Chinese giant adds a plug-in hybrid SUV to its growing British showroom range

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In the UK, there’s a belief that Chinese electric cars are often technically brilliant, while its ICE efforts never are. So where does the new BYD Seal U plug-in hybrid fit into place?

This SUV is an important curiosity, because the world’s largest manufacturer of electric cars, which so far has only introduced EVs to the UK, has seen fit to bring a PHEV here.

This isn’t new ground for BYD. Back in 2008, it was the first manufacturer to mass-produce a PHEV. Called the F3DM, it was a bit of a commercial flop. But the game has moved on a great deal since then, and now PHEVs are in the mainstream.

The Seal U is very much aimed at family SUV owners who aren’t quite ready to make the full switch to electricity yet. Rivals include PHEV versions of the Volkswagen Tiguan, Kia Sportage and Toyota RAV4.



byd seal u review 2024 02 side panning

Despite looking like a BYD Seal that has eaten too many fish, with the same ‘ocean aesthetics’ design language (highlighted by a beltline that extends from headlights to tail-lights) and tech-filled cabin, the Seal U technically sits on a different platform to that electric saloon. 

Mechanically, it’s pretty interesting. The FWD Boost model comes with a 1.5-litre normally aspirated Atkinson-cycle petrol engine, a 18.3kWh battery and an electric motor at the front. Meanwhile, the AWD Design model combines a four-cylinder 1.5-litre turbo Miller-cycle petrol engine with a 18.3kWh battery, an electric motor at the front and an electric motor at the rear. (The Miller cycle is meant to be more efficient at high speeds, the Atkinson cycle at low speeds.)

The petrol engines can power the front wheels or the front electric motor, but the rear motor in the AWD model can be powered only by the battery.

The car is ostensibly fitted with a single-speed transmission, a bit like with an EV, but in reality there’s one gear for the electric powertrain, one gear for the engine and a reduction gear to mesh the two together.


byd seal u review 2024 11 dash

All Seal Us come with the same amount of kit. Trim levels are mostly about hardware.

Inside, it’s mostly soft-touch surfaces, with the seats, dashboard, door panels and centre console upholstered in 'vegan' faux leather.

It's dominated by BYD's unique 15.6in rotating infotainment touchscreen, but apart from that it’s fairly nondescript. 

There are a few useful shortcuts to things such as heating controls and speed warnings on the screen, but ultimately we would prefer some physical heating controls.

At least there are two wireless phone chargers and four USB ports. Plus it comes with vehicle-to-load charging capability as standard, so you could use it to run, say, a coffee machine or a games console.

Up front, there’s plenty of space for driver and passenger not to bump knees and it’s similarly good in the rear.

Boot space is 425 litres, meaning it’s slightly smaller than the PHEV versions of the Tiguan and RAV4.


byd seal u review 2024 22 engine

So far, we’ve only driven the AWD Boost model. The motor at the front has 201bhp, the motor at the rear has 161bhp and the engine makes 129bhp. Total power is 319bhp, though, because they can’t all be used in conjunction. 

It’s sooo quiet. Even as you accelerate sharply into the outside lane of a motorway and the engine is awoken from its slump, the whole car remains eerily hushed.

Even with sharp and prolonged stabs at the throttle, there’s no elasticky feeling from the gearbox or big, crashing noises from the lump at the front consuming dino juice.

It feels powerful too. The 0-62mph time of 5.9sec feels about right and overtaking ability – let’s say between 20mph and 60mph – is effortless.

The brakes are very good: strong pedal action, consistent, always feel like they will come back the same. The emergency hazard lights are a bit too keen to step up, but it’s not anything that will annoy too many people in daily driving.


byd seal u review 2024 23 off road

This is where the Seal U falls down. The primary ride is just too soft. You’re left floating around in your seat as the suspension lollops around. It’s so softly sprung at times that it’s just uncomfortable.

At low speeds, there’s only a bit of bouncing around in your seat, but at 60mph there’s notable bounding from uneven surfaces, with the suspension seeming to take an eternity to return to equilibrium.

The steering is pretty vague: quite uncommunicative with little feedback through the tips of your fingers.

It’s not hard to drive; it just really zaps your enjoyment.


byd seal u review 2024 01 front tracking

What the Seal U may lack in dynamic prowess it should make up for in frugality. We’re yet to conduct any thorough testing, but our mixed test route of the AWD model produced a score of around 44mpg using a mixture of electric and petrol power.

Officially, FWD models offer an electric-only range of around 50 miles and a fuel consumption figure of 314mpg. Total range, including from the petrol powertrain, is rated at more than 621 miles.

AWD models have an EV range of 44 miles and will officially do 235mpg. Theoretical total range is 541 miles.

The batteries for both cars can be charged from 30-80% in around 35 minutes using an 11kW charger.


byd seal u review 2024 29 static

Despite having an interesting powertrain and set-up, there’s very little here for the enthusiast. The ride is too soft, the steering is too vague and the design is too anonymous.

It is cheap, especially considering the EV range and overall space on offer. But the Sportage has a more premium-feeling and ergonomic interior, while the Tiguan is better to drive.

Murray Scullion

Murray Scullion
Title: Digital editor

Murray has been a journalist for more than a decade. During that time he’s written for magazines, newspapers and websites, but he now finds himself as Autocar’s digital editor.

He leads the output of the website and contributes to all other digital aspects, including the social media channels, podcasts and videos. During his time he has reviewed cars ranging from £50 - £500,000, including Austin Allegros and Ferrari 812 Superfasts. He has also interviewed F1 megastars, knows his PCPs from his HPs and has written, researched and experimented with behavioural surplus and driverless technology.

Murray graduated from the University of Derby with a BA in Journalism in 2014 and has previously written for Classic Car Weekly, Modern Classics Magazine, buyacar.co.uk, parkers.co.uk and CAR Magazine, as well as carmagazine.co.uk.