I first heard about BYD (Build Your Dreams) from a friend who was raving about a car that can be remote-controlled for parking purposes. With so many automakers working on automated driving and assisted-parking systems, to say I was a little surprised that a Chinese brand put a remote-control on a production car this early is an understatement.
Naturally my interest was piqued and immediately accepted an offer to test-drive their SUV, the BYD S6.
BYD’s S6 is a compact 5-seater 4x2 SUV that comes in two trims. Despite being the very first SUV from BYD, it already possesses excellent physical characteristics. It sports a power sun roof and is very sleek plus its rather low profile gives it a lower coefficient of drag. This particular test unit's exterior keeps up with the modern crop of compact SUVs; some may even say it’s an RX350 doppelganger. Whatever the case may be, no one can say its design is out-of-date. It doesn’t try to do too much with the look, as BYD's designers kept it simple, neat and clean, which is almost always a good thing; not a bad effort for a first-timer.
Using the S6’s hands-free key fob allows you to just push a button on the door handle to open and another push on the Start/Stop button to start it up. Proving to you that the S6 doesn’t fall short in terms of cool features and hi-tech stuff, for an extra Php40,000 you can opt to wear the Smart Watch to use the car. It doesn’t come with every S6 purchase but when worn it functions just like the key fob.
Beige is the motif of the interior, and it's most prominent on the leather seats and the door panels. It’s a safe choice as it immediately sets a softer, classier tone and instantly provides a relaxing mood. The plastics used on the door panels and dashboard are good enough but they could be better. They look good overall but feel stiff and hard to the touch, which just seems contradictory to what the interior hue suggests.
Expecting an unpretentious and straightforward panel from a young 10-year-old Chinese brand, I was pleasantly surprised that BYD attempted to load the S6 with plenty of technology. Every manner of switch and button can be found on the audio and entertainment system, and the steering wheel. It is overwhelming and a little confusing in the beginning and it might take some getting used to but even a simpleton will get the hang of it eventually.
Save for the analogue speedometer, all the other gauges on the instrumentation panel are digital. The resolution isn’t quite as sharp but it is vivid and colourful enough to be clearly seen.
The 7-inch touch screen is surrounded with buttons on both sides for the dual zone temperature adjustment while buttons lined at the bottom are for the map, mobile phone connection, GPS navigation, climate control and other vehicle and lighting settings. Below all that is the radio and CD/DVD slot, which is hooked up to 9 speakers, with its own set of buttons along with options for various audio and video services.
The steering wheel also has its fair share of buttons with the cruise control to a hands-free phone system; there are a lot of buttons to scan through while driving but after some seat time I was able orient myself fairly easily with the system. The rear-view mirror is sufficiently wide and features glare-reduction along with a digital compass that indicates your direction by displaying its first letter.
Another great feature is the seat belt warning light and sound that go off every time the driver and front passenger aren’t buckled up while the S6 is mobile; it can be tedious on short grocery runs but it is better to be safe than sorry.
The low profile of this 5-seater belies the roominess it provides. The cushy seats provide the type of comfort the market for this type of SUV craves while the leg room justifies the size of the S6. The 2nd row seats are 4-way adjustable to provide extra comfort while the hatch provides copious amounts for space for all manner of luggage and load.
The Mitsubishi 4G69 2.4L MIVEC (Mitsubishi Innovative Valve timing Electronic Control system) engine is more than enough to lug around the nearly 1.9 ton curb weight of the S6. It feels agile and light whether in the tight streets of the city or on the open roads of the highway. A few more Nm of torque would have really made things more exciting but, judging by what it curently puts out, it's ample for what the S6 needs to do on a daily basis. It will overtake easily whenever you need it to and didn’t feel underpowered with what I had loaded into it.
Overall fuel consumption in pure city driving is 7.7 kilomteres to a liter. Engine noise is evident in the cabin, so much so that it may sound like a diesel to the uninitiated but its smooth performance will tell you right away that the engine is petrol-powered. The suspension is stiff enough for all other SUV duties but also handles the imperfections of Philippine roads quite well.
The S6 offers a complete array of safety features including 6 airbags (dual, side, front and curtain) plus it is equipped with Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS) and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD). It also has parking sensors, proximity sensors and also a right side-view camera that gives the driver a peek at the entire length of the S6 from the front passenger door all the way to the rear with just a push of a button on the steering wheel.
The BYD S6 is a compact SUV with looks, comfort, performance and handling that’s quite close if not already at par with models in the same segment. It also offers the same amount (if not more) of the technology found in more expensive and up-market vehicles in the country. Unusually, the main strength (technology) of the S6 could also be its weakness: it tries to offer everything all at once. Some may be able to cope like I did, but some may find it too much to handle.
The glaring variable is overall durability of the S6 2.4L and all the tech it possesses. Will it perform consistently and long enough to justify its Php1,158,000 tag price? That may be relatively cheap for a compact SUV with all these features but there’s a ‘rite of passage’ new auto manufacturers have to hurdle. The Japanese brands went through it, the Koreans automakers just about cleared it while Chinese brands are still in the thick of it. After it gets mileage on Philippine roads and years in the hands of Filipinos, only then can we really determine its true worth and viability.
Despite being in the industry for only 10 years, BYD has already fulfilled their namesake.. They took that all-important first step and they’re gonna have to take a lot more if they’re willing to see this through beyond just mere market share. If the S6 is any indication of direction, BYD is definitely on the right path.