New BYD Seal vs BMW i4 vs Tesla Model 3: interiors

BYD is a relative newcomer to the UK, so can its Seal executive saloon beat the established competition in the shape of the BMW i4 and Tesla Model 3?...

BYD Seal dashboard

Behind the wheel

Driving position, visibility, build quality

The BYD Seal and BMW i4 have typical saloon driving positions, which is to say you sit fairly low behind the steering wheel, with the traditional set of dials (albeit digital) mounted right in front of you. Our only real gripe with the Seal is that the top of the steering wheel cuts off the top of the dials, making it tricky to see such crucial information as your selected driving mode and current gear. We also don’t quite understand why BYD has devoted so much display real estate to the kW figure (current power draw), because this information serves no great purpose.

You sit higher up in the Tesla Model 3 relative to its low-mounted dashboard, but this enhances visibility. It also has the most comfortable and supportive front seats of the trio; the BMW’s are a touch firm and don’t come with electric adjustment or configurable lumbar support as standard (you’ll need the £2050 Comfort Plus Pack for those), while the BYD’s seats are too soft and therefore don’t provide adequate support.

BMW i4 dashboard

That said, finding your ideal driving position in the Model 3 is a challenge in itself, because you have to delve into the touchscreen menus to adjust the steering wheel and door mirrors.

As part of the Model 3’s facelift, the control stalks were removed. In their place you now have buttons to flash the lights, wash the windscreen, access the surround-camera view and trigger the indicators – all mounted on the steering wheel itself. We found the indicator controls particularly tricky to get used to because, unlike in a Ferrari or a Lamborghini, both the left and right turn signals are positioned on the left side of the steering wheel.

This reductionist approach also means that, unlike the i4 and Seal, there’s no digital instrument panel in front of you, and a head-up display isn’t available as an option. Therefore, all of your information, including your speed and navigation instructions, is displayed on the central screen. Mercifully, Tesla has placed the speed readout in the top right-hand corner of the screen, so you don’t have to tilt your head too far to read it, but it’s still not ideal.

Tesla Model 3 dashboard

And there’s more. The gear selector stalk has also gone; to engage drive or reverse, you either need to use the touchscreen or some touchpads above your head next to the interior lights. There is also a predictive mode, which we found surprisingly good at guessing which way you intend to go. With this, the car’s suggestion flashes up on the touchscreen when you jump behind the wheel, and you just need to tap the brake pedal to accept it.

When it comes to build quality, the i4 just has the edge over the Model 3 – although it’s closer than you might expect. Both cars feature configurable ambient lighting, plenty of plush, soft-to-the-touch materials and fairly convincing faux leather upholstery, but the i4 feels a touch more solid in its construction.

The Seal, meanwhile, embraces a more eclectic mix of materials, but search lower down and it doesn’t take long to find harder and cheaper-feeling plastics – even though some of the controls, including the knurled metal scroll wheels next to the gear selector, feel pretty upmarket.

Infotainment systems

BYD Seal

BYD Seal touchscreen

Like other BYD models, the Seal has a large (15.6in) infotainment touchscreen. Its graphics are crisp enough, but the screen could be brighter and more responsive to inputs. To access the shortcut menu, you’re supposed to swipe down on the screen, but we found this unreliable on our test car. The screen can also rotate between landscape mode (for sat-nav) or portrait (for Spotify). However, it won’t rotate from landscape orientation if you’re using smartphone mirroring.

BMW i4

BMW i4 touchscreen

With a few too many icons and sub-menus, BMW’s iDrive system isn’t as brilliantly intuitive as it once was – but it’s still the best infotainment system around. It’s quick to respond to inputs, has pin-sharp graphics and its physical rotary controller (between the front seats) makes operation easier and safer on the move. Smartphone mirroring means you can use phone apps such as Waze and Spotify via the screen; it’s just a shame the standard sound system lacks punch.

Tesla Model 3

Tesla Model 3 touchscreen

The Model 3’s update brought a brighter, 15.4in central infotainment touchscreen. The operating system remains intuitive by touchscreen standards, the screen is quick to respond to inputs and there are loads of features, including navigation, web browsing and media apps (including Spotify and Netflix). It’s a bit disappointing that no Model 3 has Apple CarPlay or Android Auto smartphone mirroring, but the native software is so good that you hardly miss it.

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