The BYD Seal has a compelling argument to offer customers in search of an executive EV sports saloon. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Ten Second Review
The BYD Seal is the executive EV sports saloon you probably won't have considered but probably should. Most of what a BMW i4, Tesla Model 3 or Polestar 2 customer could want is also here - and then some. If you're browsing in this segment, a Seal simply has to be somewhere on your wish list.
For BYD, this is where it starts getting serious. It's one thing for this Chinese giant to target the affordable end of the EV market where customers aren't particularly brand-conscious and expectations are fairly low when it comes to drive dynamics and interior audience. Quite another to go head-to-head with posher brands in the executive segment. Yet that's just what the marque's third UK launch model, the Seal, aims to do.
Offered in either SUV form (the Seal U) or, as in this case, in saloon guise, it shares much of its fundamental engineering with BYD's first couple of EVs, the little Dolphin and the Atto 3 family hatch; namely the company's third generation electric vehicle architecture and its innovative long-range 'blade' battery design. As befits its ambitious remit though - to take on executive EV players like the Tesla Model 3 and the Polestar 2 - the Seal has more: clever 'cell-to-body' technology, which is supposed to maximise the battery's usable capacity and boost the car's structural integrity. In theory making it both efficient and sporty. Sounds promising.
Could you really countenance choosing this Seal over well established premium EV sports saloons like the BMW i4 and the Tesla Model 3? We'll explain why you might in a moment. First though, the core info you'll need. Almost all Seal sales will be of the mid-range 'Design-RWD' model, which has a single rear-mounted 308bhp motor powered by an 82.5kWh battery good for 354 miles of range. The 62mph from rest sprint takes 5.9s, en route to 112mph.
If you want more, there's the range-topping Seal 'Excellence-AWD' flagship variant which, as the name suggests, also includes an additional front-mounted motor for four-wheel-drive, hence a boost in power to 523bhp, providing for a 3.8s 0-62mph time that BYD's so proud of that it's advertised with a '3.8S' badge on the boot lid. The 82.5kWh battery of this range-topper is the same as the mid-range model, but the AWD system's extra weight means that here, it only takes the car 323 miles between charges. If these two Seal options are a little pricey for you, it's also possible to talk to the brand about an entry-level rear-driven 'Comfort'-spec variant with a smaller 61kWh battery.
Earlier, we referenced what BYD hopes is its dynamic trump card here - class leading torsional rigidity. That comes courtesy of an innovative 'cell-to-body' battery installation that makes the 11cm-tall 'blade' battery pack part of the Seal's structure. The result is a level of torsional rigidity (40,000Nm/deg) that some competitors can only dream about; the industry average is around 25,000Nm/deg. You'll feel the benefit of that in the reduction of body roll around corners. Unlike lesser BYD models, mainstream Seals are rear-driven, with a double wishbone (front) and multi-link (rear) suspension set-up: this is upgraded on the AWD model with frequency-selective dampers to compensate for that top variant's extra 130kgs of weight. All Seals get four driving modes - 'Eco', 'Normal', 'Sport' and 'Snow'.
Design and Build
Here we're looking at the Seal saloon; there's also a 'Seal U' SUV body shape. In sedan form, this BYD is a fairly dramatic-looking thing, styled using the brand's current 'Ocean Aesthetics' design language, which includes a few gill and fin details to fit with the whole maritime theme. The penmanship comes from ex-Audi stylist Wolfgang Egger, whose CV includes the gorgeous Alfa Romeo Competizione 8C sports car. Seal measurements are 4,800mm in length, 1,875mm in width and 1,460mm in height; which makes the car 106mm longer, 58mm narrower and 17mm taller than its Tesla Model 3 arch-rival. Under the skin sits the same 'e-Platform 3.0' chassis as smaller BYD models, but the 'cell-to-body' battery installation that sits on top of it is different. Here, the battery pack is actually part of the vehicle structure - so there's no metal platform between the cabin floor and the lithium-ion cells. That means a thinner floor and a consequently lower roof height.
