Posted in

BYD’s Seal-U SUV comes with hybrid power – The Irish Times

It’s tilting so hard from the rain that the track officials have put out cones, not to indicate braking and turn-in points, but to show us where the deepest standing water is so we can veer around it. It’s the kind of weather that sees Formula 1 officials send out the safety car for a few hopeless laps before deciding it’s too dangerous to drive and the weekend is a failure.

But with a flash of orange lights, our own safety car wanders onto the track and drives straight ahead with us in tow. And it’s not hanging around either, despite the fact that the South China Sea is apparently trying to dump its entire body of water into this particular corner of the world.

That corner is a small kart track northwest of the enormous metropolis of Shenzhen, a city with 18 million inhabitants and an inexhaustible supply of skyscrapers. It is home to Build Your Dreams, or BYD, the major Chinese carmaker that entered the Irish market last year with three electric cars: the Atto 3 crossover, the Dolphin hatchback and the Seal sedan. Slightly silly names aside, all three are seriously impressive cars, thanks in no small part to their rugged, long-range Blade batteries, which use lithium iron phosphate chemistry – sturdier and with a longer lifespan than conventional lithium-ion batteries.

The car we drive onto the rain-soaked race track is the second member of the Seal family, with the somewhat sloppy name Seal-U. It steals a few design details from its lower-slung brother, such as the C-shaped LED headlights, but it’s a much bigger, bulkier and slightly duller SUV rather than the sleekly attractive four-door sedan. Still, SUVs are what people want, and this one is pleasantly practical, with roomy rear seats and a decent 552-litre boot.

BYD Seal U

The interior is nicely laid out and feels well made on this first impression. There’s the same rotating 15-inch screen in the center of the dash (which really needs a software upgrade to make it less fiddly to use) and the same neat crystal-like gear lever that you get in the Seal sedan.

BYD Seal U

However, the digital instruments are larger and clearer, and now mounted beneath a stylish-looking leatherette-clad dashboard rather than just having a free-standing screen, while the new three-spoke steering wheel also looks and feels suitably more expensive than that of the Seal salon .

It is also a plug-in hybrid. That may seem like a step back for a carmaker that prides itself on its high-tech batteries (BYD started life as a battery manufacturer and only expanded into car production in 2005), but Stella Li, the head of BYD Europe and one of the highest-ranking and most senior executives in the company have dismissed such potential criticism, pointing out that the current slump in electric car sales around the world is an indication that the majority of buyers do not trust the technology and prefer to wait and see before committing to the makes an electric jump.

For example, BYD is launching a completely new range of plug-in hybrid models called DM-i, which are based on a 1.5-liter petrol engine and large batteries that provide a usefully long electric driving range, but with the certainty of petrol power and a fuel tank for when you have to make a longer trip. Li claims that BYD’s experience in China shows that 80 percent of buyers of such cars will then switch to a fully electric car – and there will be a fully electric car.

That remains to be seen, but this Seal-U DM-i combines a 109 hp petrol engine with a 197 hp electric motor and an 18.3 kWh battery. That, BYD claims, gives an electric range on a full charge of more than 100 km (although that’s based on the Chinese official test, which generally produces more optimistic figures than the European WLTP test, flawed and all) and a totally combined gas station. and electric range of more than 1,000 km. That should put any distance anxiety to bed.

Performance is pleasantly brisk, with the Seal-U able to complete the 0-62mph sprint in 5.9 seconds, and on this particular track that feels more than fast enough for the day. Street cars generally feel completely at sea on a track, but the Seal-U actually handles itself quite well.

The steering is light but direct and although the inevitable understeer manifests itself in the tighter corners, it feels much more controlled and composed than you might expect. We can’t be sure of the ride quality, thanks to the slickness of the track, but a few wheels hitting the ridged curbs at the edges of the track didn’t cause the wheels to bang and crash, so hopefully that’s a good thing sign.

The Seal-U should arrive in Ireland this autumn in this hybrid form, followed by the fully electric versions. We haven’t had enough time with it to do more than scratch the surface of what pros and cons it might have, but on this basis it seems like a competent, well-rounded SUV, and if BYD’s pricing is this competitive if it tends If so, it could well be a good counterpart for the Toyota RAV4 PHEV and the Peugeot 3008 hybrid, among others.