Things we like

  • Atto 3: Outstanding value, fun interior, drives well
  • ZS EV: Also well priced, better availability, quiet and smooth

Not so much

  • Atto 3: Unproven brand, longer wait time, warranty uncertainty
  • ZS EV: Handling is dull, basic interior, not as feature-rich

Things we like

  • Atto 3: Outstanding value, fun interior, drives well
  • ZS EV: Also well priced, better availability, quiet and smooth

Not so much

  • Atto 3: Unproven brand, longer wait time, warranty uncertainty
  • ZS EV: Handling is dull, basic interior, not as feature-rich

It’s getting easier – and cheaper – to join the electric vehicle revolution. The entry point for a new electric car in Australia is now $45K, and the competition for a spot in your driveway is intensifying thanks to the intriguing new, and very cheap, BYD Atto 3 electric SUV.

Fresh off the boat from China, BYD – short for Build Your Dreams – is one of the many upcoming Chinese car brands either eyeing off or just arrived in Australia. A small SUV built on a dedicated electric vehicle architecture, the Atto 3 is the first BYD model on general sale in Australia.

It seeks to steal market share from the also Chinese-made MG ZS EV that has been on sale in Australia since late 2020. Recently facelifted, it remains Australia’s cheapest electric vehicle – but that’s only after a $2000 price drop, to keep below its new $44,381 (before on-road costs) BYD foe.

Both of these high-tech small SUVs offer cut-price electric motoring for about the same price, but they’re far from equal.

We drove them back-to-back to find which is the best value way to go greener on the road.

Pricing and features

The BYD Atto 3 Extended Range we have on test is $47,381 before on-road costs. It uses a 60.4kWh battery pack powering a front motor with front-wheel drive.

There’s a Standard Range Atto 3 with a 49.9kWh battery that is $44,381 before on-road costs.

Our MG ZS EV Excite test vehicle also uses a front-mounted motor powering the front wheels and features a 50.3kWh battery. It costs $44,990 drive-away.

Both cars also benefit from electric vehicle incentives depending on your state – so be sure to do your own research as you can save thousands of dollars.

2023 BYD Atto 3 vs MG ZS EV: The basics

BYD Atto 3 ER MG ZS EV Excite
Battery: 60.48kWh 50.3kWh
Motor: Permanent magnet synchronous Permanent magnet synchronous
Power: 150kW 130kW
Torque: 310Nm 280Nm
L/W/H: 4455/1875/1615mm 4323/1809/1625mm
Wheelbase: 2720mm 2585mm
Weight: 1750kg 1570kg
Range: 420km (WLTP, claimed) 320km (WLTP, claimed)
Max AC charge-rate: 7kW (approx 8.5 hours from 0-100% charge) 11kW (approx 5 hours 0-100% charge)
Max DC charge-rate: 80kW (approx 45 minutes to 100% charge) 50kW (54 minutes from 10-80% charge)

Each offers a long list of standard equipment with no notable omissions, although our Atto 3 test lacked Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. BYD says smartphone mirroring will be available later this year. Of course, the MG ZS EV offers both.

But that aside, it’s the BYD Atto 3 that offers more standard equipment for the price and is the better deal on paper.

You can read our detailed features comparison here, but the BYD offers equipment that the MG Excite does not, including faux-leather interior trim (to the MG’s cloth); electric front seat adjustment; an electric opening/closing tailgate; massive sunroof; blind-spot monitoring and semi-autonomous cruise control. It also gets 18-inch wheels to the MG’s 17s.

Both cars excel with four parking cameras each, but the BYD’s are displayed on the central screen in much better resolution.

They are also both crammed full of safety equipment, but the BYD has seven airbags to the MG’s six. The MG received a five-star ANCAP rating in 2019 but the BYD is yet to be crash-tested.

BYD goes further with an in-built dashcam. Both vehicles support V2L (vehicle-to-load), which means that using an included adaptor, you can plug in and power 240V appliances using the car’s battery. Very cool.

