What is it: 

This is the first petrol-electric plug-in hybrid SUV from Chinese brand BYD to be sold locally. Until now BYD has only offered electric cars in Australia.

The BYD Sealion 6 is said to be able to drive on electric power alone for up to 95km before the 1.5-litre petrol engine – supported by a 60-litre petrol tank – extends the maximum driving range to a theoretical 1100km.

The BYD Sealion 6 is about the same size as a Toyota RAV4.

A BYD plug-in hybrid ute is due to follow next year.

BYD is the fastest-growing automotive brand in Australia – in terms of sales – and has aspirations to be among the Top Three by the end of the decade.

This is not a full road test. BYD offered Australian media a preview drive of the BYD Sealion 6 inside the former Holden test track in Lang Lang on the south-eastern outskirts of Melbourne last month.

Price:

The single-motor BYD Sealion 6 Dynamic model is priced from $48,990 before on-road costs (about $53,000 drive-away).

The dual-motor BYD Sealion 6 Premium model is priced from $52,990 before on-road costs (about $57,000 drive-away).

Engine:

Under the bonnet is a 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine (non turbo in the base model front-wheel-drive, and turbocharged in the flagship all-wheel-drive) paired to a plug-in hybrid system.

Transmission:

The base model has an electric motor that drives the front wheels (160kW), and the flagship model has two electric motors that drive the front and rear wheels (238kW).

In both instances the petrol motor charges the on-board battery pack (18.3kWh) that powers the electric motor/s.

0 to 100km/h (as tested):

BYD makes an ambitious 0 to 100km/h acceleration claim of 5.9 seconds. 

In normal mode the flagship all-wheel-drive BYD Sealion 6 did 0 to 100km/h in 7.3 seconds on a dry sealed road on the perfectly flat surface used by General Motors for 50 years to test cars.

In sport mode the same vehicle did the 0 to 100km/h dash in 6.7 seconds.

When we asked BYD experts why there would be such a discrepancy between the BYD claim and the test result, we were advised the claim could only be achieved with 100 per cent battery capacity.

On our test the vehicle displayed 69 per cent charge at the time of the test.

The acceleration times we were able to verify nevertheless make the BYD Sealion 6 brisk in the family SUV class – and faster, for example, than a Toyota RAV4 Hybrid.

However, we remain curious about BYD’s methodology behind its acceleration claim.

It’s not a deal-breaker, but what other claims about the vehicle are off the mark?

Emergency braking from 100km/h (as tested): 

Braking performance from 100km/h – on a dry, high-friction surface used to test General Motors vehicles for decades – was poor.

The BYD Sealion 6 – running Chinese-made Giti Comfort 235/50/19 tyres – pulled up in 42.4 metres, which is about three metres (or 8 per cent) longer than other similarly sized family SUVs.

The poor grip of these tyres is well documented by BYD Atto 3 owners on social media.

We hope BYD sources grippier tyres as it continues to roll out new or updated models in Australia.

Good points:

Modern design inside and out.

Roomy cabin and cargo hold.

The petrol motor eliminates range anxiety typical of electric cars.

Zippy performance, despite not getting anywhere near BYD’s claim.

Comfortable suspension (though we only tested on a closed course, not real roads, so we’ll reserve final judgement).

Bad points:

As with most electric cars there is no spare tyre, so you’re calling a tow truck if you get a flat tyre.

There’s a tyre inflator kit under the boot floor but they have mixed results when it comes to getting you out of trouble and limping home.

Needs grippier tyres.

The fuel rating label says 1.1L/100km (single motor) or 1.4L/100km (dual motor) however these numbers are unrealistic and expose a flaw in the current laboratory-based fuel consumption tests – which are due to be overhauled to prevent anomalies such as this.

A figure of 6.0L/100km is more likely given the BYD Sealion 6 has a 60 litre tank capable of delivering a claimed 1000km of petrol driving range.

Based on this calculation, the BYD Sealion 6 would be less efficient than a Toyota RAV4 Hybrid (5.0 to 5.5L/100km in our testing).

We will test the BYD Sealion 6 as soon as one becomes available, to measure consumption in the real world.

What the haters say:

What’s a BYD?

What the haters don’t understand:

BYD (which is an acronym for Build Your Dreams) is the biggest car maker in China and is already a Top 10 auto brand globally.

So you’ll be seeing a lot of them in the years ahead.

BYD has ambitions to be a Top Three brand in Australia by the end of the decade.

It is already growing at a faster rate than other recent start-ups.

Should you buy one?

Hmmm. Plug-in hybrids are yet to find broad appeal in Australia and overseas.

On paper, they make perfect sense.

In most cases PHEVs offer reasonable electric-only driving range (usually 50km but BYD is claiming 95km given the larger battery pack), and then the petrol motor kicks in when you need to go further.

However, the electric-only part only works if customers are diligent about recharging.

Otherwise you’re driving a petrol SUV with a heavy battery pack you’re not utilising.

Conversely, if you can run on electric power most of the time, you’re carrying a petrol engine you’re not using.

This is why some buyers are leap-frogging plug-in hybrids and going straight to solely electric vehicles.

BYD hopes its longer electric range will broaden the appeal of its PHEV tech.

Also consider:

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, or one of these electric cars: Tesla Model Y, Toyota BXZ4X or Subaru Solterra.