► BYD’s second offering in the UK is MG 4-sized EV hatch
► 265-mile range on top models, heat pump standard
► Priced from just over £25k
After being impressed by an early drive of an unfinished car, we’ve now got our hands on the production BYD Dolphin with full UK specifications and pricing. With an exceedingly keen starting price of around £25,000, or just under £30,000 with the bigger of two batteries offered, it could well trouble some of the best small electric cars on sale.
The Dolphin is Chinese firm BYD’s smallest offering of the three electric cars it’ll bring to the UK in 2023 – below the Atto 3 SUV and Seal saloon. In size terms, it’s within a hair of the MG 4 – making it seem a natural rival for both smaller hatchbacks such as the Vauxhall Corsa Electric as well as the likes of the MG, the VW ID.3 and the Kia Niro EV.
BYD Dolphin: battery, motor and range
The Dolphin rides on the same scalable ‘e-Platform 3.0’ as its larger siblings. Here it’s graced with either a 45 or 60kWh lithium-ion phosphate battery built with BYD’s ‘Blade’ structure. The bigger battery is good for a claimed WLTP range of 265 miles. The smaller pack hasn’t gone through the test yet, but expect around 50-60 miles less on a charge.
Power outputs vary depending on trim. Entry-level Active gets the small battery and a 93bhp electric motor, while second-rung Boost keeps the same battery, ups power to 174bhp and adds multi-link rear suspension. Comfort and Design both get the bigger pack with a 201bhp electric motor the front wheels, and 0-62mph is dispatched in 7.0 seconds.
The 60kWh pack charges at a maximum of 88kW from a suitably powerful DC charger, which is appreciably slower than most rivals. BYD claims 30-80% in 29 minutes, which sounds fine until you spot that competitors claim similar times starting at 10%. 11kW AC charging is standard, though, so if you’re blessed with a three-phase supply at home or work you’ll see good speeds.
Opt for the 45kWh pack and charging speeds tumble to 60kW DC or 7kW AC, although the 30-80% rapid charge improves by a whole minute. All versions get Vehicle-To-Load tech that allows you to run electrical devices from your car, and a heat pump that improves cold weather range.
What’s the interior like?
For a start, spacious. Those disappointed by the slightly tight rear legroom in an MG 4 need look no further – the Dolphin can accommodate passengers well above 6 feet tall one behind each other with room to spare.
That space has to come from somewhere, and here it’s the boot. At 345 litres in capacity it’s not awful, but it’s tall rather than deep and split by a removable floor panel under which you can hide the charging cables. There’s no frunk, sadly.
Up front the dash itself is quite low which makes the cabin feel airy, although the lack of height adjustment for the passenger seat may annoy some. Large windows and, on Design models, a massive panoramic roof help here too. The face of the dash is swathed in soft-touch plastic and vegan leather (which is also, basically, soft-touch plastic) though there are some notably cheaper materials on the doors, top of the dash and lower down, but it’s a real step up from the MG4. The door handles are modelled after a dolphin’s flipper, which is quite a nice touch.
The dash is dominated by BYD’s trademark revolving touchscreen infotainment system. It’s a massive 12.8-inches on the diagonal and at the press of a switch will turn from landscape to portrait – with different orientations better for different use cases, BYD reckons. It’s a bit of a party piece but from our experience with it in an Atto you’ll probably leave it in landscape most of the time. That’s partially because it blocks a small portion of the windscreen in portrait, and partially because Android Auto and Apple CarPlay can’t support this orientation.
The hardware and software is the same as the Atto 3, which is to say that it’s fully featured and responsive if lacking a little bit of final polish. There’s just one too many layers of menu for things to be truly intuitive, and a mess of different fonts. However, the standard surround view cameras should be applauded for their high resolution that makes the urban cut and thrust a doddle.
What’s it like to drive?
BYD claim a 0-62mph time of 7.0 seconds dead for the 60kWh Dolphin, with the onboard acceleration timer claiming 6.7. Power is fed in gently at first regardless of mode or ESC setting, soon ramping up to junior hot hatch levels. You get junior hot hatch torque steer at times, although wheelspin is always a fleeting thing before the traction control kicks in.
Although firmer than the Atto 3, the Dolphin is still a comfort biased thing. Yes, grip is strong and there’s less body roll than you might expect for quite a tall hatchback, but push too hard and it starts to feel a bit scrappy while the steering is slow and uninvolving. An MG4 is undoubtedly more fun here.
The flip side is that the Dolphin is a little less fidgety than the MG on imperfectly surfaced roads and deals with potholes and speed bumps with impressive compliance. It’s no magic carpet, but it knocks the MINI Electric and Fiat 500e into a cocked hat whilst avoiding too many floaty moments.
Coarser surfaces do generate some roar from the tyres, but not enough to prevent conversation at sensible levels, while wind and motor noise is impressively well contained. We also need to mention the brake pedal for its predictable responses, something that’s not a given even on expensive EVs.
It’s not all good news, though. As impressive as the list of standard driver aids is, the Dolphin always seems to be making some sort of warning noise. Unfortunately you soon tune out to a lot of them, not good as the indicators sound very very similar.
How much is it going to cost?
If you want the big battery and punchiest motor, you’ll still get change from £30k, while top Design trim is less than £32k. If you don’t need the range or power the Active will start from just over £25,000, making the Dolphin terrific value.
It substantially undercuts even the leanest Corsa Electric and only really challenged by the MG 4. It’ll be very well equipped, too – all Dolphins will come with the massive touchscreen, LEDs all round and niceties such as electric seats, dual-zone climate control and alloy wheels.
BYD Dolphin: verdict
The Dolphin confirms that BYD is a manufacturer worth taking seriously. It’s comfortable, handles tidily enough, has an attractive interior and comes packed full of equipment. Yes, there are a couple of areas that feel unfinished and we still need to drive one with all of the quoted horsepower, but the signs are good.
Some may find the boot a little on the small side, although there’s no arguing with the interior space for adults, even with a panoramic roof fitted. Yes, the MG4 is the more entertaining drive, but the Dolphin seems to have it licked in plenty of other areas. We look forward to getting a Dolphin in the UK so we can pass final judgement.