The Atto 3 is only available in four colours – red, blue, grey or white. The white is standard, but the blue, red or grey is $700 extra. You can only get red on the Extended Range variant. And only one interior trim is available, which is a slightly daring/gaudy blue and grey (possibly not to everybody’s taste).

Standard paintwork on the MG ZS is white or black. For $700, you can have yours in blue, red or silver metallic.

With eight speakers versus the MG’s four, the BYD has the better audio system both on paper and in practice.

Comfort and space

Both cars offer plenty of space, but get inside and the BYD feels roomier thanks to larger dimensions and its 135mm-longer wheelbase.

The Atto 3’s interior is airier and more light-filled, due in part to its large (standard) sunroof.

While its exterior styling is somewhat conventional, the eccentrically-styled interior is unlike any other car on the market and a veritable salad of concepts and ideas.

Quirks include styling supposedly informed by ‘gym culture’ with a shift lever inspired by a dumbbell; a centre 12.8-inch infotainment display that swivels electrically between portrait and landscape modes (sort of pointlessly, we might add).

There’s a small 5.0-inch digital instrument display behind the steering wheel that reminds us of a motorbike; then there are very unusual interior door handles and, helping retain items in the lower door bins, strings of elastic drawn tautly so they can be played like a guitar. They’re on the back doors too but for readers with small children there’s good news: it appears with some basic tools they can be easily removed.

Although the BYD interior bristles with novelty, everything works. The BYD’s cabin is nicely finished in leather-like materials and, overall, is a pleasant place to sit.

By comparison, the MG interior is smaller, feels more conventional and is easier to familiarise yourself with quickly. The car also feels narrower and taller than the BYD.

Many will like that they can just plug in their phone and up pops Apple CarPlay or Android Auto nice and clearly, large and fuss-free on the central 10.1-inch touchscreen. The MG also gets extra points for its generous door bins that easily accommodate a 1.5-litre bottle.

MG ZS EV rear seats

By comparison, the MG interior is smaller, feels more conventional and is easier to familiarise yourself with quickly. The car also feels narrower and taller than the BYD.

Elsewhere the finishes are pleasant – it feels like an imitation Volkswagen Golf interior – but not as nice as the BYD. This tester also disliked the seats; you felt like you sit ‘on’ the bottom bolsters, instead of ‘in’ them. And the lack of steering wheel reach adjustment made it trickier to get comfortable compared to the BYD.

There’s also a large passenger-side rear blind spot that affects confidence during lane-changing in heavy traffic – and, unlike the BYD, our MG test car had no blind-spot monitoring.

Both touchscreen infotainment systems were responsive and easy to use, but we preferred the Apple iOS-inspired software of the BYD. Both cars put some of the air-conditioning controls within a menu on the touchscreen, which is a bit annoying.

BYD Atto 3 rear seating

The BYD is much kinder to rear seat occupants. The MG has plenty of knee and foot space for adult rear-seat passengers, but the BYD takes it a step further. Rear-seat passengers in the MG get two central AC vents as well as USB-A and USB-C outlets, but unlike the BYD miss out on a centre armrest with cup holders and rear reading lights.

You also get map pockets in the back of the BYD’s front seats (the MG has none). The BYD feels roomier in the back thanks to the giant sunroof and fully flat floor, where the MG has a little transmission tunnel. Overall, the BYD’s rear seat is just better.

Of these two EVs, the MG has the better boot. On paper, the BYD’s is bigger at 440 litres, versus the MG’s 359 litres.

In practice, the MG’s boot, with its slightly lower floor, could hold more gear more easily.

BYD claws back points for its (standard) electric opening/closing tailgate and once you’ve had one of these on your car, it’s hard to go back to an old ‘manual’ set-up with gas struts as you’ll find on the MG ZS.

Neither car offers a front boot under the bonnet. Both have ‘cans of goo’ puncture repair kits instead of space-saver or full-size spare wheels.

Both the MG and BYD have ISOFIX child seat anchors in the outer rear seats.

On the road

In almost every situation, the BYD Atto 3 is much nicer to drive than the MG ZS EV.

The ride quality is more comfortable, it’s quieter and feels more stable at higher speeds.

