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So there I was in the car of the future, or at least the day after tomorrow. The BYD (“Build Your Dreams”) Seal. Bit of a silly name; very serious car. State of the art for the electric car. It’s got everything, as you’d expect really these days from the giant Chinese auto companies, and while BYD and its founder Wang Chuanfu are nowhere near as famous as Tesla and Elon Musk, they’re about neck-and-neck in total battery electric car production, ie the two biggest in the world.

As I say, they are the future. The Seal lives up to its name, possessing the same sort of glabrous, sinuous contours as an agile aquatic mammal, and it is predator-level fast.

The full suite of safety features do tend to bong, beep and ping a lot, but I’d rather that than a speeding ticket or a more serious problem. It virtually drives itself, also good, and the all-wheel drive, up-to-date technology in my example delivered supercar acceleration allied to a comfort-oriented ride. It’s got hit-and-miss voice control too, (which isn’t infallible in any car yet).

The Seal boasts a high-quality audio system, but you might need someone to properly tune it (BYD)

Advanced and thoroughly enjoyable as this capacious and novel five-seater executive saloon is, for long stretches of my time with the high-performing Seal I felt as though I was stuck in the 1980s. The Absolute Radio Absolute 80s DAB station, that is, which was one of the very few that worked on the in-car entertainment system, and the only one that was remotely acceptable (because I don’t much care for worshipping the Almighty on the move).

Now, being a bit stuck in the 1980s myself it wasn’t such a terrible hardship, and being confined to “the biggest songs from the best decade” with Matt Berry doing the idents. Obviously, it was just a glitch in the transition from China and could be remedied by someone smarter than me tuning the DAB properly, but it was a decidedly dissonant experience in an otherwise near-flawless drive.

Its party trick is the 15-inch touchscreen, which nicely complements the head-up display (BYD)

It is a lovely vehicle, I have to say, and I was very surprised at the positive reactions it attracted. Unlike the early days of the Japanese and then the Korean imports, sometimes gawkish looking and with unpronounceable badges, people’s immediate assumptions about this new, unfamiliar Chinese marque were not to ridicule it or regard it as an instrument of control by the Chinese Communist Party, but rather to apply an open mind and admire it.

It’s good looking, if in a perhaps derivative way, with elements of the retro Hyundai Ioniq 6, generic contemporary Mercedes-Benz and Tesla about it, but the blend works well. It’s all very tasteful, with high quality materials and double glazing, and it’s obviously highly refined, with only some barely audible humming on the outside to disturb your quietude.

The party trick is the large, 15-inch touchscreen, which rotates from landscape to portrait format at your command. The great benefit of this is that in upright mode it makes the satnav map and its instructions much easier to follow, and nicely complements the head-up display.


BYD Seal AWD Excellence

Price: £48,695 (as tested; electric range starts at £45,695)

Engine capacity: Two electric motors, all-wheel drive powered by 82.5kWh battery

Power: 530bhp

Top speed: 110mph

0-60mph: 2.8 secs

Fuel economy: 3.3m/kWh

CO2 emissions: 0

To be fair, the Seal hasn’t quite that indefinable “waft” quality you find on equivalent Mercedes-Benz saloons, but then again they’ve been honing automotive technology since 1886, and BYD only moved into the car making game in 2005 (having started, logically enough, in making batteries).

Although they sold some early electric taxis about a decade ago, BYD have only been in the UK for a year, and the Seal is the largest current offering. It weighs over two tonnes, largely thanks to its huge battery pack, and access to fairly rapid charging is essential.

The badge on the back reads “3.8s” which sounds like something off a 1967 Jaguar, but, I think, refers to its zero to 60mph sprint; or at least that’s what I think it should mean. Despite all that it has a range of about 300 miles, returns about 3.3 miles per kilowatt hour – not that much worse than, say, the latest Hyundai Kona.

There is a spacious 400l boot, as well as an additional 53l of storage space in the front (BYD)

The only thing anyone need worry about with their pet Seal isn’t anything to do with the car itself or its unsatisfactory radio, but geopolitics and the undeniable tensions between China and the West.

If they stop us benefitting from quality Chinese BYD products, such as their cars, electric buses and solar panels, it will be our loss, and we will find it that much harder to achieve decarbonisation. You might even say our fates would be sealed.

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