BYD's first model to hit the Australian market is already making a big impression, and with the value-for-money it offers it's easy to see why.

Although a new car brand launching in Australia was once a bit of a rarity, such is the current nature of the automotive industry that there’s something totally new hitting our roads every few months. First it was Polestar, then Cupra, and now BYD – hailing from China as an affordable contender in the rapidly growing EV space.

Locally distributed by EVDirect, the Australian launch of the BYD brand hasn’t relied on advertising but instead word mouth and a physical shopfront presence in all States and Territories, with it starting small by launching just one model initially – the 2023 Atto 3, a fully electric SUV originally called the Yuan Plus in its home market, although more models are on the way to join it.

Offered in a sole fully-laden specification, your only real choice beyond what colour you’d like it in is which battery you’d prefer. Standard Range models start at $48,011 before on-road costs and offers 345km of range (WLTP) from a 49.92kWh battery, but here we’re testing the Extended Range model which over 90 percent of buyers are opting for so far, with it offering 420km range from a 60.48kWh battery and coming in at a price of $51,011 before on-road costs. Do note, as well, that prices were raised by $3600 back in December 2022 so it was initially even cheaper.

Right off the bat, it’s clear that BYD is trying to create a distinct look for each of its models, with the smart design of the Atto 3 looking unique when stood next to the Dolphin hatch and Seal sedan which are due to join it later this year. Other than the taillight design which is a little bit Mercedes, it’s also nice that it’s not too derivative a design. Mind you, I could do without the ‘Build Your Dreams’ script (yes, that’s what BYD stands for) running across the boot lid, but all in all this is a smart piece of design.

Automatic LED headlights with auto high-beam, 18-inch alloy wheels, roof rails, a panoramic sunroof, a powered tailgate, and heated and power folding mirrors are all items you’ll notice are standard on the outside of the Atto 3, meaning BYD hasn’t skimped on equipment.

The same must be said for the interior as well which, before you realise how well equipped it is, will first hit you with what is a striking, funky design. Although some more traditional buyers might be put off by it, I’m a massive fan of the design with everything made that bit more fun. The dashboard and door cards are beautifully sculpted, the perforation on the seats is utterly ornate, and the blue, white, and red colour palette gives it some real vibrance. Sure, much of the leather used in places feels every bit as synthetic as it is, but the plushness of it all makes this interior feel like it belongs in a much pricier car.

Mind you, there are a few gimmicks and quirks you’ll need to get around in here, the most prominent being the massive 12.8-inch infotainment screen in the middle of the dashboard. The system it uses is certainly straightforward – it’s based on the Android Automotive platform, meaning it’s slick and easy to use – but the screen itself can rotate between portrait and landscape orientations. Why? You tell me. Other than it giving you a greater view on the sat nav map of what’s ahead of you, it seems pretty pointless to me. I also noticed that with my polarised sunglasses on, it was hard to see the screen when in its portrait orientation.

The screen for the speedo is also a bit unusual, but this time in a good way. It’s only a tiny 5.0-inch display, but because it’s mounted on the steering column it’s close enough to you that it doesn’t matter. Because of this positioning, it’s also always in the right place no matter where the steering wheel is positioned, and I’m sure it helps make left-hand drive and right-hand drive production a bit easier too. The screen is pretty straightforward with the usual trip computer read-outs, although rather unexpectedly it also contains a tool for measuring 0-100km/h acceleration runs.

Even the door handles in here are a bit quirky, with them being an upright padded surface that you pull towards you to release. There’s a speaker located inside each one as well with an ambient lighting strip circling it that pulsates in time with your music as well. The door pockets are also made that bit more odd as your belongings are held in place by three thick strings that you can pluck as if they were affixed to a bass guitar.

Getting in can be just as unusual as well, as while there is a conventional key fob with keyless entry buttons on the door handles, you can instead use an NFC reader on top of the mirror to unlock and lock the car with a card that’s sized to fit inside your wallet.

Of course, the equipment list in here is also very strong, with the infotainment system having recently been upgraded with Apple CarPlay as an over-the-air update; Android Auto is also planned for an upcoming update, although both still require a cable despite there being a wireless phone charger. Voice activation was also recently added to it as well, with it able to even do things like open the sunroof for you after calling upon it by saying “Hi, BYD”.

An eight-speaker Dirac HD audio system, heated and power adjustable front seats, single-zone climate control with a PM2.5 air filter, one-touch windows, and an array of USB-A and USB-C charging points are also fitted as standard, meaning you’re not left wanting for much in here. It’s also worth mentioning that this cabin is plenty roomy and has a storage pocket hollowed out in the middle of the centre console to accompany its deep central storage compartment under the armrest. Boot space is also impressive at 440 litres, expanding to 1340 litres with the rear seats folded down.

There’s also a strong array of standard safety technology including lane centring, adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, forward and rear collision warning, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, safe exit alert, and lane departure warning which, along with seven airbags, help it achieve a five-star ANCAP safety rating.

Under the bonnet, both Standard Range and Extended Range models use the same single electric motor for propulsion, with it channeling 150kW and 310Nm to the front wheels alone. That’s good enough to get it from 0-100km/h in 7.3 seconds, although I managed to get it to a time of under seven seconds according to the timer in the instrument cluster, with it making it to 50km/h in under three seconds.

What’s more unusual, however, is the battery technology BYD has developed and utilises. Rather than the more common lithium-ion batteries you see in most EVs which utilise cobalt and nickel – both controversial minerals – in combination with manganese or aluminium, the Atto 3’s Blade battery (named such due to the long, thin shape of its modules) is a lithum iron phosphate type which doesn’t require the use of cobalt or nickel at all. The same batteries are also starting to be used in European-delivered Tesla Model Ys, so BYD isn’t keeping the tech for itself. BYD is also planning to produce sodium-ion batteries which eliminate the need for lithium and reduce costs further, but already these LFP batteries are a step in the right direction.

