Review: BYD Dolphin in Malaysia - A solid choice for EV beginners, except for one thing
Shaun · Oct 13, 2023 06:36 PM
You might be aware that Malaysia prohibits the import of electric vehicles (EVs) priced below RM 100,000, and this is indeed accurate. The rationale behind this policy, driven by the Ministry of Investment, Trade, and Industry (MITI), is actually sound when you consider their goal of attracting investments in the EV sector.
In the world of technology, most of the valuable stuff is in the higher-end product range. Cheaper electric cars have minimal technological sophistication; they're kind of like souped-up golf carts. If Malaysia gave incentives to these cheaper electric cars, it wouldn't benefit the country much, and the government would lose tax money.
So, with this policy in place, what are the choices an EV buyer has for RM 100k? Currently, it’s only the Neta V and this, the BYD Dolphin. In this review, we’ll cover what it’s like to live with the BYD Dolphin and assess whether it meets the expectation of a RM 100k car.
Like its larger sibling, the BYD Atto 3, the exterior design is generally well accepted by most. It strikes a balance of contemporary design elements like the sharp lines or creases along the doors and the full-width taillamp.
The C-pillar is blacked out for a floating roof effect and the LED lighting strip on the front grille gives it a recognisable fascia especially during the night.
Overall, it opts for a safe and universally appealing aesthetic that is unlikely to offend anyone. While it may not possess the wow factor, it can probably withstand the test of time.
In terms of size, some might initially describe the BYD Dolphin as being Myvi-sized, but a closer look at its dimensions reveals that it's actually larger than it appears. The BYD Dolphin measures 4,290 mm long, 1,770 mm wide, 1,570 mm tall, with a wheelbase stretching at 2,700 mm.
In comparison, the third-generation Perodua Myvi has the following dimensions in length, width, and height respectively - 3,895 mm, 1,735 mm, 1,515 mm. Wheelbase comes in at 2,500 mm.
So, the BYD Dolphin is notably longer, wider, and taller than the Perodua Myvi. It also boasts a significantly longer wheelbase, which should, in theory, contribute to more interior space.
Interior – Nice to see, not-so-nice to touch, terrible to use
Stepping inside cabin, it does feel rather airy and spacious. The relatively low dashboard, general sense of airiness, plus the small triangular window towards the A-pillar invoke memories of the Honda Jazz.
Quality wise, material choices are mostly hard plastics, with a splash of vegan leather across the middle section of the dashboard and certain areas on the doors. The buttons aren’t tactile and switchgear on the centre of dashboard lean towards the flimsier side. But can you really complain at this price point?
Taking centre stage is BYD’s signature revolving 12.8-inch touchscreen infotainment system. It can switch between landscape and portrait orientations at the touch of a button, with BYD suggesting different orientations for various use cases.
In practice, most users are likely to stick with the landscape orientation. Partly because the portrait orientation sticks out just a tad from the window line, but mostly because Apple CarPlay doesn't support this orientation.
The infotainment system's hardware and software mirror those of the BYD Atto 3. And like in the Atto 3, the display is of high resolution and the system is responsive. But the biggest issue this writer has is the user interface.
The software feels unpolished with weird translations, and navigating through its functions can be convoluted with multiple layers. Even adjusting the climate control is a multi-menu affair. The smartphone-sized instrument cluster is challenging to read at a glance with the overload of information.
A redeeming feature would be the surround-view cameras that deserve praise for their high resolution, which makes parking a breeze.
In terms of storage and practicality, there’s a tray just under the rotating display for pocket items or a phone and another compartment below it for more loose items. There’s no cover for the centre storage so you might want to keep valuables elsewhere.
Space in the rear is commendable, with slightly more than two tennis balls of kneeroom and one tennis ball of headroom for a 177 cm tall individual. Boot space, however, is not cavernous at 345 litres, and it leans towards being tall rather than deep. And there's no front trunk (frunk).
Driving Experience – Easy to manoeuvre, but ADAS needs some work
Now, let's talk about the driving experience in the BYD Dolphin. Acceleration is best described as modest in this Dynamic Standard Range variant. Regardless of the driving mode or ESC setting, the initial power delivery when you put your foot down is gentle and then it ramps up to its full 95 PS potential.
It clocked an 11.9 seconds sprint time from 0-100 km/h without any squirm from the tyres or any sort of drama. It’s slow by EV standards but it’s average for a B-segment hatchback.
While the Dolphin is somewhat firmer than the Atto 3, it still prioritises a comfortable ride. It offers acceptable grip with less body roll than you might expect from a tall hatchback, but push it too hard and it can start to feel a bit unruly. The steering is slow and lacks engagement, but this shouldn’t deter buyers as it never had any sporty pretences.
The positive aspect of the ultra-light steering is that it's effortless to manoeuvre at parking speeds. The brake pedal delivers predictable responses in normal driving, which is a commendable as this isn't always the case with EVs.
Despite the impressive array of standard driver aids, the Dolphin tends to generate a continuous stream of warning noises, which becomes annoying. Though many of these warnings sound quite similar, making it easy to tune them out.
Even more concerning is the behavior of the lane-keeping assist with emergency steering assist, which can be overly aggressive to point of being dangerous at times. It can potentially steer the car towards oncoming traffic if you veer too close to the nearside verge, to avoid a pothole or biker for example. This is unfortunate, as the lane centering system, paired with adaptive cruise control, works quite well.
Ride Comfort – Impressively matured ride
Unlike the Premium Extended Range that features a multilink rear suspension, the Dynamic Standard Range variant gets torsion beam at the rear. But having lived with the torsion beam set up, yours truly is confident that most buyers would be perfectly fine with it.
It handles imperfect road surfaces with impressive poise, effectively damping the impact of potholes and speed bumps. The relatively long wheelbase also helps in providing a matured ride characteristic.
Seats are rather comfortable as well, both front and rear. Lumbar support is a touch on the aggressive side personally, but the overall sculpture is supportive and the paddings are plush.
More importantly, the rear bench is of a decent height which means rear passengers aren’t seated in an uncomfortable crouching position, unlike many other EVs.
In terms of cabin insulation, general noise level is low as the car itself generates minimal noise, be it the whirring from the electric motor or tyre noise. But once up to speed, exterior noises such as traffic and wind noise start creeping in.
2023 BYD Dolphin - Cabin noise level
If you're considering your first EV, the BYD Dolphin makes an excellent entry choice. Even in its basic form, the Dynamic Standard Range variant, it offers a healthy amount of kit including a leather interior, automatic climate control, a 12.8-inch rotating display, and, most importantly, six airbags along with a comprehensive suite of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS).
In contrast, the similarly-priced Neta V falls short with only two airbags and no ADAS. While it's true that the Dolphin's ADAS might not be the most polished, it's undoubtedly preferable to have it than to go without, just leave the emergency steering assist disabled.
The Android-based system, on the other hand, can be irksome enough to put users off. One can adapt to it with time, but do you really want to make such a concession?
If you can, then the Dolphin's comfortable ride and ease of operation (driving, not the infotainment) makes it an easy recommend for those looking to venture into the world of EVs for the first time.
The quest for automotive knowledge began as soon as the earliest memories. Various sources information, even questionable ones, have been explored including video games, television, magazines, or even internet forums. Still stuck in that rabbit hole.