Pushing their dashboard-mounted ‘on’ buttons, both cars start silently or with an audible bong or chime, and after selecting ‘D’ move away smoothly and quietly as we’ve come to like from electric motoring.

Both cars are very easy to drive, with light steering – but the MG has the tighter turning circle, making three-point turns and car park dawdling breezier.

The controls in both cars are pleasant, but the BYD’s feel a bit nicer, better engineered and more modern.

Slightly more mechanical noise emanates from the MG’s electric motor under acceleration and regeneration, and you can hear the suspension more than in the BYD.

Up to 25km/h, the BYD uses an external speaker to warn pedestrians with a loud drone that this tester found a bit odd, like holding down all the wrong keys on a piano at once. You get used to it, but it can’t be turned off.

Both cars are fun in the way electric cars are, offering near-silent, brisk acceleration thanks to the instant torque of their electric motors. The BYD, being heavy and soft, squats noticeably under acceleration, unweighting the front tyres and causing easy front wheelspin, triggering the traction control – which is sort of fun.

Both cars are fun in the way electric cars are, offering near-silent, brisk acceleration thanks to the instant torque of their electric motors

It would have actual traction issues in the wet, especially, we guess, on the standard 215/55 R18 Atlas Batman A51 tyres which aren’t great even in the dry. We’ve never heard of this brand and would replace them as quickly as possible.

The MG also spins up the front wheels in the dry – and both cars build speed gradually rather than explosively. There’s just enough power to punch into gaps in traffic or get the jump on a boofhead in a dual-cab ute at the lights.

With a 150kW/310Nm motor and 1750kg kerb weight, the BYD has a power-to-weight ratio of 86kW/tonne, versus the MG’s 83kW/tonne. The 130kW/280Nm motor of the ZS only has to shift 1570kg – quite light for an electric car.

BYD claims the Atto 3 can do 0-100km/h in 7.3 seconds to the MG’s claimed 8.6 seconds. Until we do our own testing, the BYD’s claim seems a bit optimistic.

Neither will wow you on a winding road either, but the BYD comes closer than the MG. The weight is relatively low in the car, but it’s still heavy, softly sprung and quickly ‘folds over’ its outside front tyres during hard cornering.

The MG ZS uses much better standard Michelin Primacy 3ST tyres in 215/55 R17 format but is even further from any semblance of sportiness owing partly to its simpler Torsion beam rear suspension set-up versus the BYD’s more modern independent arrangement. The MG’s suspension also feels less advanced, with a tendency to pogo over some bumps.

Surprisingly, neither car offers a ‘one-pedal’ driving feel sought after by many EV owners (where braking recuperation can be wound up so strong you only need to ease off the accelerator to slow down). Both cars, however, offer varying levels of recuperation – the MG has three and the BYD two. Neither car has steering wheel paddles to adjust said levels, using console buttons instead.

While the MG has radar cruise control, the BYD offers next-generation semi-autonomous cruise that can steer itself down the freeway for a short period with no hands on the steering wheel (before it bongs at you to put your hands back on).

Ownership

The BYD claims a range advantage over the MG ZS but takes longer to recharge. Both cars use the common Type 2/CCS2 charge port.

BYD claims 345km for the 50kWh base Atto 3 and 420km for the 60kWh Extended Range version, which costs $3000 more.

When we first jumped in, our Extended Range test car was displaying 98 per cent battery and 474km of available range. The BYD’s maximum at-home AC charge rate is 7kW, replenishing the battery in 8.5 hours.

For the ZS EV with its smaller battery, MG claims a 320km range and, thanks to a higher 11kW maximum at-home AC charge rate, can go from zero to 100 per cent in just five hours when hooked up to the right kind of equipment.

Our test car initially displayed 97 per cent battery and 337km of range. Obviously, the range goes down much more quickly if you hoon around in either car.

The BYD supports up to 70kW DC fast charging in Standard Range guise or 80kW in Extended Range – which can top the battery to 100 per cent in just 50 minutes. The MG can take up to 50kW DC and get to 80 per cent charge in 54 minutes.

