The cheapest electric car you can buy in Singapore (for now) offers plenty of space and silence, and not much else
Photos: Ben Chia & Leow Ju-Len
How badly do you want a new electric vehicle? If your answer is “very badly”, then here’s the cheapest EV (for now) that’s currently on sale in Singapore, the BYD M3e, for your consideration.
We’ll explain the ‘for now’ bit in a while, but at least as of writing (December 2020), the BYD M3e holds the status as the most affordable brand new full battery electric vehicle you can buy here in Singapore, at S$109,888 including COE.
For that money you’re essentially getting what amounts to a van with seven seats. It’s actually based upon the Nissan NV200 van, and you can clearly see the resemblance, especially on the side profile. In fact, there’s even a commercial vehicle equivalent called the T3 that’s available here too.
As such, the M3e is rather spacious inside, with plenty of room to accommodate seven full-sized adults. The seats are in a 2-2-3 configuration with two ‘captain’s chairs’ in the second row, so access to the back is fairly convenient.
Up front though, things are a bit more grim. There is simply no escaping the M3e’s van-based origins, from the elevated seating position to the rather utilitarian interior, with plenty of cheap and hard plastics everywhere, some of which are fitted together quite poorly. The air con also felt rather weak, and given the M3e’s vast cabin, rear passengers might not particularly enjoy the sweltering experience.
You get the sense that the M3e feels like a product of a bygone era, with inconsistent panel gaps and build quality issues. During our time with the car, the charging flap up front had a tendency to unlatch itself at random moments, typically after going over a bump. It comes as somewhat of a disappointment really, because experience tells us that BYD, and Chinese car manufacturers as a whole, are actually capable of much better (witness the new MGs).
The driving experience isn’t that great either. Again, the M3e’s van-based roots makes itself known, through its cumbersome handling and vague steering, hindered by a fairly large turning circle. The ride quality is especially harsh, given that it uses leaf springs in the rear. You feel every undulation reverberating through the cabin, and even over gentle bumps the car reacts quite uncomfortably with a rocking motion, akin to a boat at sea.
Being an electric vehicle, you’d expect at least a modicum of brisk acceleration, and the M3e does deliver, to a point. Up to 60km/h the car is still somewhat capable of keeping up with traffic, albeit a tad slowly. Any further and it’ll start to struggle, but you’ll get to 80km/h eventually with a bit of effort. Trying to reach its quoted top speed of 100km/h feels like an improbability, and if you’re going uphill the performance suffers even further.
At least it does so relatively quietly though, such is the benefit of electric motoring. And given BYD’s expertise in electrification (they are one of the world’s largest battery manufacturers), the M3e offers a pleasant surprise in its nickel cobalt manganese lithium battery, which not only provides the car with a somewhat accurate quoted range of 300km, but also charges up relatively quickly too (an hour and a half using a 50kW fast charger).
Aside from that, the M3e’s appeal does seem rather limited. A Toyota Sienta costs about 7 grand cheaper if you need seven seats on a budget, while a Nissan Kicks offers a far better proposition at a similar price if you like the idea of electric motoring and don’t need to plug in or ferry seven people.
Crucially though, the M3e’s position as the cheapest new EV on sale here is not even a given, once the Electric Vehicle Early Adoption Incentive (EEAI) kicks in on 1 January 2021. That’s because the M3e’s Open Market Value (OMV) of $20,600 means it incurs an Additional Registration Fee (ARF) of $20,840, and under the current Vehicular Emissions Scheme (VES), it qualifies for a maximum ARF rebate of $20,000.
However, as ARF has a minimum floor of $5,000, the actual rebate that the M3e gets is only $15,840. As such, it will probably not enjoy the additional rebates from the EEAI and revised VES in January, and its retail price is unlikely to change much as a result.
In contrast, something like the MG ZS, with its relatively higher OMV (and therefore higher ARF), will enjoy a much bigger rebate under the new scheme, thus giving it more room to discount its effective selling price further. Already, Eurokars EV (MG’s local dealer) are retailing the ZS at S$106,888 with COE if customers choose to take delivery in January, undercutting the BYD by $3,000.
And so, unless you really need a seven-seater electric car in your life, it’s hard to make a compelling case for the M3e, given its sub-par execution. But the fact that it is here, and retailing at this price point, might just spur a rise in the acceptance of EVs not just as expensive second cars for the well-off, but actual viable options for families in Singapore.
|Electric Motor||94hp, 180Nm|
|Battery||Nickel cobalt manganese lithium, 50.3kWh|
|Charge Time / Type||1.3 hours / DC fast charger (40kW)|
|VES Band / CO2||A1 / 0g/km|
|Price||S$109,888 with COE|
|Verdict||BYD’s van-based seven-seater EV is spacious and quiet, but comes up short in many other areas|