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BYD Dolphin first drive: Shocking entry to the EV world

VJ Bacungan · Oct 27, 2022 06:00 PM

BYD Dolphin first drive: Shocking entry to the EV world 01

The very first story I wrote for AutoFun Philippines, after a four-year hiatus as a motoring journalist, was about Republic Act 11697 or the "Electric Vehicle Industry Development Act."

Most legislative stories would bore me (and many of you) half to death, especially when you have to decipher all the provisions of a law. 

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But this particular measure piqued my interest because it provides the framework for the growth of electric vehicles (EV) in the country, from the cars to the charging stations to the number-coding exemptions that even the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority had to reiterate to its enforcers.

However, reading through R.A. 11697 made me think about whether or not the Philippines really was ready to go electric. 

The last EV I drove on the road was the prototype Mitsubishi i-MIEV – a rather narrow, five-door hatchback that felt like it could be knocked over by a light breeze. 

Combined with the lack of charging stations, EVs seemed like a fad that would never prosper. In fact, the i-MIEV never really got sold in the Philippines.

Many birthdays have passed since that drive – I left motoring to focus on my master's degree and I somehow got into motorsports, picking up several championships along the way. The COVID-19 pandemic also did a number on my once-svelte figure.

Now that I'm back to writing about cars, I'm faced with yet another EV hatchback: the BYD Dolphin. With new legislation and a substantial technological leap for EVs, is a car like this still a fad?

Standout styling

Dolphin is an odd name for a car – especially so for the baby of the BYD lineup.

The five-door hatchback certainly doesn't look like the marine creature that it is named after, but the styling definitely stands out from similar-sized hatches like the Toyota Raize or the Kia Stonic.

Up front, the LED headlights and the front grill are integrated into one smooth design, with a rather nondescript lower grill opening. The hood forms another layer and melds with the A-pillar.

byd dolphin exterior side view

The BYD Dolphin includes fun little details like orange accents and faux-carbon fiber trim on the C-pillar

Down the side, the small windows emphasize the high beltline, which is accentuated by the prominent ridge running from the front fender to the LED taillights. The creases in the lower part of the doors make the Dolphin look less like a small van.

Out back, the taillights are connected to each other with a red strip, while the rear lower valance imitates the styling up front.

What really makes the Dolphin exciting are the little details – the splashes of orange on the mirror caps and the bumpers, the faux-carbon fiber trim on the C-pillar, the two-tone paint scheme that sets off the hood and the roof and even the black-and-silver 16-inch alloy wheels.

Fabulous interior

Step inside and it gets even more spectacular.

The old i-MIEV had a dreary, plasticky cabin that made it feel like it was one step up from walking. The Dolphin's interior makes you feel like you're living in the year 2042.

The dash includes insane circular air-con vents with orange trim, with the outer vents forming part of this massive, silver dogbone structure. Sadly, the 12.8-inch touchscreen looks like an afterthought and could have been integrated better.

byd dolphin interior dashboard

The BYD Dolphin has a futuristic dashboard and an airy leather cabin

Below the screen are the Dolphin's major controls. At the left is a rotatry dial that controls the transmission, with buttons for the hazard lights and the standard electronic stability program right beside.

In addition, the Dolphin's full leather interior is a splendid combination of white and black. I particularly liked the orange piping used in the seats, along with the cool, floating inner door handles.

However, some of the plastics on the top of the dash were too hard and cheap-feeling. Using leatherette or vinyl would have jived with the premium feel.

Sprightly on the road, but controls are finicky

All right, what everyone has been waiting for – what's it like behind the wheel?

The short answer: it is far better than that old i-MIEV from many moons ago.

The longer answer would require me to explain the Dolphin's powertrain: it gets a 44.9 kWh battery pack mounted under the floor, in between the wheels. This is connected to an electric motor on the front axle that produces 95 PS and a whopping 180 Nm of torque.

In a car that weighs just 1,405 kg, the results are pretty impressive – it can do 0 to 50 km/h in 3.9 seconds and tops off at 130 km/h.

byd dolphin electric motor

Under the hood, the BYD Dolphin has an electric motor that's good for 0 to 50 km/h in 3.9 seconds

In Eco mode, it pootles around with more than enough poke for the test drive around SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City. In Sport mode, you can light up the front tires at full throttle if you leave the traction control off.

The Dolphin actually carries the sporty vibe very well. The front and rear disc brakes are strong with excellent pedal feel, while the placement of the battery pack means plenty of stability in abrupt turns.

But even the little Dolphin has a few tricks that it can learn from its internal-combustion rivals – the steering is far too light and the rotary transmission selector lacks precision, especially when shifting from Neutral to Drive.

BYD claims a maximum range of 400 kilometers for the Dolphin. It can be recharged in 20 hours using an ordinary 220-volt socket or in seven hours using BYD's fast charger.

A long-term test would certainly see how true these numbers are.

Worth a shot

Dolphins are renowned in the animal kingdom for their immense intellect. When trained, they can even perform tricks and interact with humans.

This, perhaps, may be why BYD's entry-level EV is called the Dolphin. It has plenty of smart features that make it a plush urban runabout, with the added bonus of a sporty flavor for more keen drivers like me.

But all of this comes at a price – PhP 1,798,000 to be exact. For comparison, the top-of-the-line Toyota Raize G Turbo is PhP 1,051,000 and the Kia Stonic EX is PhP 951,000.

Among fellow battery EVs, the Nissan LEAF is a big jump at PhP 2,798,000, while the upcoming Kia EV6 will cost you two Dolphins at under P4 million.

The closest EV in terms of price is the Nissan Kicks VL at PhP 1,509,000. But because it has a three-cylinder gasoline generator, the Kicks still produces more emissions than the pure-electric Dolphin.

I stepped out of BYD's little hatchback with a bit of a smile – EVs were no longer fads or oversized kids' toys, but viable and dignified personal transportation.

Only the passage of time and more financial incentives (like in other countries) will show whether or not EVs become popular locally.

But if you want to get into battery-electric EVs sooner rather than later, the BYD Dolphin is certainly a good place to start.

A long-term review will give us the chance to see how well it works in day-to-day driving.

VJ Bacungan

Senior Writer

An award-winning multimedia journalist, editor, and host for online and TV who has written in-depth stories on road safety and the Philippine elections. Outside of the media, VJ is an accomplished motorsports champion, English teacher, and dancer.

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