New BYD Seal vs BMW i4 vs Tesla Model 3

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 vs BMW i4 vs Tesla Model 3 front driving

The contenders

NEW BYD Seal Design

List price £45,695
Target Price £45,695

Chinese newcomer has a huge battery and an official range of more than 350 miles. Is it a good car in other ways, though?

BMW i4 eDrive35 M Sport

List price £52,255
Target Price £49,174

The closest thing to an electric 3 Series, and this entry-level eDrive35 version trades some power and range for a lower price tag

Tesla Model 3 RWD

List price £39,990
Target Price £39,990

Recently refreshed version of Tesla’s cheapest car offers updated looks (inside and out), new tech, a longer range and a lower price

Earlier this year, the fact that Chinese brand BYD had overtaken Tesla to become the world's biggest seller of electric cars hit the headlines. However, popularity and excellence aren't always linked, as evidenced by the fact that the first two models from BYD – the Atto 3 family SUV and Dolphin family hatchback – are decent rather than great.

The third model from the brand to arrive in the UK, though, is its most ambitious yet. Called the BYD Seal, it's an electric executive car that will serve as a flagship for the brand and is gunning for the Tesla Model 3.

BYD Seal rear cornering

Like the Model 3, it comes in rear-wheel-drive (RWD) or four-wheel-drive (AWD) guises, and here we're testing it in the former, which has a mighty official range of 354 miles and a standard equipment list that looks just as comprehensive as its Californian counterpart’s.

Even so, the Model 3 will be tough to beat. It's been the benchmark car in this class for some time, and Tesla hasn't been resting on its laurels; it recently freshened up the Model 3's looks, revised the interior and increased the range – from 305 to 318 miles for the entry-level rear-wheel-drive model we've got here.

Our third contender, meanwhile, is a new entry-level version of the BMW i4, called the eDrive35. We’ve been impressed by the eDrive40 and M50 variants of the i4, but they’re very expensive; with a less powerful motor and a smaller battery for a slightly shorter range (officially 288 miles), the eDrive35 is the cheapest i4 by around £8k. If a super-long range isn’t a big concern, this could be the most tempting i4 yet.

BMW i4 rear cornering


Performance, ride, handling, refinement

If you know anything about Tesla, you probably know its cars have a reputation for being fast – ludicrously fast. So, it might come as a surprise to learn that the Model 3 is actually the slowest of our trio.

True, it’s much nippier than most petrol and diesel alternatives, but if you put your foot down hard, you’re not hurled towards the horizon as ferociously as you might expect. Indeed, in our tests, 0-60mph took a respectable – rather than spectacular – 6.4sec. The Seal managed the same sprint in 6.1sec, while the i4 took 6.0sec.

Tesla Model 3 rear cornering

The Model 3 is quickest to shed speed, though. In the damp, cold conditions on our day of testing, it managed a simulated emergency stop from 70mph in 55.4 metres – half a metre sooner than the Seal and 2.5 metres before the i4. What’s more, the Model 3 has the most predictable, confidence-inspiring brake pedal; slowing smoothly in the other two requires a little more concentration and delicacy.

Mind you, that’s assuming you need to use the actual brake pedal, because you can slow your progress reasonably swiftly by simply taking your foot off the accelerator. This brings the regenerative braking into effect, capturing energy that would otherwise be lost and using it to top up the battery.

There’s only one 'regen' setting for this in the Model 3, whereas you can opt for a stronger or weaker mode in the Seal by pressing icons on the touchscreen. The i4 offers three settings, plus – if you’ve added optional adaptive cruise control (part of the £3990 Technology Plus Pack) – a further adaptive setting, which automatically varies the level of regen depending on the traffic flow in front of you.

BYD Seal side driving

If you’re looking for a car mainly for cruising up and down motorways, you’ll find that the Model 3 soaks up typical road imperfections the most adroitly – remarkable given that ride comfort was a relative weakness of Tesla’s cheapest saloon before the update. That’s not to say the i4 and Seal are uncomfortable cruisers, though; you just feel yourself bobbing up and down in your seat a little more, and the Seal also transmits some vibration from the road surface to your hands via the steering wheel.

The i4 is noticeably more settled than the Seal in urban environments, its suspension smothering patches of broken Tarmac with a greater degree of sophistication than the Seal’s. Again, though, the Model 3 has the edge over its rivals in town; it still has relatively firm suspension, but impacts are dealt with quickly and in a composed manner, with very little suspension ‘boom’ echoing around the interior.

You can hear the suspension working away more in the other two cars, although at a steady 70mph cruise, our decibel meter showed there’s very little in it for overall noise. By a fraction, the Seal recorded the highest reading, while the i4 was marginally the quietest – mainly because it kept wind noise at bay more effectively.

BMW i4 side driving

All three cars handle very well compared with some other electric cars you might be considering, such as the Polestar 2. In the Model 3’s case, this is probably because it’s quite light by electric vehicle (EV) standards, weighing in at 1.8 tonnes with a driver on board – around a quarter of a tonne less than its rivals here. It feels the most keen to change direction, plus its steering is super-accurate, even if some buyers would prefer a little more heft when turning in to a bend.

While the other two cars don’t stay quite as flat when cornering, we’d say the Seal has the most feelsome and communicative steering of the bunch, plus it’s a little more playful than the grown-up i4 when you’re in the mood for fun on a country road.

Generally, the bigger the battery an electric car has, the farther it can travel between charges. Teslas are an exception to that rule, though, because every time we test one, it proves vastly more efficient than its rivals. It was the same story here: the Model 3 averaged 3.7 miles per kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity used on our real-world test route, which included a mix of motorway, rural road and urban driving. The Seal managed a respectable 3.3 miles/kWh, while the i4 returned a slightly disappointing 3.0 miles/kWh.

Tesla Model 3 side driving

That translates to a theoretical maximum range of 201 miles for the i4 and 212 miles for the Model 3 – despite the latter having a 14% smaller battery. However, neither car could come close to the Seal’s potential of 271 miles, its enormous, 82kWh battery more than offsetting its efficiency shortfall to the Model 3.

It’s worth noting that our range tests were carried out in temperatures of 2-4deg C, and there’s no doubt you’ll get a lot farther down the road in all three cars in warmer weather. That running order is likely to remain the same, though, especially given that all three have a heat pump as standard to help warm their interiors more efficiently in cooler weather.

Next: What are they like inside? >>

Page 1 of 5

Also consider