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Andy Harris
Motoring and Property Editor
@ytimesmotoring
12:00 AM 25th November 2023
cars

BYD Dolphin Launch Review

 
It is not often that car launches take place on my patch, but that is exactly what happened recently with a regional launch for BYD’s Dolphin. A long association with the company’s PR, I suggested the hotel and planned the drive route. A new career in the making perhaps?

What Is It?
For those not familiar with Chinese company BYD, a little background. They are the third most valuable car company in the world and have been around for three decades. Of more significance, they are also the number one producer of electric cars globally. In addition, they also build buses, trucks, and monorails. And there’s more… they also provide Tesla, Toyota, and other manufacturers with batteries.

The Dolphin is the second car to be launched in the UK, with the Atto 3 SUV its first entry, which we reviewed back in July. Dolphin is BYD’s smallest and cheapest offering, with prices starting at a very reasonable £26,195 for the base model. Even then, the 45kWh battery should be good for some 200+ miles and comes with a decent level of standard equipment. Expect to find a 12.8-inch rotatable infotainment screen, smart alloy wheels and vegan leather upholstery on all models.

How Does It Drive?
Leave behind the base model and you will find most Dolphins will come equipped with a larger 60.4kWh battery mated to a 204bhp front-mounted motor. Range is now quoted at 265 and it will charge faster too. Torque is a heady 310Nm, giving the car enough firepower to suit most drivers. The 0-60mph sprint time is a tad under seven seconds and in dry conditions at least, putting the power down is straightforward enough.

I would stop short of saying the Dolphin is a car to excite the motoring enthusiast, but on my test route through the Dales on some reasonably challenging roads, it acquitted itself quite well. The steering lacks feel, but the car is easy enough to place accurately on the road.

The multi-link rear suspension, standard on all but the base model, prioritises ride comfort over outright handling, and push hard enough through a series of tight bends, and body roll does become rather pronounced and a tad wallowy. However, on rough urban roads, the ride will impress.

Our test cars were fitted with LingLong Comfort tyres, but customer cars will come on much more familiar Hankook rubber. They should improve the car’s handling.

The Inside Story
The Dolphin hides its size well and although it would appear to be in the supermini in class, it is in fact longer than many from the class above, such a VW’s Golf and ID.3. That being the case there is room for four reasonably sized adults to spread out, leg and headroom being plentiful.

Generous though the cabin may be, the boot is a little on the small side at just 345 litres. Fold the back seats down and this increases to 1,310 litres. A family holiday might see the need for a roof box, but everyday shopping needs should be easily accommodated.

I drove the top ‘Design’ model which comes with a full-length panoramic roof, bathing the cabin in natural light. Two-tone paint, rear privacy glass and wireless mobile phone charging are amongst the highlights over lesser models.

The front seats proved to be easily adjustable and the driving position good. An hour or so behind the wheel was perhaps not enough to discover if they are cosseting enough should a long journey be undertaken. The heating elements proved to be delightfully powerful and were very welcome.

Interior trim quality is quite reasonable at this price point, with plenty of padding on the surfaces that you most come in contact with. The dash is sensibly laid out and as in the Atto 3, the central display screen can be rotated through 90 degrees from portrait to landscape. I am sure an owner will quickly decide which they prefer and never alter it.

Charging
Find a 100kW charger or better, easier to do than it was some years ago, and the Dolphin can be charged from 30 to 80% in just 29 minutes. Time to answer the call of nature, grab a coffee and a sandwich. Most buyers will want to charge at home and BYD has formed a partnership with Shell. A cheap overnight charge will not break the bank, with many energy companies now offering special EV tariffs.

I would mention that fast public charging does seem to be getting more and more expensive. Leading operator Gridserve charge 69p per kWh, whilst rival Ionity are dearer still at 74p per kWh.

The Rivals
The two most obvious cars rivalling the BYD Dolphin also emanate from China. The MG name may be familiar to many, but this is now a Chinese brand. The MG4 can be had from £26,995 and is more engaging to drive. However, the Dolphin offers a more cossetting interior and a better ride, so you pays your money…

Another newcomer is the bizarrely named Ora Funky Cat. Owned by Great Wall Motors, the name is going to be changed early in the next year to the Ora O3 – better in my opinion. I had one on test for the week and liked the interior quality and space. The range is less than both the Dolphin and MG4 and prices start at £31,995.

However, the nannying safety tech which included a camera monitoring where the driver was looking drove me completely mad, thus dismissing it for me from any list of contenders. I am sure they will improve.

We can expect affordable new entries from the VW Group and Stellantis in the coming years, but for the time being, China seems to be producing some of the best affordable EVs.

Verdict
BYD are expanding rapidly and will have 27 dealerships by the end of this year. This is set to increase to around 100 by the end of 2024. They are destined to become a serious force in the electric car market in the UK and if their first two offerings are anything to go by, strong sales will follow.

In the New Year I hope to have longer exposure to the Atto 3 and Dolphin, but just next month I will be at the launch of the new Seal model, an undoubted Tesla Model 3 rival. I’ve already had a look at one on static display and I’m told it drives as well as it looks. I will report back before the festive break.