cold and damp test conditions. The pedal doesn’t inspire much confidence, being light and having a very long travel. 

RIDE & HANDLING

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byd seal review 2024 22 cornering front

Rarely have we tested a car with such a large disparity between its primary and secondary ride than in this rear-drive Seal. The first few metres were a bit of a shock. At low speeds, the front axle in particular crashes through potholes and poor road repairs quite harshly. 

Pick up some speed and the impacts fade, but there is clearly an element of isolation missing in the front axle, because on rougher surfaces there are constant, speed-dependent vibrations through the steering wheel that can get wearing over longer distances. They lessen at motorway speeds and thankfully can just about be ignored at 70mph, but they never disappear entirely.

BYD feels like a sort of anti-Tesla in the way it goes about suspension tuning and interior design – in a good way. Conversely, its reliance on a huge screen is very Tesla, just without the clever tricks that make such a set-up work.

At the same time, the primary ride is positively pillowy. It smothers smaller bumps in a measured one-two motion, with barely a hint of underdamped floatiness. Such soft suspension can be an issue on a truly bumpy B-road, but the Seal has the suspension travel to deal with the most evil of roads.

This compliance doesn’t come at the expense of control, because in the corners the Seal is balanced and genuinely good fun. It naturally tends towards mild oversteer – both on and off the power – which lets it turn in to corners crisply and power out assuredly.

The traction and stability control can only be turned off at low speed, so you won’t get this Seal to drift, but away from the test track there’s no need to. The systems are generally very impressive: they are very smooth and don’t take away any more power than is necessary to maintain perfect traction.

The steering isn’t anything special. It is averagely geared at 2.5 turns lock to lock and the turning circle is reasonably tight. The rack is also precise enough and offers just enough feedback about grip levels to give you confidence.

Comfort & Isolation

Ride comfort, then, is a mixed bag. While the Seal is wooden around town, it does settle down at speed but never loses the steering wheel vibrations.

You do get used to some of the Seal’s failings, to a point, and it strengthens its case with very comfy seats. The seats don’t do anything fancy, but they are heated and ventilated as standard, have a wide range of adjustment, feel soft yet supportive, and are a pleasant place to spend time on long drives. 

The Seal’s driving position is comparable with that of a Tesla Model 3 or Polestar 2. In other words, not especially low by the standards of a petrol or diesel executive saloon, but low enough to maintain the feel of a sporty saloon, and to not pose head room problems to taller drivers. You get a classic legs-outstretched seating position with a good amount of adjustment to the steering column.

Don’t expect much from the memory function, however. By the time you’ve located the relevant menu, you might as well reset the seat yourself.

Noise isolation is competitive, without setting new standards. We recorded 68dBA at 70mph, 1dBA more than the Hyundai Ioniq 6.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

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Prices for the single-motor Seal Design start (and mostly end) at £45,695. Shadow Green and Indigo Grey paint cost £876 extra, but the other colours are free, and there are no other options. The dual-motor Excellence costs only £3000 more.

BYD is not positioning itself as a budget option. It does undercut a similarly specced Polestar 2 Standard Range or Hyundai Ioniq 6, but not by much, and nothing can touch the Tesla Model 3 for value.

BYD offers a more generous warranty than most competitors: up to six years or 93,750 miles, with an additional two years for the drive unit and battery. The latter is also covered up to 125,000 miles.

Measuring the economy and rapid-charging speed was rather fraught. The economy readout on BYDs only shows the car’s lifetime economy and the last 50 miles. It also seemed erratic after a reset, and before reaching 50 miles. Annoyingly, you also can’t choose a display unit, and the car shows kWh/100km on the centre screen, kWh/100 miles in the gauge cluster.

In normal usage in single-digit temperatures, the economy seemed to settle around 3.4mpkWh, which is competitive but not as good as a Tesla. That translates to a range of 279 miles, and because it is an LFP battery, you can fully charge it without fear of affecting the pack’s longevity. Even in its adaptive mode, the range indicator was overly optimistic.

Rapid-charging performance was quite poor, although cold temperatures may have played a part. The Seal’s quoted figure of 150kW is already down on the Ioniq 6 (233kW) and Model 3 RWD (170kW), but it topped out at 135kW.

To make sure, we did the test twice, once on a 350kW Fastned charger and once on a 350kW Gridserve unit. On both occasions, the speed also dropped dramatically halfway through, but sprang back up after disconnecting and restarting the charge.

Throughout, the gauge cluster also displayed a message to indicate that the battery was warming up. An easily accessible pre-conditioning function would be a useful addition. 

VERDICT

byd seal review 2024 25 static front

With its saloon shape and rear-drive layout, it’s clear that the Seal is aimed squarely at the Tesla Model 3.

There’s little point launching a dud in this competitive class, and indeed the Seal is easily the most impressive effort so far from BYD.

Apart from the low-speed crashiness, the ride and handling feel sorted – and particularly suited to UK roads – in a way that they don’t on other BYDs. In combination with the very comfortable seats and practical interior, that makes the Seal quite a pleasant long-distance cruiser.

It has the range to back that up as well, and the promise of additional robustness that the LFP battery tech brings appeals too.

Even so, it can’t completely shake a sense of haphazardness. There are the vibrations through the steering and poor driver assistance features, but the biggest culprit is the screen, whose software is ill-conceived for use on the move. When you need it to control everything from media to climate control and assisted driving, that’s a problem.

Overall, the BYD Seal is a likeable electric saloon, but then there is no shortage of those, and rivals still feel more polished, and are often cheaper.

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.