Mat Ranasinghe finds a positive vibe from China amid the doom and gloom.
Build Your Dreams (BYD) is one of the largest producers of batteries for electronics and has been delving into automobiles in recent times. Readers living in the UK, Europe and Singapore may have travelled in BYD’s popular ‘e6’ electric taxi. Although we’ve travelled in them, we haven’t had a chance of being behind the wheel as the company aims primarily for fleet and taxi sales.
Why? Perhaps because the e6 (while being hardy and reliable, as well as offering much better environmental and economic returns since it uses electricity rather than diesel) is also rather agricultural.
In spite of its Rexine seats and fancy digital display similar to a Prius, it also conveyed most of the road and ambient noises inside. Its most notable letdown was the exterior styling and detailing – they were akin to a disproportionate 1980s hatchback.
In September 2017, BYD released the Song Max compact MPV, which is driven by a 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine. Having roots in battery manufacturing, the obvious next step was a Dual Mode (DM) plug-in hybrid and an EV. The Song Max DM is powered by the same 1.5-litre turbo unit and complemented by electric motors fed by either 10 kWh or 16 kWh batteries, giving the EV ranges of 51 kilometres and 81 kilometres respectively.
This is a new model from a relatively new manufacturer. The three row six or seven-seater may give MPVs like Toyota’s Innova and Wish, Honda’s Shuttle and Freed, and Citroën’s C4 a run for their money. And talking of money, Song Max is able to ameliorate all the competition with price since it’s a Chinese product.
1.5-litre turbocharged petrol, 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol plug-in hybrid (Song Max DM) and Song Max pure EV with an electric drivetrain. No diesels – as these three versions cover the entire band of economy values. EV Range is 51 km and 81 km electric only range (with 10 kWh and 16 kWh batteries) on the DM while the pure EV has an impressive claimed range of 401 km.
Six-speed manual and six-speed auto on the petrol and DM models.
1.5-litre turbo petrol version is rated at 154 bhp while the DM combines that figure with an electric motor. EV model is rated at 163 bhp.
We would certainly recommend the Song Max EV or Hybrid for the six or seven-seater buyer on a budget. It ticks all the boxes and will suit Sri Lanka – assuming a reliable sole agent takes on the task.
Its latest release, the Song Max pure EV is powered by a 163 bhp electric drivetrain and fed by a 60 kWh battery – it is said to be capable of an impressive 401 kilometres for every charge. That said, we didn’t get a chance to verify this over a long-term test.
Chinese manufacturers have been plagiarising designs and details from other carmakers for a long time. And while the attractive and streamlined Song Max is an original, probably thanks to designer Wolfgang Egger (formerly of Audi), the electric seat controls on the front doors will instantly make you remember the three-pointed star!
The interior is a significant improvement over the e6 – but if you scratch around a little, you’ll find lots of cheap plastics.
Acknowledging that Song Max’s competition is not exactly German, it competes reasonably well with Toyota’s Innova. Ample head and legroom are found in the first two rows while in the third row, things may be slightly cramped for taller passengers.
Accommodation configurations can be ordered either for a six-seater (two + two + two for easier egress into the third row) or seven-seater (two + three + two for maximum passenger capacity). The driver’s display consists of two traditional analogue rotary dials with a central digital information panel, which in this day and age of virtual displays falls seriously short. At the centre of the dash is a tablet style display for entertainment and climate settings.
When driving the EV version, the first thing we noticed is the welcome torque that seems to be packed into this practical MPV. Softly sprung, it offers a reasonably comfortable ride. We’d say it’s a fair effort from a company that’s been around for less than two decades.
What’s most impressive is this EV’s claimed 401 kilometre range. It’s also apparent that NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) has been reworked since the e6, which by the way is still on sale as a current model.
Of the three Song Max models, we think the EV and DM (hybrid) would be ideal for Sri Lanka; but only if a reliable and honourable agent takes on the task as we’ve seen too many new brands fall by the wayside due to this shortcoming.
We also see a trend by Chinese manufacturers to absorb designers from European brands, which would inevitably improve Chinese design. Expect many more EV models from BYD such as the E-SEED electric supercar, as well as from other Chinese manufacturers in the next five years – and they are only getting better!