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China Test Drives 2019: BYD Tang EV

It’s thumbs up from me on the BYD Tang EV.

I kept the best for last, and this final iteration of this China Test Drives 2019 series following the Shanghai Auto Show details the most impressive car I got to drive this year: the BYD Tang EV. BYD (for Build Your Dreams) is enjoying a spectacular sales revival at home (+24% in 2018 in a declining market) thanks to much improved electric vehicles both technology and design-wise. The new Tang is one prime example of this return to glory. The model I am test driving today is the cheapest EV of the Tang lineup priced at 249.900 yuan, or 32.200€ / US$36.300. Although it is by far the most expensive car I drove in China this year, it’s at least half the price large foreign EV SUVs command.

BYD Lijiang dealership.

After being told in the BYD Dali dealership to drive 250km to Kunming to try the Tang whereas there was one example standing right in front of us, the BYD Lijiang dealership was a lot more accomodating, delighted to experience first hand the reactions of a Westerner driving one of their latest models and offering me the choice of a combustion or EV model. EV it is please! The first impression when faced with the Tang is: this thing is a monster. It is one big piece of SUV that looks taller, wider and a lot more spacious than I remembered. The “Build Your Dreams” at the rear is totally in your face but kind of fun when living in a non-English speaking country.

Rotating touch screen, steering wheel toggle and electric seat commands.

Inside, there are a few clever tricks that will leave your mouth gaping, notably the rotating touch screen (see video above). Objectively, realistically and probably useless, but unique in the automotive world as far as I know, and one of these features that tends to go viral and advertises the car in its own right. Other nice details include a very intuitive toggle command on the right hand side of the steering wheel and electric seat commands located high up on the drivers door in the same manner as Mercedes (see 2 images above).

An otherwise conservative interior.

Apart from that, the design of the rest of the cockpit is surprisingly conventional with analogue tachos, a sophisticated but classical-looking gear box and too many buttons and switches everywhere. BYD clearly has spent most of its development money on the actual EV technology of the car and its dynamic abilities, and it shows. Not that I am complaining as most Chinese carmakers usually do the exact opposite.

And oh boy is the drive exhilarating. If you thought the thrill of accelerating like a Formula 1 was reserved to Tesla (I already tested the Model S and Model X and can bear witness to these two cars’ incredible push), you are wrong. Although it was challenging in the tiny rural streets of Lijiang Old Town (see video above), I did manage a couple of hardcore acceleration and braking combos, to the horror of the saleswoman sat in the back – you can clearly hear her squirms from 0:06 onwards on the video! And the Tang obeyed without batting an eyelid nor wobbling a wheel or shaking at the rears. Clearly the BYD staff had never seen the car pushed that hard before which doesn’t surprise me given how muted the driving style generally is in China. In a world of Chinese cars that are for the most part sluggish to drive – only the Geely Binyue and Dongfeng Aeolus AX7 were lag-free and truly zippy among my ten other Test Drives of 2019 – the fact that the Tang does abruptly accelerate, brake and generally handle itself with absolute poise and composure just like a foreign luxury EV is very encouraging for the future of Chinese EV technology.

The exterior design of the car is also rather impressive, managing to remain aggressive, stylish and sporty way despite its oversize dimensions. Indicators progressively lighting up the same way the most recent Audis do are also a nice additional touch as is the button on the door handle that locks all doors and winds up all windows. The BYD staff was super attentive, showered me with “mei guo” after all my “thank you” meaning “no need to thank me” or “not at all” instead of “you’re welcome”, an unusually friendly response, and couldn’t stop “Hen hao”ing during the entire test drive (“excellent”). The Tesla Model X with similar acceleration prowess starts at 737.500 yuan in China (95.000€ or US$107.200), so if you want Tesla acceleration for 1/3 of the price (who wouldn’t?) the BYD Tang is the right vehicle for you.

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