We score some rare seat-time in Byton's M-Byte electric SUV.
It's been exactly two years since Byton had their coming-out party at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show. It was then that we got the first look at the concept M-Byte, the all-electric SUV that would be the first vehicle introduced by the upstart Chinese brand.
Since then, Byton has introduced the concept K-Byte electric sedan, which will follow the M-Byte's launch by about 2 years, and completed construction of a state-of-the-art manufacturing plant in Nanjing, China. Byton also announced a partnership with Electrify America that will offer Byton owners two years of unlimited free charging on the Electrify America Network. InsideEVs had the opportunity to visit the Nanjing facility in mid-2018 when construction was still in its early stages. Byton tells us the Nanjing facility can produce up to 300,000 vehicles annually.
Now that the M-Byte is getting close to series production, Byton is beginning to allow media test drives. We've previously had the opportunity to ride in the M-Byte but were never allowed to get behind the wheel until now.
We couldn't take the vehicle on public roads for a comprehensive road test, but the folks at Byton did allow us to drive it in a large parking lot behind the strip of Las Vegas during CES for as long as we liked. We were allowed to drive it hard and basically do what we wanted, which proves they had a high degree of confidence the vehicle was ready to take whatever punishment we could inflict.
The parking lot surface has its fair share of potholes, giving us the opportunity to see how the suspension and chassis felt when encountering such. I was impressed with how well the vehicle performed on these uneven surfaces but not necessarily surprised. Byton has been telling us that they are more interested in catering to the customer's comfort and user experience in the M-Byte than they are the driving experience. As such, the suspension is more tuned for comfort than it is for cornering.
The power seemed a little dialed back from launch, but once you started moving a bit you could feel the instant torque of the electric motor. I'm not sure if that was because this was a pre-production model, or if Byton is purposely holding back some off-the-line-power to save energy and extend the vehicle's range. I definitely didn't get that neck-snap when you mash the throttle when stopped, but the acceleration was linear and brisk once we were moving. We'll know more about this once we get a chance to do a proper media drive of a full production version shortly before the vehicle's official launch.
Byton had set up a series of cones in the lot set up so we could also slalom a bit. The vehicle held its own but when pushed there was a little more body roll than say a Tesla Model X, which has a much stiffer suspension and is tuned more for sport than the M-Byte is. The Chinese market is different from the US & Europe. In the US & Europe, we place a higher importance on performance and sportiness than they do in China, where comfort and luxury is the top demand. I could see Byton possibly tuning their cars differently for foreign markets once they begin sales outside of China. Still, even in its current configuration, in my opinion it's market-ready. Perhaps a little fine-tuning and the M-Byte could be sitting on a showroom floor.
Speaking of which, the M-Byte is expected to launch in China sometime in the 2nd half of 2020, and won't be available in the US or Europe for about another year. Some of the Byton reps I spoke to said to look at September of 2021 as a possible US launch date, but that's not a firm date at the moment.
However, the state of US trade relations with China and the tariff war will most likely play a roll in the US launch date. Byton has been quietly working on a plan to possibly manufacture the M-Bytes destined for the US and Europe in Korea to avoid such tariffs, and have selected Korean manufacturer Myongshin to make the cars if need be.
While I didn't concentrate too much on the curved 48" display and infotainment system because I was driving, the Byton rep in the car showed us how the hand gesture system worked and how cool the navigation system looked when set up to display on half of the giant display screen. It's important to note that while driving, the content is limited to reduce driver distraction. You can't be watching a movie or YouTube videos while the vehicle is in motion. However, when you are parked, the "Byton Stage" comes to life and you can access all kinds of content.
According to Byton, when the vehicle is moving in fully autonomous mode, these functions will be opened up for use. It's clear the Byton team expects that to happen sometime in the not-too-distant future because they are certainly designing their vehicles to be ready when that day arrives.
The M-Byte has a $45,000 base price and WLTP range of 224 miles per charge for the standard 72 kWh rear-wheel-drive model. Unlike the 95 kWh battery M-Byte, there isn't an all-wheel-drive option for the 72 kWh battery variant. If the base 72 kWh battery isn't enough, Byton is also offering a 95 kWh version which is rated at 270 miles (WLTP) for the AWD model and 285 miles for the RWD version. We estimate that the EPA range ratings will be 10% to 12% less than the WLTP ratings mentioned above.