What Car? says...
The BYD Seal is the third model BYD has launched in the UK in quick succession, so the Chinese car maker clearly has big dreams of doing well here – which is rather appropriate, what with BYD standing for Build Your Dreams.
It might sound like a tall order for any newcomer to take on the mighty Model 3 and win, but the BYD Seal has some impressive numbers to show it's not all smooth styling and no substance. For example, the entry-level car can do more than 350 miles between charges while the range-topper can accelerate from 0-62mph in less than four seconds.
And that's good – because the Model 3 isn't the only car it's up against. The BYD Seal is jumping headfirst into an arena that features the likes of the BMW i4, the Hyundai Ioniq 6 and the Polestar 2.
So, can the new flagship BYD model hold its own against the best electric cars? That’s what we’ll tell you in this review, as we rate it in important areas such as performance, comfort, range, charging and practicality.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
The BYD Seal is available in two main versions – one with a single motor for rear-wheel drive (the Design RWD) and the other with two motors providing four-wheel drive (the Excellence AWD).
Let's start with the top-of-the-range four-wheel-drive model, which has an official electric range of up to 323 miles. It's quicker from 0-62mph than all versions of the Model 3, with an official time of 3.8 seconds. When you put your foot down, it takes off with immediate vigour, forcing you back into your seat.
That kind of pace is good to have, but we suspect the entry-level Design model – which has a very competitive official range of up to 354 miles between charges – will be more than quick enough for most buyers. The 0-62mph time is a still impressive 5.9 seconds, and it will easily overtake slow-moving traffic and get you up to speed on a motorway sliproad.
With so much power on tap and a heavy battery to carry around, you might assume that the Seal would feature a firm suspension set-up to keep everything in check, but that’s not the case. The suspension feels well-tuned for the UK’s broken roads, with enough plushness to soak up raised ironwork but enough control to stop you floating around over undulations.
The all-wheel-drive Seal comes with semi-adaptive dampers while the Design version gets a passive set-up, but in truth, both deliver a very similar ride. Our only complaint is that particularly coarse surfaces send an underlying fidget up through the steering-wheel column.
Speaking of coarse surfaces, the Seal also drums up a noticeable amount of road noise, but wind noise is at least well contained, with double-glazed front windows standard on both versions.
When it comes to handling, BYD says the Seal is a sporty vehicle, and it makes a good go of it, although it’s not as dynamic as the BMW i4 or the Porsche Taycan. Body lean is well contained and the Excellence-AWD even gets a torque-vectoring system to help increase the grip on offer. Like the Model 3, it's a very quick car from point to point, but it doesn't particularly involve you in the driving process.
We’re also not fans of the weirdly weighted steering, which feels quite numb and slow around the centre point before suddenly gaining substantial weight and causing the nose to dart into corners. Setting the steering to Sport doesn’t improve matters, with the extra weight making it feel as if you’re steering through treacle. The i4 and Model 3 have a more natural feeling set-up.
Strengths Impressive acceleration; good body control; wind noise is well-contained
Weaknesses Dual-motor version has an unsettled ride at speed; steering is vague around the centre point
The interior layout, fit and finish
When you take a seat in the front of the BYD Seal, you quickly appreciate that the driving position is fundamentally sound and easy to tailor to your shape.
The seats are electrically adjustable with a memory function, and there's four-way manual steering-wheel adjustment. Better still, the seats are so supportive that you won’t even bemoan the fact that adjustable lumbar support is only available on the top-spec version.
Things are less impressive when it comes to visibility. True, the view out of the front is fine, but the sloping roof and small rear windows conspire to reduce the view over your shoulder, making it a challenge to see what’s in your blind-spot.
To make up for the view and make parking easier, every Seal comes with front and rear parking sensors, and a 360-degree camera that displays a video feed and a digitised version of the Seal on the infotainment screen. It allows you to drag your finger around the screen to rotate your virtual car and see what’s around you.
The Seal's designers – appropriately for BYD's flagship model in Europe – didn’t hold back when it came to the interior. It's filled with a mix of high-quality materials, ranging from leather to suede. You won’t find any cheap-feeling plastics unless you go searching, and it's more pleasant to sit in than the austere Hyundai Ioniq 6, although the cheaper Tesla Model 3 is even plusher.
The construction of the Seal’s surfaces feels impressively sturdy, and even its rotating screen doesn’t wobble when you tug at it – something we’ve experienced in some very expensive Mercedes models. Our only real complaint is that the shut line between the internal door panel and the dashboard is cavernous.
