The car that has big brands worried

The car that has big brands worried

The fledgling Chinese brand that’s been the main challenger to Tesla on EV sales has unleashed a car partially powered by petrol, its first in Australia.

While externally rechargeable plug-in hybrids have been slow going in Australia – often outsold by EVs by about 10 to one – the aspirational giant wants to change perceptions.

The mid-sized SUV plans to take on the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid and Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV with the Sealion 6.

The secret sauce is a “super hybrid” system with an 18.3kWh battery that does the heavy lifting.

Most of the time the Sealion runs as a series hybrid, whereby only the electric motors drive the wheels.

But when additional power is required it can operate as a parallel hybrid, whereby the engine and motors power the car simultaneously.

Along with a 60-litre fuel tank it delivers up to 1100km of claimed range.

At the heart of BYD’s DM-i – dual-mode intelligence – hybrid system is an efficient 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine.

In $48,990 entry-level Dynamic that 78kW/135Nm engine pairs with a145kW/300Nm electric motor driving the front wheels to make a combined 160kW/300Nm.

Throw in heated, ventilated and electrically adjustable front seats, 360-degree camera, panoramic sunroof and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and it mounts a solid value case.

The $52,990 Premium also gets a head-up display and adds a turbocharger to boost the engine’s outputs up to 96kW/220Nm. The front motor also increases to 150kW/300Nm while there’s a 120kW/250Nm rear motor. Combined maximum outputs are claimed at 238kW and 550Nm.

Claimed fuel use is ridiculously low, at 1.1 litres per 100km and 1.4L/100km respectively. As with all PHEVs, expect to use plenty more once the battery is depleted.

Before that you get a claimed 92km of EV-only range in the Dynamic and 81km in the Premium.

The Sealion can DC fast charge from 10-80 per cent in half an hour, but most owners will make use of the AC charging that can top it up from a regular power point overnight or a wallbox charger in 2.7 hours.

There’s also vehicle-to-load that turns the car into a mobile power station for powering household appliances.

Inside, the Sealion 6 Premium is a mass of up-market finishes interspersed with orange stitching, metal touches and stuff that looks like leather (it isn’t).

Generous proportions cater for five in style and upfront there’s a digital instrument cluster and 15.6-inch screen that rotates through 90 degrees.

A floating centre console with dual wireless phone chargers and stubby gear selector covers a handy storage pod beneath complete with USB-A and USB-C charge ports (something replicated in the rear).

Back seat space benefits from a flat floor. So even though the emphasis is on the outer seats with their sculpted cushions the person in the centre is still well accommodated.

Our brief drive took place within the confines of the old Holden proving ground, so wasn’t representative of the school run or peak hour grind, nor traffic and undulations.

But it was enough to learn that the highlight of the Sealion is its hybrid system, which we sampled in gutsier Premium guise.

Pulling power is strong below 60km/h, albeit without the immediacy some may expect from electric motors. It also doesn’t feel like 238kW and 550Nm, although at 2.1 tonnes that could be weight dulling the enthusiasm. Sport mode adds some fervour, but it’s still more relaxed than sporty.

Impressively, it leans heavily on electricity, only waking the engine if you push past the last section of the throttle pedal movement.

At highway speeds or when the battery is below 30 per cent charge the petrol engine chimes in more often, often just as a drone as it charges the battery. BYD says above-average efficiency and revving at an ideal speed helps it minimise fuel use.

Less impressive is its dynamic ability, which is let down by suspension control that occasionally has the body lurching over a bump, something amplified over successive imperfections.

The suspension is soft for comfort and compliance, but it’s mushy.

The steering also lacks bite, adding to the sense the Sealion isn’t about tingling the senses.

Not that it’s stopped BYD predicting big things.

The brand believes it’ll take a decent chunk out of the mid-sized SUV segment for a car it says will be its top seller.

At the very least it provides fresh competition to the Japanese and Korean brands that dominate in the family SUV category.

Verdict: Efficient hybrid tech able to be recharged externally combines with long equipment list to provide a compelling tempter against regular petrol-only alternatives, but the rest of the driving experience needs work.

Star rating: 3.5

BYD Sealion 6 Premium

Price: From $48,990 plus on-roads

Warranty/servicing: 6 yrs/150,000km, TBC

Safety: 7 airbags, auto emergency braking, 360-degree camera, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, front cross traffic alert, rear cross traffic alert, rear auto braking, driver monitoring, door open warning, speed sign recognition, child presence detection

Engine: 96kW/22Nm 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo engine with 150kW/300Nm front motor and 120kW/250Nm rear motor.

Combined outputs. 238kW/550Nm

Thirst: 1.4L/100km

Spare: Space-saver

Boot: 574L