Updated BYD e6: First Drive Of Chinese Electric Crossover

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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.

BYD e6 electric taxi in service in Shenzhen, China

BYD e6 electric taxi in service in Shenzhen, China

Enlarge Photo

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.

Prius echoes?

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 2012

Chinese battery electric crossover: BYD e6 test drive, Los Angeles, May 2012

Enlarge 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.

BYD e6-B

BYD e6-B

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, China

BYD e6 electric taxi in service in Shenzhen, China

Enlarge 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.

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Comments (13)
  1. When I first looked at the front, I thought you made a mistake and provided a photo of an older Ford. The Chinese are having difficulty in the auto manufacturing aren't they? They still have good food, so it's not all bad.

  2. BYD is the largest supplier of rechargeable batteries in the globe. It is still a newbie in China's automobile industry. It will take the company years, if not decades, to become a major carmaker in the world in case it happens.

  3. Thanks for the initial glimpse of this car. Obviously, things like range will have to wait until a full test.

    There are 3 different grills shown in the various pictures -- the red and white cars have either a solid upper grill or an conventional open upper grill. And the blue car has an even more open grill. It is important to gain as much aerodynamic advantage on an EV, since they require only a fraction of the cooling, and lower drag will increase the range.


  4. Impossible to evaluate any product without knowing its pricetag.
    An example is the Japanese cars that arrived in the 70's :they received universally bad reviews because of their poor quality, but their low prices made them superior to overpriced US autos. In a few short years their quality was way better than Detroit's. With the right price , BYD's noted "issues" become irrelevant. With a battery pack as large as this car has, this car will probably kill Leaf sales. BYD is/was a battery company. Batteries/prices are especially key to this end of the EV market. Now the big question is sticker price. Equal to the Leaf I believe will make this far more popular. Charging issues I view as ultimately non-issues - electricity is electricity.

  5. @Kent: A car from a company that's been building cars for only a decade, and sells them only in less-developed countries, is going to "kill" sales of the Nissan Leaf ?!?!? RLY? OK then.

  6. @ Kent Beuchert: Apparently this sells for a price of 369,800 RMB (~$56,900) before government subsidies in China. I think nobody at Nissan will loose any sleep over an amateurish product like this from a rather notorious company like BYD. I doubt it will ever be exported even.

  7. I want the market to be flooded with EVs, but not if it damages the reputation of electrics. I sincerely hope BYD can iron out the issues and provide a decent, affordable vehicle.

  8. Pleasant looking on the outside, resembling an Acura/Ford hybrid. Maybe this car should be built in Korea where the workers sweat the details better. The Chinese will succeed.

  9. BYD is NOT even a top Chinese automaker in China. Its cars are really just demo box for their main business which is battery. This talk of BYD building cars are just talks. Sure, they will sell few thousands here and there. But it will never be a serious business for BYD. It is trying to gain business from selling more Li-ion batteries to other EV maker.

    Automobile business has been refined in the last 100 years. It is NOT that easy (look at GM, Renault, Chyrsler, Ford and Nissan)...

  10. I said something mostly similar to yours. Unfortunately, my posting has been deleted. I hope the modulator will not delete yours.

  11. Your comment, which was copied and pasted onto another article as well, has been restored. FYI, duplicate wording in successive comments triggers our automated moderating system before the human moderator steps in.

  12. Thanks for explaining. My reply is meant to be under this article. I replied the same message to another article by mistake. Please kindly delete that one. Sorry for the confusion.

  13. Good luck to them . . . I'm a little surprised they would show something some unrefined. Oh my . . .

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