Is there a shortage of good, affordable electric small SUVs in Australia? A quick glance at the available options would seem to suggest so.
Despite the fact that Australia has its foot firmly on the accelerator when it comes to electric cars – sales have tripled over the first four months of 2023 and EVs now account for eight percent of the market – there are only two electric small SUVs currently available under $50,000: the MG ZS EV and the BYD Atto 3. It’s a surprise, especially given our love of small SUVs, but the good news is that there are some fresh contenders on the horizon.
Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated is the new-gen Hyundai Kona EV, which is due to arrive later this year. Bigger and more luxurious than the model it replaces – the EV variant was the priority during development, says Hyundai – it won’t only be better to drive and have more range but it should boast many of the features first shown in Hyundai’s EV flagship, the Ioniq 5.
Then there’s the Volvo EX30. Positioned below the XC40 and C40 Recharge, the EX30 promises to be a high-quality and style-driven alternative primed to shake up the current pecking order.
The caveat to both of those contenders, however, is price. The EX30 will start at $59,990 when it arrives late in the year and the new-gen Kona is likely to cost around $60K, perhaps a touch more, meaning both are above our self-imposed $50K cutoff.
So for now, this segment is a class of two. And between the MG ZS EV and BYD Atto 3, it’s the BYD that’s the clear winner. The first model from Chinese brand BYD to hit Aussie roads (BYD is rapidly expanding Down Under with the Atto 2 hatchback and Seal sedan both imminent) the Atto 3 has made waves from the get-go.
Both models are front-wheel drive, produce an identical 150kW/310Nm and carry the same high level of standard equipment
Value has long been its biggest drawcard. For a moment the Atto 3 was Australia’s cheapest EV – you could nab one for $45K drive-away in certain states – and while a recent price hike has tempered that equation a touch, you’re still getting a lot of SUV for your money.
Two versions of the Atto 3 are offered
The Atto 3 Standard costs $48,011 before on-roads and brings a 50kWh battery and 345km of range, while the Atto 3 Extended is $51,011 and has a bigger 60kWh battery and longer 420km claimed WLTP range.
Both models are front-wheel drive, produce an identical 150kW/310Nm and carry the same high level of standard equipment: 18-inch alloys, LED headlights, a panoramic sunroof, a healthy list of standard safety gear and a funkily styled cabin that features a rotating 12.8-inch central touchscreen are all included.
There’s also loads of room. At 4.46m long, the Atto 3 is almost a mid-size SUV and the result is cabin that’s impressively spacious and comfortable in both rows. The boot is also generous at 440 litres and the Atto 3 has a flat floor, meaning no intrusive transmission tunnel for middle seat passengers, plus dedicated rear air vents.
Even better is the sense of quality. Everything feels tightly screwed together, the mix of materials is superior to an MG ZS EV and the functionality and connectivity offered by the large centre touchscreen is impressive.
Your milage may vary on the success of the cabin design – BYD says it was inspired by ‘fitness culture’ and the bulging centre section of the dash is meant to resemble a muscle – but the functionality is sound.
The driving experience is also surprisingly polished.
The Atto 3 is built on BYD’s fresh EV-dedicated platform and while the ride and handling isn’t going to tickle to fancy of keen drivers, it won’t disappoint.
A supple ride, light steering and sharpish acceleration are the key dynamic traits, with the Atto 3 feeling most comfortable up to about 7/10s. Push hard on a twisty road and things can get a little uncouth but as a daily driver in the city, the ride and handling compromise is nicely judged.
Negatives? As with any new brand, BYD has an unproven track record for reliability and customer care but BYD’s local importer is working hard to establish a far-reaching support network.
New ‘BYD Megastores’ will soon launch in Brisbane and Sydney and BYD is following Tesla’ lead by building dedicated service and fulfilment centres to meet an expected upswing in demand as it adds new models.
BYD is right to plan for bigger volumes. Thanks to its convincing blend of value, space, personality and decent dynamics – as well as a lack of rivals – the Atto 3 has rocketed up the sales charts and is easily the country’s third best-selling EV behind the Tesla Model 3 and Model Y.
2023 Best Small SUV series
Looking to get into a brand-new small SUV? Our stories below will guide you to the model that best suits your needs!
More EV stories to help you choose the best car for your needs
- ❓ Short & sweet: Your EV questions answered
- ⚡ New EVs: Everything coming to Australia
- 🥇 Australia's EVs with the longest driving range
- ⚖️ Best-value EVs by driving range
- 💰 How much do EVs cost in Australia?
- 😰 How much more expensive are EVs?
- ⚖️ Number crunching: Is it time to switch to an EV?
- ♻ Should you buy a used EV?
- 🛡️ Are EVs more expensive to insure?
- 🆚 Costs compared: Charging an EV vs fueling a car
- 📖 EV charging guide
- 🚧 Are there enough EV chargers in Oz?
- 👨🔧 EV servicing explained
- 🔋 EV battery types explained
- When do EV batteries need replacing?
- 🆚 Hydrogen v EVs: What's best for Oz?
- 🌏 How sustainable are EVs, really?