BYD Atto 3 review: No spicy drive in this Chinese takeaway

The Atto 3 from Chinese manufacturer BYD won’t stand out from the crowd in term of external styling but the interior design is full of innovation and freshness
BYD Atto 3 review: No spicy drive in this Chinese takeaway

BYD Atto 3. Pictures: Aidan Oliver





€37,128 - €38,964 as tested in design spec


a 201bhp electric motor


a worth 420km

The Spec

probably the single most impressive thing about it


a little dull, but shows promise from the brand

The Chinese are coming – thick and fast – in case you hadn’t noticed.

In recent times we have reviewed the new MG4 and the curiously named Ora Funky Cat, both of which form the first wave of Chinese-made cars to be sold across Europe. This week we dip our toes into Chinese waters again, this time with the Build Your Dreams Atto 3 – yet another car with an off-kilter handle.

These harbingers of a new flavour of automotive cuisine are only the tasting menu because what’s down the road is a veritable cookbook tsunami of vehicles from the People’s Republic which is going to shake up the European establishment in this sphere even more so than those of fellow Asians in Japan and South Korea.

In Europe and across the globe from the late ‘60’s on, the Japanese first started to take a toe hold with cheap, well-equipped and largely reliable motors. Their influence now is massive and brands like Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Mitsubishi, Suzuki, Subaru and Mazda, among others, are now part of our motoring culture just as much as Volkswagen, Ford, BMW and the rest of the Western manufacturers.

It was a similar story with the South Koreans, although they did not really start getting their automotive mojo together until the late ‘80’s with – guess what – cheap, well-equipped and largely reliable motors. The likes of Hyundai and Kia are, by now, part of the automotive landscape across Europe too.

Now it’s the turn of the Chinese and while the initial waves are only now lapping at our shores, the big waves are coming – and soon.

BYD – an acronym for Build Your Dreams – is based in the Chinese city of Xi’an and was actually founded only 20 years ago but, mirroring the country’s startling economic development, has since gone on to build cars, buses, trucks, electric bicycles, forklifts, superconductors and rechargeable batteries.

In June last year, it overtook Tesla as the world’s largest manufacturer of electric vehicles, selling some 641,000 of them in the first half of that year alone. These guys are not bit-part payers.

BYD Atto 3 futuristic interior
BYD Atto 3 futuristic interior

In 2019, BYD established a global design centre, featuring designers who had previously worked for the likes of Audi, Mercedes and Ferrari, under the guidance of Wolfgang Egger, who previously worked for such as SEAT, Lancia, Alfa Romeo and Audi.

The Atto 3, you would have thought, should have a very identifiable and unique look and stand out in a crowd, but it does not and in fact the car does little to differentiate itself from those made by brands here in Europe.

Now it might be a stretch to suggest that the modern Chinese reputation for being brilliant industrial copyists has also filtered into its car making businesses, but it is obvious to these eyes that this car has taken a few strings from the VW bow.

Indeed the Atto 3 looks like something that was designed to fit right in between that company’s ID.3 and ID.4 models – an ID.3.5, perhaps. It is understandable that the Chinese would look to something successful to, er, build their dreams upon, but the level of plagiarisation here is a little unsettling.

In fairness, while the exterior design might look terribly familiar, the interior design is full of innovation and freshness. The whole dashboard layout is pioneering and when you see the way the company has got a fresh take on routine stuff like air vents, door handles and door pockets, you will indeed admit they’ve got something decent going on here.

The air vents look like something from Star Wars – a T47 airspeeder, maybe – while the circular handles to open the doors from the inside are among the most eye-catching designs of the genre I’ve ever seen. And the door pockets with their ‘bass guitar’ strings stretched fore to aft are also really neat and just a tad daft, but great looking.

The material used to clothe much of the interior, however, has the feel and texture of leatherette and looks just about as appealing. It is described as ‘vegan leather’ and is not particularly attractive.

Tech levels are, on the other hand, surprisingly bountiful and one of the car’s big ‘tricks’ is the 15.6” infotainment screen on the top-level Design spec we tested which, with a push of a button on the steering wheel, will swing 90 degrees to become a portrait screen, which is unusual, but not to these eyes a game-changer.

That is particularly so when you realise that in the upright position, it actually blocks a substantial amount of the view out the windscreen.

BYD Atto 3 interior
BYD Atto 3 interior

Interior space is largely good, but the panoramic sunroof does take a little headroom from the outer two rear seats The boot too is a decent size and there is also a false floor to hide the charging cables.

All the above is decent enough and puts the Atto 3 well onto the black side of the balance sheet, but this is where things get a little askew, because as a driving prospect the car lacks much of the dynamism we have come to expect from even the smallest automobile these days.

It might be that the suspension set-up is aimed more for comfort than any on-road abilities, but that shows up some fairly glaring issues. The handling is soggy and issues that used to be commonplace on mid-range cars – stuff like torque steer and snatchy and squealy take-offs – rear their head here and you will also find the ride a bit wallowy.

This is very definitely not a car built for speed and is far happier when tootling along. It most certainly doesn’t like an 'on the door handles’ style of driving.

There is a 201 bhp electric motor allied to a 60.5kWh battery and only the front wheels are driven, which may explain some of the car’s driving traits. It is quick enough to post a 7.3 second 0-100 km/h time, but it doesn’t really like that sort of thing.

The 420 km range is worthy – and achievable – but, of the three driving modes – ECO, Normal and Sport – only Sport seems to wake the car up from a seeming lethargy it is reluctant to shake off. 

There are also two levels of brake energy regeneration, but neither is particularly aggressive so don’t expect any one-pedal driving here.

All told then, this is a package which will appeal to many Irish drivers, but enthusiastic ones – forget it. As a precursor for what’s down the road as BYD builds its own and your dreams – there’s something like nine new models in the pipeline – it portends well and while there’s a lot to build on yet, the signs are that this Chinese manufacturer will not be long in addressing them.

A somewhat tentative first stab, then, the Atto 3 is a firm indicator that the initial Chinese efforts aim to get a foot in the door with European clientele will achieve just that. 

Don’t be surprised if what comes next kicks the door down altogether.

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