2021 BYTON M-Byte
- Starting around $45,000
- Spring 2021
What to expect
- Four-seat SUV-sized electric vehicle
- Estimated 200-240 miles of range
- Futuristic interior with massive 48-inch central screen
- Launches the first Byton vehicle for 2021
What is it?
Byton's first product is a four-seat electric vehicle that looks like a beefed-up hatchback, though the company considers it an SUV. The M-Byte is a few inches longer than the smallish Mercedes-Benz GLC SUV, but its exterior dimensions are otherwise similar. It will likely roll on massive 22-inch tires yet be optimized for efficient driving around town and at highway speeds.
The M-Byte and its future sedan counterpart, the K-Byte, will share a skateboard-like structure that locates the battery, suspension and powertrain components down below the passenger compartment. The body, whether SUV or sedan, rests on top of that. The M-Byte will be offered with either rear- or all-wheel drive, and there will be two available battery sizes — 71 kWh and 95 kWh. The rear-drive version gets the smaller battery, an output rating of 270 horsepower, and an estimated range of 200 miles (224 miles on the European WLTP testing cycle, which is more generous than our EPA cycle). The AWD M-Byte gets the bigger battery, a healthier total of 402 horsepower, and an estimated 240-mile range (270 miles per WLTP).
But this mechanical setup isn't what sets the M-Byte apart from the crowd. Its signature feature will be a 48-inch infotainment display that works with a 7-inch steering-wheel-mounted touchpad and an 8-inch console-mounted touchpad. Both the driver and front passenger will be able to control just about every aspect of the M-Byte through those touchpads using multi-gesture controls. Byton points out that all functions that are government-regulated, such as the hazard lights and gear selector, still use physical controls. Additionally, a robust voice control system will work with many vehicle features.
A unique feature of the M-Byte is that, when parked, the front seats will be able to pivot toward each other by 12 degrees to facilitate conversation. Rear-seat passengers, meanwhile, will have their own tablets. These tablets will be networked to the car, enabling passengers to play games or tap into the M-Byte's infotainment features.
Why does it matter?
With Amazon Alexa connectivity and Byton's own portal that corrals all your data and funnels it into the car, the M-Byte is more like the ultimate wearable accessory than a mere transportation device. Or at least that's what Byton hopes it will be. The idea is that by feeding the system all your data, you'll power a machine-learning process that provides customized navigation and scheduling support, charge alerts, and even shopping reminders.
Some EV manufacturers have delivered face-flattening performance, while a certain American startup has also pushed the envelope on the EV charging infrastructure. But the M-Byte's unique technology suite offers a glimpse of what the elusive "car of the future" might look like and how we'll interact with it.
What does it compete with?
The M-Byte's capacities and ranges are broadly competitive with offerings from Audi, Jaguar and Tesla, each of which takes its own approach to building a luxury EV. The Audi e-tron has some clever engineering tricks behind the scenes, but otherwise looks and feels very much like any other Audi, offering an EV experience that's not trying to sell a futuristic lifestyle. Jaguar has gone with aggressive styling and added tech that makes the I-Pace feel like a car a generation ahead of the rest of Jaguar's portfolio.
Tesla is perhaps the best competitor by which to judge Byton. The two won't compete in terms of acceleration or maximum range, but buying a Tesla is as much about buying a lifestyle and identity as it is buying transportation. Like Tesla, Byton is a startup that doesn't carry any of the baggage of existing automakers. The M-Byte is designed to give buyers that early-adopter thrill of getting in on the future before everyone else.
Whether that will work without a leader constantly making news for his wild claims about the future remains to be seen.
The M-Byte promises to go head to head with the Model 3, and despite the Byton's relatively modest range, it should be a leap forward in some respects. All eyes will be on the large wraparound infotainment screen, but shoppers will also appreciate the M-Byte's comfort and practicality, highlighted by exceptionally accommodating rear seats.