BYD Seal test drive, review: Elon Musk’s lucky it’s not on sale in US – Business Insider

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I drove BYD’s Seal electric car and Elon Musk may be grateful you can’t buy one in the US



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  • BYD has overtaken Tesla as the world’s biggest maker of electric vehicles.
  • I drove a Seal for a week and was impressed by its stylish design, features and crazy acceleration.
  • The Seal is a similar price to Tesla’s Model 3 in the UK — but BYD is not a well-known make.
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Last year BYD overtook Tesla as the world’s biggest seller of electric vehicles. The Chinese company does not sell cars in the US — and seemingly has no plans to do so.

That may have more to do with the tariffs imposed on Chinese imports than a lack of desire to enter the world’s second-biggest auto market — even if it is half the size of China (where about 30 million vehicles were sold in 2023).

However, three BYD models are available in the UK. The smallest is the Dolphin, a similar size to the Volkswagen I-3. It’s followed by the Atto 3, a compact SUV; and finally the Seal, a striking four-door sedan that’s the most expensive of the trio at about £45,700, or $57,500.

I borrowed a BYD Seal in Excellence trim, which also boasts all-wheel drive, for a week. I managed to get out of London on a rainy Sunday to put the car through its paces.

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Very stylish indeed

BYD Seal

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I’d barely made it a mile up the road from my house in South London when a driver in a Porsche SUV pulled up alongside me and started gesticulating wildly. He asked what I was driving, and I explained it was a BYD. It was clear he hadn’t heard of the make, which is no great surprise as neither had any of my friends, but the Porsche driver declared it striking nevertheless.

That lack of cache could be a bit of an issue given the fanciest Seal is priced between the base version of the Model 3 (about £40,000, or $50,000 with a 318-mile range per Tesla’s website) and the long-range version that’s about £50,000 ($62,200 with a 390-mile range.)

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Range rover

BYD Seal screen

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BYD says the Excellence has a maximum range of 372 miles and when the car was delivered to me it had 84% on the clock with a range of 272 miles.

By the time I got to Bognor Regis, just a few miles along the coast past Brighton about two-and-a-half hours later, I had 56% charge and 180 miles of range left. No anxiety whatsoever — unlike my neighbors who recently leased an electric Mini that has a range of about 120 miles.

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Clever touches galore

BYD Seal interior

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The Seal has upmarket touches like leather trim, and a plethora of clever features such as a driver’s seat that goes back a few inches automatically when you open the door. Even so it’s not very far off the ground, so climbing can be a minor contortion act.

It’s also the first car I’ve driven that has a heads-up display. It means you don’t have to take your eyes off the road to monitor your speed, but can also be quite distracting until you get used to it.

Hideaway handles

BYD Seal door handles

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Reading the spec sheet I see there are features I failed to discover, such as intelligent voice control. But one thing I did notice was the way the door handles pop out when you unlock the car, and then retract.

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Beep beep beep…

BYD dashboard

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The Seal has built-in 4G connectivity and is clever enough to tell you the speed limit on the screen behind the steering wheel and the heads-up display.

But another clever touch I quickly found incredibly annoying was the insistence on bleeping whenever I exceeded the speed limit by a mere two miles an hour. London now has a 20 mph limit, meaning the car was delivering its four-stage scolding over and over.

I eventually delved into the settings to turn the function off, but of course it turned itself on again after a certain period had elapsed. I can understand why, but it really did detract from the Seal’s many pleasures.

The thing I liked the most about it was the insane acceleration. This is also true of other EVs like Tesla, but it’s the first time I’ve been able to channel my inner boy racer and leave everything else in the rear-view mirror by zooming away when traffic lights turn green. It’s hard to convey just how quickly this car can hit 62 miles (100 kilometers) an hour — officially it’s 3.8 seconds.

Being a good law-abiding BI writer I didn’t exceed the freeway limit of 70 miles an hour (well, not by too much anyway), but 100 — or more — would’ve been no problem whatsoever. The all-wheel-drive Seal sticks to the road like a Ferrari (yes, I have driven one — twice in fact), and BYD boasts that the battery is integrated into the body for improved rigidity. I believe them.

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Plenty of room

BYD Seal back seat

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The back seat has ample room for two adults, or three at a pinch — and there are screens for them to connect devices to as well.

The 12-speaker sound system is superb and I very much enjoyed the soundtrack to my journey, which included Pet Shop Boys‘ seminal 1990 album “Behaviour,” Taylor Swift‘s “Midnights,” and the very fun “Last Man Dancing” from former Scissor Sisters frontman Jake Shears — all streamed from Spotify on my iPhone. (The car has both Apple Car Play and Android Auto.)

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Ample trunk space

BYD Seal trunk

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There’s room in the trunk for quite a lot of luggage — and there’s bonus storage under the hood to boot.

The entire roof is glass and mightily impressive, though does pose the possibility of getting sunburnt perhaps.

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Plug it in

BYD Seal

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I didn’t get a chance to plug in the Seal before handing it back, so I can’t give any insight into the speed or convenience, but BYD says going from 30% to 80% battery takes just 26 mins with DC charging.

Given the Seal’s range, most long-distance journeys are not going to be an issue — and that’s a big deal if you want a car for more than short hops around town.

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Lucky Tesla

Tesla Model 3 outside a house in San Francisco

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A Tesla Model 3.

Alistair Barr



I’ve not driven a Tesla myself — but that’s next on the list. Elon Musk‘s company competes with BYD in China, although Tesla didn’t make the 2023 top 10 on a list that BYD topped with about 2.5 million vehicle sales — and one in four were pure EVs, per China Passenger Car Association data.

Globally, BYD and related brands sold 3 million vehicles last year, putting it in the top 10 manufacturers for the first time.

Like its Chinese rivals, BYD would be priced out of the US market by steep import duties. Tesla should probably be grateful that’s the case, given BYD’s bigger model range and its emphasis on cheaper electric cars, such as the Seagull, which costs about $10,000 in China.

The TLDR: BYD’s Seal is a very impressive car and would definitely be on my radar if I were considering buying or leasing an upmarket EV.

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