Electric Cars Reviewed

BYD Dolphin review: Well-priced family hatchback looks to make waves

Does this Chinese rival to the MG4 and VW ID.3 have what it takes to make a splash among the best family hatchbacks?

BYD isn’t a household name in the UK yet but there’s a fair chance you have one of its products around your home.

The Chinese brand started out making batteries for mobile phones 30 years ago and now supplies cells for everything from iPads to Teslas.

But it also builds vehicles – from boats to buses and passenger cars – and is among the pioneers of the tidal wave of Chinese EV makers heading to the UK, with three models already on sale.

The Atto 3 is a C-SUV rival to the Kia Niro and MG ZS EV, while the Seal saloon is trying to challenge the Polestar 2, BMW i4 and Tesla Model 3.

At the lower end of the range is the Dolphin, a family hatchback in the mould of the Nissan Leaf and competing with the MG4, VW ID.3 and Renault Megane E-Tech.

So, silly name aside, can this newcomer make a splash among the established brands?

Design, interior and technology

Like the larger Atto 3, the Dolphin’s exterior design is fairly unremarkable. From a distance it looks like the dictionary definition of ‘generic family hatchback’, with only the peculiar two-tone paint to make it stand out. Up close, there are touches that give some character, such as the intertwined ‘threads’ in the rear lights. But probably the most obvious feature is the Build Your Dreams name stretched between those lights. BYD has sensibly dropped that name in Europe in favour of the simple initials but the design of the Dolphin means it can’t be rebadged.

On the road, the Dolphin is slightly longer than a Volkswagen ID.3, MG 4 or Renault Megane E-Tech but only by a few centimetres and its wheelbase is the same as the Renault or MG and shorter than the VW’s. That translates to passenger space that’s perfectly adequate for an average family of four but the Dolphin doesn’t feel especially roomy. A boot capacity of 345 litres is also fairly average for the class, but helpfully the 60/40-split rear seats create a virtually flat load area of 1,310 litres when folded down.

Although the outside of the Dolphin is pretty humdrum, the designers have had a field day on the inside. The slippery mammal that gives the car its name seems to have inspired the shape of the multi-piece dashboard that sweeps and swoops across the cabin, and there are beautifully organic and ergonomic touches like the curved door pulls. That curviness continues into the lines of the centre console where a row of rocker switches manages functions including the drive selection, regenerative braking settings and the stereo volume.

BYD Dolphin interior
The BYD’ Dolphin’s interior stands out among fairly restrainted rivals

What they don’t control is the heating system, which is managed entirely through the 12.8-inch rotating touchscreen. The screen is responsive enough but if you chose to use Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, which come as standard, you’ll have no onscreen controls to adjust the air con. That means multiple screen presses to turn the heating up or switch off a heated seat.

You can use the car’s onboard voice-activated assistant to do such things and I found it coped well with most of my instructions but I still felt like a complete muppet shouting at the car to carry out the most basic functions.

You’ll also find yourself frustrated at the minimum of six screen presses it takes to deactivate the lane assist and (entirely separate) emergency lane assist, neither of which are any assistance at all.

Touchscreen annoyances aside, there’s a pleasant solidity to the construction, certainly better than the rival MG4 and probably good enough to bother the VW. The single-piece seats with their bold blue vegan leather with red stitching won’t be to everyone’s taste, however.

Battery, motor and performance

BYD says that we’ll eventually get cheaper, less powerful versions of the Dolphin with a smaller battery but, for now, there’s just the one powertrain.

That uses a 201bhp motor on the front wheels and a 60.4kWh battery, with an official range of 265 miles.

200bhp used to be hot hatch territory but that’s not a tag you’d attached to the Dolphin. It’s quick enough in a straight line and handles securely and predictably but doesn’t have any of the dynamism of something like a Cupra Born. That’s hardly an issue for a simple family hatchback where ride comfort (decent) and manoeuvrability (easy) are more important. Different drive modes and regenerative braking settings make very little difference to the overall experience but the biggest negative is a weirdly uneven transition from regenerative to friction braking.

The Dolphin’s performance is pretty standard for the class

Unlike a lot of manufacturers, BYD uses a blade-style lithium iron-phosphate (LFP) battery which helps keep costs down and, according to BYD, offers improved safety over other designs. Thankfully I never tested those claims but I did test the claimed range of 265 miles and efficiency of 3.9m/kWh and found it got commendably close to both. For comparison, the ID.3 Pro has a stated range of 270 miles, while the Renault and MG are around 280 miles.

One area where the BYD lags behind its rivals is its relatively sluggish 88kW maximum DC charging.

Price and specification

The BYD Dolphin is only available in two trim levels – Comfort and Design both with the same powertrain.

Comfort versions cost £30,195 and come with a generous level of equipment that includes heated seats, front and rear parking sensors, a 360-degree camera system, smartphone mirroring, keyless entry, high beam assist and adaptive cruise control, plus a fully loaded suite of driving assistance and a heat pump – not always a given at this price point.

Design is an extra £1,500 and brings a panoramic roof, privacy glass in the rear, wireless phone charging and a vehicle-to-load charging function along with the peculiar two-tone paint option.

That allows it to undercut most rivals, although the MG4 sneaks in at just under £30,000 for the long-range version of the base-spec SE.


BYD is clearly serious about making an impression and the Dolphin does a credible job of establishing itself as a contender in the family segment.

Apart from its wild interior, it’s not a particularly exciting car. But it fulfils its basic brief well. It’s solidly built, well equipped and sensibly priced and the well-balanced powertrain offers sufficient performance and impressive range for families who don’t want or need a massive SUV.

BYD Dolphin

BYD Dolphin Design

  • Price: £31,695
  • Powertrain: single-motor, front-wheel-drive
  • Battery: 60.4kWh usable
  • Power: 201bhp
  • Torque: 228lb ft
  • Top speed: 99mph
  • 0-62mph: 7 seconds
  • Range: 265 miles
  • Consumption: 3.9m/kWh
  • Charging: up to 88kW
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Matt Allan

Matt is Editor of EV Powered. He has worked in journalism for more than 20 years and been an automotive journalist for the last decade, covering every aspect of the industry, from new model reveals and reviews to consumer and driving advice. The former motoring editor of inews.co.uk, The Scotsman and National World, Matt has watched the EV landscape transform beyond recognition over the last 10 years and developed a passion for electric vehicles and what they mean for the future of transport - from the smallest city cars to the biggest battery-powered trucks. When he’s not driving or writing about electric cars, he’s figuring out how to convert his classic VW camper to electric power.