Chinese cars likely won’t come to America anytime soon, but they’re already on sale in many global markets. From Europe to Mexico, manufacturers like Great Wall Motors and MG (yes, it’s now a Chinese brand) are making massive inroads, and now Australian outlet Carsales reports that BYD is building its first ever ute to fight the Toyota Hilux.
Although BYD is a high-volume player in the battery-powered EV space, the unnamed pickup truck will start life out as a plug-in hybrid with a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and two electric motors. Not only should this allay total range concerns, it could make for a properly powerful pickup truck, with Carsales claiming “a reported power output of 364kW.” That’s 488 horsepower, which would be a gargantuan figure in a Ford Ranger competitor.
The incoming BYD ute even looks decent, as revealed by patent drawings. Derivative, certainly, but decent. There’s a bit of Nissan Frontier in the arcs over the fenders, a lot of Ford in the front end, and acres of plastic cladding, but no gaping maw and nothing wildly impractical. I’m sure the aftermarket will eventually brodozer it out with more lights than an Ibiza night club, but in stock form, nothing about the styling should scare consumers out of showrooms.
Australian BYD importer Luke Todd told Carsales that “[With] These models we have blown everyone out of the water with price-point and we are working very hard to make that happen with the ute as well.” Powerful, green, right-sized, and allegedly priced far below what a Toyota Hilux costs? What’s the catch?
Even though Australia pays exorbitant prices for new cars, vehicles that trade heavily on price often have obvious deficiencies. For instance, the BYD Atto 3, a small and inexpensive electric crossover, only has an 88 kW DC fast charging rate, and hasn’t been getting the best reviews in Europe. British magazine Autocar claims its test example reeked of off-gassing plastic, had “unstable” infotainment, and wasn’t exactly refined when driving intent heightens.
When you do drive the car a bit harder, you will discover its composure starts to fray at the edges. Mid-corner surface imperfections can elicit strong kickback in the steering, and even in a straight line you will feel potholes through the steering more vividly than in other cars. You get a different kind of steering corruption under acceleration, as the Atto 3 exhibits some torque steer as well.
In addition, reported range falls far short of its rating on the admittedly optimistic WLTP cycle.
Measuring the Atto 3’s economy was somewhat fraught, as its own efficiency readout was hopelessly unreliable, at one point claiming to do 12mpkWh during performance testing. The average figure of 3.4mpkWh was calculated using the kWh charged for the mileage driven. It is slightly worse than what we got from the [Cupra] Born and [Kia] Niro EV, but still works out to a range of 201 miles. When fully charged, the car would always predict 260 miles, its WLTP figure, which is clearly unrealistic.
Of course, the Atto 3 is a previous-generation product, but Autocar reports that the new BYD Dolphin suffers from many of the Atto 3’s issues such as an obtuse infotainment UX and disappointing handling, all while bringing a new annoyance to the party.
Being new for 2023, the Dolphin also has bongs and a spoken message berating you for going over what it thinks (but often isn’t) the speed limit. It’s annoying and hard to turn off. Button, please!
Well, that ought to drive you round the bend. Of course, Chinese vehicles reportedly not quite measuring up to Western standards isn’t just a BYD thing, as the GWM Ora Funky Cat has received middling reviews in Europe too, with Auto Express noting subpar ride and handling, along with substantial infotainment difficulties.
Even though the upcoming BYD ute sounds mighty impressive, there’s a chance it might not quite measure up to the Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger. Sure, a vastly cheaper double cab ute sounds great, but please temper your expectations. It won’t take much for Chinese manufacturers to bring their vehicles up to Western refinement, but even once the bulk of Chinese cars reach fundamental parity with European, American and Japanese counterparts, customer sentiment often lags. Chinese brands could face similar uphill battles to what Hyundai and Kia faced in the marketplace, and it could take another decade before models trade on desirability and overall excellence rather than price. Of course, we’ll just have to see what happens, won’t we?
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