Most Chinese carmakers have backed away from plans to attack the U.S. market, and their hopes of dominating electric cars have slowed.
But Chinese maker BYD continues to develop and test the e6 all-electric crossover utility it hopes to sell in the U.S. within a couple of years.
Now, we've had the chance to take a brief drive in the latest, updated BYD e6--known internally as the BYD e6-B. Its front styling has a grille-like opening below the blanking panel, and the front bumper and lower body panel are restyled.
We didn't get the usual full day's test drive, but were limited to several laps around the Los Angeles Convention Center.
Still, both driving and riding, we were able to come away with first impressions of this potentially important new electric car.
The car we tested is an updated version of the BYD e6 that has gone into taxi service in several Chinese cities. BYD presented its first results from the taxi test a year ago.
The styling of the BYD e6 is unremarkable. It attracted virtually no attention on the road, and its slab sides and vaguely Ford Edge-like shape look functional and pleasant enough.
Inside, the dash is essentially symmetrical, sweeping around to wrap into the doors. Upholstery is a mix of perforated and plain vinyl in a pleasant beige, with black plastic trim panels.
Chinese battery electric crossover: BYD e6 test drive, Los Angeles, May 2012Enlarge Photo
The long, shallow, central instrument panel display looks very much like the Multi-Information Display of a current Toyota Prius hybrid--a resemblance increased by the BYD's small drive selector, which looks and operates much like the one in Prius as well.
Approaching the BYD e6 while it's powered up, there's a noticeable humming whine coming from under the hood, unlike any other electric car we've seen.
Long rear doors
Getting into the car is easy enough, with especially long doors giving good access to the rear seat. The front seats are comfortable, though the electric adjustment only slides them back and forth--no electric tilt or rake is available. Visibility is good from most angles in the driver's seat, partially due to fairly slim pillars.
There's room for three in back, or two comfortably separated with the rear-seat armrest pulled down. Rear seat passengers will find good legroom even with the front seats pushed back.
Because the battery pack is in the floorpan, the rear seat is low to the floor, producing a knees-up seating position that could get uncomfortable--exacerbated by a rear seat back that's raked sharply to the rear. And the rear-seat cushions are peculiarly flat, without the subtle shaping of the seat foam found in modern cars.
Storage bins in the rear doors include speakers indicating an Infinity sound system, although the factory representative from BYD who accompanied our drive wasn't able to provide many details on the car beyond its numeric specifications.
While China drives on the right side of the road (e.g. left-hand-drive cars), the symmetrical dashboard and central instruments of the BYD e6 peculiarly site the numeric speed display to the right of the car's center line--far from the sight lines of a driver sitting on the left.75 kW or 130 hp?
On the road, the BYD e6 moves away from rest smoothly and predictably, but with increasing whine from the drive motor and power electronics. The drivetrain whine was more noticeable from the front seats than in the rear.
In Normal mode, acceleration is limited to about 75 horsepower, making the car feel heavy and ponderous. Switch to Sport mode, however, and the peak power indicated at 130 hp is unleashed, meaning the e6 moves out smartly and has enough mid-range acceleration for fast-moving urban traffic.
BYD e6 electric taxi in service in Shenzhen, ChinaEnlarge Photo
The current BYD e6 has a large 60-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, and its motor was quoted at an output of 75 kilowatts.
That translates to 100 hp, which makes the 130-hp rating we saw on the dash somewhat perplexing--unless the 75 kW is a sustained power rating, with short peaks possible at the higher output.
BYD representatives quoted a 180-mile range, which they said was derived from the Chinese urban and highway efficiency rating cycle.
Ride turns harsh quickly
The brake pedal has a mushy feel, with regenerative braking only engaging in the bottom half of its travel. The ride is good on smooth pavement, but quickly turns harsh as road surfaces get rough.
Bumps weren't absorbed particularly smoothly, and BYD would likely benefit from some sophisticated spring-rate and damper engineering to make the ride more forgiving.
There's also a certain amount of drivetrain flexibility, so that in some combinations of acceleration and braking, steering feedback and power delivery can change abruptly. We experienced a loud, unexpected "clunk" from the right front suspension during braking, but couldn't repeat it.