Text: Brent Co / Photos: Kelvin Christian Go | posted December 23, 2014 15:00
Compact alternative at a subcompact price
Dream it and build it. This was exactly how the BYD name stands for - Build Your Dreams, a vision of founding Chairman Wang Chuanfu who started the technology company with an inspirational rags to riches story. He is now one of China's richest businessmen.
Through local distributor Solar Transport Automotive Resources (STAR), many can realize their dream of owning a car at more affordable alternatives from China. The manual gearbox BYD L3 is one such alternative; a model that tries to bridge the gap between a subcompact sedan and a compact model, yet still retaining the price of the former.
Looking at the BYD L3, those who are well versed in cars may get a sense of deja vu. BYD executives might argue that the BYD L3's resemblance to the previous generation Toyota Corolla was merely coincidental, it's not totally a bad thing to follow the footsteps of the world’s best selling nameplate, though this case might be a bit too much.
To the untrained eye, the L3 might actually be mistaken for a Corolla upon first glance, though BYD's designers did make some alterations here and there such as the sharper corners as opposed to the round edges of its Japanese “inspiration”. To be fair, the Japanese -once upon a time- did draw inspiration from the Germans and Americans.
The L3, as previously stated, has in the dimensions of a car in the compact class. It measures 4568 mm long, 1716 mm wide, 1480 mm tall and sits on a 2610 mm wheelbase; measurements similar to the tenth-generation Corolla.
While BYD designers may have given their inputs on the interior design, one might find that the dashboard, steering wheel, the radio, the switchgear (radio, power windows, etc) are very similar with the Corolla's. Fit and finish is quite good while the quality of plastics and switches used are impressive given the price. The shift knob, however, feels very cheap. You really can’t have it all.
Settling into the driver's seat, you'll feel the significant difference in driving position and ergonomics. Like most Chinese vehicles it felt more truck than car. What was noticeable was the lack of noxious (and probably toxic) 'Chinese new car scent' that we've experienced with other brands.
Under the hood is a familiar looking engine; it seems to be inspired by the Honda 1.5-liter L15A i-DSI engine found in the first-generation Jazz and City. This BYD “version” has been improved with variable valve lift, and now produces 108 PS at 5800 rpm with 144 Nm of torque at 4800 rpm. Unlike the previous L3 we drove with a dual clutch automatic transmission, this variant comes with a 5-speed manual gearbox.
While seemingly quick on paper, the L3 felt uncharacteristically sluggish on acceleration. This might be due to a mismatched transmission as the gears felt a bit too tall for the engine. At highway speeds the gearbox is okay, but it really feels slow when driven in urban environments. Although when you do get it on its groove towards the middle of the power range, it feels nice and steady. Cruising on the open road, it clocked an average of 16.5 km/l. Numbers shaved down to a little over 10 km/l while in the moderate city traffic.
In terms of comfort the L3 feels light and nimble to drive. It is easy to maneuver around urban traffic and handles bumps and ruts on the road with ease. On corners the L3 feels soft with the body roll to match; clearly it is not a car meant for cornering and winding roads. The brakes feel consistent and felt like they wouldn’t let you down if you really needed them.
Being a relatively young automotive company, the refinement of the car still needs some work. As far as Chinese cars are concerned, the BYD L3 stands out from similarly priced models in terms of value and quality. Once you factor Korean or Japanese marques into the equation with the BYD L3, however, what's clear is that -much like its gearbox- it's a tall order.