Build quality on the MG and BYD seemed good, although go looking and you can find things that look ‘hand made’ like the uneven row of HVAC buttons in the MG’s centre stack; or how some of the trim on the cushions of the BYD’s split-fold rear seat don’t quite line up.

The MG has the better warranty at seven years and unlimited kilometres for both battery and vehicle.

BYD’s warranty is currently the subject of some controversy. Initially announced as seven years and unlimited kilometres, it was revised to six years or 150,000km for the car and eight years or 160,000km for the battery.

It gets worse: in the fine print, BYD controversially warrants certain items for shorter periods – for example, the charging cable is only covered for a year and the infotainment system, three years or 60,000km. Several owners cancelled their orders because of the change in warranty policy.

In terms of servicing costs, the MG also wins out over the BYD. It’s $268 per service for the first six years with two-year/24,000km intervals.

For the first five years of ownership, BYD offers capped price annual servicing at $189 each visit, provided the vehicle doesn’t go over 60,000km during that period.

Otherwise, service intervals are every 12 months or 20,000km, with the Atto 3 costing $2390 to service over eight years. In the same period, it would cost $1611 to service the ZS EV at today’s prices.

VERDICT

To drive, and for standard equipment, the BYD Atto 3 is superior to the MG ZS EV. It feels a generation newer, is much nicer to drive and it clearly was engineered from the ground up to be an electric vehicle.

A likeable simplicity permeates the MG but by comparison to the BYD, it feels like an old car that’s been retrofitted with a battery and electric motor, garnished by some interior digital displays.

The BYD’s unusual interior styling might be a deal-breaker for some, who will relish the conventional and familiar cabin styling of the MG. But most will at least get used to the BYDs quirks, and then find themselves in a surprisingly accomplished electric vehicle.

Another deal-breaker might be the wait. As of September 2022, the wait for a BYD Atto 3 was five to six months whereas if you were flexible on colour and happy to call around dealers hunting vehicles in stock, you could have a ZS EV – and be part of that electric vehicle revolution – in a matter of weeks, if not days.

BYD Atto 3: 7.0/10

Things we like

  • Outstanding value
  • Quirky interior vibe
  • Drives surprisingly well

Not so much

  • Brand still unproven
  • Longer wait time
  • Warranty uncertainty

MG ZS EV: 6.0/10

Things we like

  • Also very cheap for an EV
  • Better availability
  • Quiet, smooth electric motoring

Not so much

  • Handling nothing special
  • Slightly basic interior
  • Not as many goodies as BYD

BYD Atto 3 vs MG ZS EV specifications

BYD Atto 3 Extended Range MG ZS EV Excite
Body: 5-door, 5-seat small SUV 5-door, 5-seat small SUV
Drive: front-wheel front-wheel
Battery: 60.48kWh 50.3kWh
Motor: Permanent magnet synchronous Permanent magnet synchronous
Power: 150kW 130kW
Torque: 310Nm 280Nm
L/W/H: 4455/1875/1615mm 4323/1809/1625mm
Wheelbase: 2720mm 2585mm
Weight: 1750kg 1570kg
0-100km/h: 7.3sec (claimed) 8.2sec (claimed)
Range: 420km (WLTP, claimed) 320km (WLTP, claimed)
Max AC charge-rate: 7kW (approx 8.5 hours from 0-100% charge) 11kW (approx 5 hours 0-100% charge)
Max DC charge-rate: 80kW (approx 45 minutes to 100% charge) 50kW (54 minutes from 10-80% charge)
Plug type: Type 2 / CCS 2 Type 2 / CCS 2
Boot size: 440L 359L
Suspension: MacPherson strut (f), multi-link (r) MacPherson strut (f), Torsion beam (r)
Brakes: Ventilated disc (f), solid disc (r) Ventilated disc (f), solid disc (r)
Tyres: 215/55 Atlas Batman A51 215/55 Michelin Primacy 3ST
Wheels: 18-inch alloy (puncture repair kit for spare) 17-inch alloy (puncture repair kit for spare)
Price: $47,381 before on-road costs $44,990 drive-away

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