As you’d expect from an EV, the Atto 3’s power delivery is smooth, seamless, and silent, with its solid power and torque outputs feeling right on the money for a car of this size. It’s punchy off the mark and perfectly adept for overtaking on country roads, but ultimately ideally-suited to the city streets where these will likely spend most of their time.

The steering, too, feels nicely weighted around town with just the right amount of resistance to make it feel connected but easy to manoeuvre. Its ride quality is fairly good as well, although I did noticed it felt a tad busy on some poorly-maintained roads, but all in all it isolated most hits well. Although there are only two regenerative braking settings – normal or strong – it felt like the ideal amount of regen assistance as well.

Where it isn’t quite as poised is when you push it on a twistier backroad – there, the steering can feel a bit rubbery and there’s some noticeable body roll through and torque steer on the exit from corners. Of course, most owners are unlikely to do this sort of driving in this (or, indeed, any SUV like this) but it’s worth noting in a car that has some sporting pretensions, given the 0-100km/h timer, and because it’s commentary like this that motivated Hyundai and Kia to develop specific suspension tuning for the Australian market.

On the latter point there – torque steer – I don’t think that’s as much the car as it is the tyres fitted to it. Beyond their amusing name, Atlas Batman A51, they’re the only thing that spoils the Atto 3’s serene ambiance, as above 60km/h there’s some noticeable tyre roar from them and they allow more wheelspin than you’d like off the line. They’ll be fine for those sticking to city roads, but if you’re venturing further afield I’d personally recommend some improved rubber; hopefully that’s something BYD may consider giving the Atto 3 from the factory in a future update given its key rivals from MG, Hyundai, and Kia come on Michelin or Continental treads.

But I should make the point that these are all merely constructive and nit-picky points as, on the whole, the Atto 3 is a genuinely impressive thing to drive. For the sort of customers it’s likely to attract, the way it rides and drives will be right on the money. It’s also far more impressive from behind the wheel than what is its closest rival, the MG ZS EV – which does hold the crown for Australia’s cheapest EV, although like-for-like pricing between this and it (that’d be the Atto 3 Standard Range versus the ZS EV Essence) sees them splitting hairs with a $21 MSRP difference. Simply, the BYD’s road manners and performance outclass the MG’s in a straight-sets sweep. The Atto 3 is even hot on the heels of the Hyundai Kona Electric and Kia Niro EV despite a big step up in price to those Korean rivals.

It’s also worth highlighting that its range claims are quite fair as well, as I saw energy consumption of 15.3kWh/100km on my 110km test loop which included a mix of city, highway, and backroad driving. At that rate, it would manage 395km on a charge – 25km off the estimate – but when sat in city traffic it was only using around 13kWh/100km which would see it smash the 420km claim on paper.

BYD offers a six-year/150,000km vehicle warranty for the Atto 3, although there are a few asterisks attached to that. Fortunately, the warranty for the battery is longer at eight years/160,000km, and the electric motor is warrantied for eight years/150,000km. However, other items such as the lights and suspension are only warrantied for four years/100,000km, and the infotainment system and wheel bearings are only warrantied for three years/60,000km so be sure to read the fine print.

The Atto 3 is also offered with one year of complimentary roadside assistance, and BYD has two capped price servicing packages on offer. After a complimentary three-month/5000km check, servicing is required every 12 months/20,000km with an average cost of $299 per service which is on the high side, but if you drive your car less than 10,000km per year, BYD will cap the price for the first five years/60,000km to $189. Servicing is available through BYD Service and Repair Centres or selected mycar locations.

For what is a debut effort in our market, BYD is certainly exceeding expectations with the Atto 3. With a blend of smart styling, a funky and ornate interior, and performance that eclipses its nearest rival, it’s no wonder that a flood of these have already hit the road despite the brand’s low-key but comprehensive launch.

If a budget EV is something you’ve been in the market for, this really has to be a strong contender for your consideration. Unless you’d want to spring the extra cash for a Tesla Model 3 and sacrifice some practicality in the name of performance, it’s hard to look past just what the Atto 3 offers for the money. And, not to mention, it’s an EV you can truly start to feel good about given its battery technology.

Once BYD’s Australian lineup is fleshed out with the Dolphin and Seal later this year, there’s no doubt in my mind that the brand’s popularity will reach an even higher level. The array of naming choices might be a bit questionable, but believe me, they’ll be on a lot of people’s lips.

2023 BYD Atto 3 Extended Range List Price: $51,011
  • 8/10
    Performance - 8/10
  • 7/10
    Ride & Handling - 7/10
  • 8.5/10
    Tech & Features - 8.5/10
  • 8/10
    Practicality - 8/10
  • 8.5/10
    Value for Money - 8.5/10

Pros: Bold interior gives it some real character, smooth and punchy acceleration, packed with an impressive amount of features for the money, cobalt and nickel-free battery technology
Cons: Bold interior might alienate some buyers, would benefit greatly from improved body control, ‘Batman’ tyres are noisy and don’t inspire confidence, complex warranty and servicing costs

In a nutshell: For what is BYD’s debut into the Australian market, the Atto 3 greatly exceeds expectations by delivering a package that feels thoughtful, comprehensive, and resolved. It might be a bit quirky for some, but the excellent value-for-money that it offers is something anyone should be able to get around.

Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by EVDirect for one day with a full charge upon collection.

Patrick Jackson
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