Text: Martin Aguilar / Photos: Kelvin Christian Go | posted September 22, 2014 12:27
The Chinese alternative
When you consider the history of innovation, China is one of the nations that brought advancements to mankind. Think about it: gunpowder, paper and even beer (yes, beer) were reportedly invented in ancient China, a culture that history proves to be no stranger to innovation.
Can the same be said of their cars, particularly the BYD L3? Let's find out.
BYD, which stand for Build Your Dreams, is a Chinese automobile manufacturer that was founded in 2002 and has arrived in the country a year ago and this, the L3 sedan, is their competitor in the compact family car segment.
The first thing you might comment about this car is its resemblance to the Corolla Altis.
The L3 has an overall length of 4,568 mm, a width of 1,716 mm and a height of 1,480 mm. The front design features a chrome radiator grill infused with the BYD emblem. It has projector type headlights with black colored headlamp body. The bumper is incorporated with fog lamps, which gives the L3 a composed stance. The hood of the L3 has flowing lines and a power side mirrors that compliments the overall front design of the vehicle.
The side profile of the L3 has lines that extend up to the vehicle’s taillights and gives the vehicle a simple yet smooth design. The first thing you might comment on the car is its rather striking resemblance to the previous generation Toyota Corolla Altis (10th gen E140). Based on the look, however, we can say that the L3 is a rather good looking (albeit unlicensed) derivative of the world's best selling nameplate.
The BYD L3 has a two-tone interior with dark gray and beige. The dashboard is formed from hard plastic but does look quite stylish despite the strong similarity to the Corolla E140. The four spoke steering wheel comes with audio control which is a good thing because most vehicles in the market offer this feature as well. Adding to the list is the L3’s LED instrument cluster that is dominated with color orange. The cabin can easily accommodate five passengers with ample leg and head room.
Where the L3 shines is in terms of features as BYD really fit it with everything and then some. The center console of the L3 has a 7-inch 2-DIN multi-media system that has AM/FM, CD and DVD player, USB and AUX features. The screen also serves as a rear view screen when the vehicle is backing up. The L3 has two SD card slots; one for multimedia and another for the optional navigation system. By the way, the AUX and USB port is located inside the center armrest box between the two front seats.
Placed below the audio controls are the knobs for the air conditioning system. Living in a tropical country, L3’s air conditioning unit is relatively cool, but we think it could still be improved upon. For safety, it is equipped with dual front airbags, anti-lock brakes and electronic brakeforce distribution. The L3 also comes with a push button ignition system, a smart key, leather upholstery and even a sun roof.
Under the hood, this automatic variant of the L3 is powered by a 16 valve SOHC 1.5L engine with variable valve lift that delivers 109 PS and 144 Nm of torque. The engine is mated to a six-speed dual clutch transmission; a combination that BYD claims can reach top speed of 170 km/h, though we won't be putting that to the test.
Upon starting, the engine seems to sound a little rough but smooths out after some time on the road. The L3 is comfortable to drive around the metro but the rear suspension does need a little improvement as the road surface (particularly the uneven surface common in metro streets) can be felt just a tad too much.
In town, the BYD L3 drives a bit like a manual because I can feel the shift shock from the dual clutch automatic gearbox as opposed to a traditional torque converter automatic. Another thing the BYD L3 can use is hill start assist, as the dual clutch transmission doesn't hold the vehicle in place when you step from the brake to the accelerator on an inclined road (i.e. mall parking lot). Also it is apparent that most of the power is located at the upper tiers of the RPM range, meaning it does take a while to get going from a standstill. Power is there once it has gained momentum, but the gear shifts quite slow.
On the highway, the BYD L3 drives nicely, but there's a noticeable cranking sound when stepping on the accelerator to make a pass. That notwithstanding, the fuel economy rating of the L3 is at par with other vehicles in the market. The car registered 9.9 km/l on a moderate to heavy city traffic (16-20 km/h average) and 15.2 km/l in the open highway with two people aboard.
Overall, the BYD L3 is one of the better equipped cars in its segment for the price; that's always a good thing. The pressing issue, however, is that while the BYD L3 may be a decent derivative of another model, there are still creases and kinks that need to be ironed out in the way it drives.
Cars from indigenous Chinese auto manufacturers may not be at that stage yet to evenly compete against Japanese and Korean brands just yet, but there is plenty of potential. If the Chinese car industry dedicate their efforts to designing and engineering truly original cars and apply their industrial might (and wealth) in doing so, it's very possible.