Like other BYD models, the Seal has a large (15.6in) infotainment touchscreen that takes centre stage. The graphics are crisp enough but it’s not particularly bright or responsive. To to access the shortcut menu you need to swipe down on the screen, but we found this feature unreliable.
There are not many physical buttons or dials in the Seal, so the touchscreen has to manage the climate control and other functions. The result is a system that requires you to navigate through menu after menu to find what you’re looking for, which is far from ideal when you're driving. We much prefer the BMW i4’s physical rotary controller.
Strengths Great materials and build quality; comfortable and supportive seats
Weaknesses Rear visibility could be better; busy infotainment system
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
Both versions of the BYD Seal come with a glass panoramic roof, but unlike in some car models, it doesn't rob you of head room – it adds more in the front. That means two six-footers will easily get comfortable.
There’s also plenty of leg room and bucket loads of shoulder room, so you won't be knocking elbows with your passenger.
There’s plenty of storage in the front, with occupants treated to decent-sized door bins, a wireless charging pad that holds two mobiles phones, a deep cubby in the central armrest and a large section in the hollowed out centre console. There are also two cupholders built into the centre console with variable depth, allowing you to raise and lower them depending on the size of your drink.
Rear head room is sufficient rather than generous thanks to the Seal’s sloping roofline. As a result, a six-footer will fit in each of the outer seats, but their head will be far closer to the roof than in the BMW i4, the Polestar 2 or the Tesla Model 3. Middle-seat passengers will have an even worse time of it, because the raised seat means even those under six feet tall will brush the roof.
Rear leg room, meanwhile, is more promising. It’s almost on par with the cavernous Hyundai Ioniq 6, allowing taller passengers to stretch out on longer journeys. And while there's no space under the front seats for your feet, we didn’t find this to be a problem due to the amount of space on offer.
The Seal has a 400-litre boot, which just about matches the Ioniq 6’s for volume but lags behind the Model 3's. Even so, it’ll be big enough to swallow a family’s holiday luggage or a week's shopping. It doesn’t have a variable-height floor, but you do get space under the floor for your cables – freeing up the 53-litre front boot for extra storage.
Indeed, the main problem with the Seal’s boot is that, like in the Ioniq 6 and the Model 3, it only has a small opening, making it hard to load in tall items of luggage. The i4’s hatchback boot is bigger and more versatile.
Strengths Plenty of front head and leg room; lots of storage space
Weaknesses Tight rear headroom; saloon boot makes it hard to load tall items
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
As a cash purchase, the entry-level BYD Seal Design RWD will cost you about the same as the entry-level Polestar 2. That makes it quite a bit more expensive than the Tesla Model 3 and it only just undercuts the BMW i4 and the Hyundai Ioniq 6.
Indeed, the value in the range looks to be the top-spec version. Not only do you get more power and greater traction courtesy of all-wheel drive, but it only costs a fraction more than the regular rear-wheel-drive Seal. It also undercuts the Long Range Model 3, the Long Range AWD Ioniq 6 and the i4 M50.
Standard equipment on both versions includes 19in alloy wheels, an electric tailgate, heated and ventilated seats with electrical adjustment and a memory function, dual-zone air conditioning, a heat pump (to improve efficiency), adaptive cruise control, keyless entry, touchscreen infotainment and parking aids.
The Seal’s Blade battery has a maximum charging rate of 150kW, so if you can find a really quick public charger you should be able to top up from 10% to 80% in around 38 minutes. That’s slower than the i4 (200kW), the Ioniq 6 (220kW) and the Model 3 (up to 170kW for the RWD and 250kW for the Long Range) – plus, the Model 3 has access to the dependable and fast Tesla Supercharger network.
We don’t have any reliability data for the Seal or BYD as a brand yet, so we’ll have to see how it fares over the next few years. It does come with a generous six years/93,000 miles warranty, which is above average, although Kia gives you seven years. The Seal's battery has its own eight years/124,000 miles warranty.
The Seal scored a full five stars in its Euro NCAP safety test, although the Ioniq 6 did a slightly better job of protecting adults in a front impact.
The Seal also benefits from a comprehensive suite of standard safety aids to stop you from getting into a crash in the first place. They include automatic emergency braking (AEB), blind-spot detection, active lane assist, front and rear cross-traffic alert, and traffic-sign recognition.
Strengths Lots of standard equipment and safety features; generous warranty
Weaknesses Charges up less quickly than rivals
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In short, yes. It’s comfortable to drive around in, surprisingly dynamic on a country road and has an impressive range between charges. The entry-level Design version officially goes around 50 miles further than the Tesla Model 3.
Officially, the top-spec dual-motor Seal is capable of travelling up to 323 miles on a single charge, while the entry-level single motor will cover 354 miles.