You enter the cabin via neat retractable door handles and once inside, there's a smartly furnished interior with a 10.25-inch digital instrument panel and a big 15.6-inch infotainment touchscreen that, as with other BYDs, can be rotated between portrait and landscape layouts. The interior all feels suitably premium - more so than a rival Model S - and the seats (with their BYD-embossed headrests) not only look good but seem supportive. In the back, a 45mm advantage in wheelbase over that rival Tesla means a bit more leg-stretching space (though you can't push your feet very far under the front chairs). Headroom is a bit compromised by the sweeping rear roof line with its fixed panoramic glass top. Because this isn't a hatchback, you'll have to negotiate a rather narrow boot loading aperture, beyond which there's a reasonable 402-litres of capacity. Plus there's a further 53-litres in the 'frunk' beneath the bonnet - enough for a set of charging cables.
Market and Model
You'll pay around £45,000 for the Seal in 'Design-RWD' form. And around £48,000 for the top 'Excellence-AWD' version. Interestingly for an unknown brand, BYD isn't looking to substantially undercut its main competitors on price. But equipment levels are high. Across the range, the cabin gets a 15.6-inch rotatable screen equipped with an intelligent voice control function that can be activated with the voice command "Hey BYD"; and seamless smartphone integration via 'Android Auto' or 'Apple CarPlay'. It also features a 10.25-inch full instrument LCD panel, while the impressive 12-speaker Dynaudio Performance Audio System provides premium quality sound.
In terms of safety and advanced driver assistance, the Seal offers Forward Collision Warning, Automatic Emergency Braking, Rear Collision Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Rear Cross Traffic Brake, Lane Keep Assistance, Lane Change Assist and Emergency Lane Keep. There's also Adaptive Cruise Control and Intelligent Cruise Control, a 360-degree Panoramic Camera, Blind Spot Detection System, ESP, Traction Control, Hill Decent Control, Automatic Vehicle Hold, Intelligent Speed Limit Information and Intelligent Speed Limit Control. Cutting-edge lighting technology provides a wider beam to aid visibility during night driving, with high beam assist, adaptive headlights and Follow Me Home as standard.
Cost of Ownership
The battery used here is of the unique-to-BYD lithium-ion-phosphate 'Blade' variety, which incorporates cells mounted in the strips directly to the pack. Which, the Chinese maker says, allows for a much higher cell density than a conventional battery could offer. So a much higher driving range then? Afraid not. The 354 mile range of the core 'Design-RWD' model is reasonably class-competitive, but way off being class leading. It's 323 miles for the 'Excellence-AWD' model). To preserve driving range in cold conditions, a heat pump is standard.
Seal customers benefit from what the brand calls 'a high-voltage electric drive boost charging solution', which allows for faster charging. This technology innovatively uses the motor inductor to replace the boost inductor, to meet the 420-750V voltage range of charging piles with high-power DC charging. During the charging process, this BYD's drivetrain reduces the heat generation of the charging and distribution assembly for more reliable performance.
The Seal offers an 11kW 3-phase on-board charger for AC charging, and can be fast-charged at a DC ultra-fast charging station with 150kW. With this amount of power, the battery can be charged from 30% to 80% in just 26 minutes.
You'd think that BYD building, designing and owning this car's entire set of EV drivetrain components (including battery and semiconductors) would allow the company to make the Seal able to offer a truly modern 800V electrical architecture capable of allowing charging with the new breed of ultra-rapid DC public chargers - something we've already seen in this class with the Hyundai IONIQ 6. But no, it's the same conventional 400V system as everyone else uses.
This is the most convincing BYD model we've seen so far - and a worthy rival for the ambitious executive EV contenders it's up against. It's better value than a BMW i4, nicer inside than a Tesla Model 3, better to drive than a Hyundai IONIQ 6 and cleverer than a Polestar 2. That's a decent CV. Plus, because BYD manufactures virtually all the Seal itself in-house, there are fewer supply chain issues, so you're likely to get your car within weeks of your order, rather than months.
Despite all of these attributes, the truth is that in the combustion era, this car would have struggled to make an impact in its segment. But things are different now. The average EV customer is much less badge-conscious and more likely to be attracted by the innovative technology being showcased here. It's all indicative of the current quite astonishing pace of Chinese automotive development.