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First Drive

Yangwang U8 prototype review: the tank-turning, 1,180bhp goliath

Published: 25 Mar 2024

A Yang-what-now?

Yangwang is a new premium brand, arriving on the crest of a wave caused by the success of parent company BYD. While it represents an obvious step upmarket, it’s perhaps a little reductive to say Yangwang is the Lexus to BYD’s Toyota, not least when this U8 SUV intends to swim in a different pool. All too literally…

Priced at the equivalent of £120,000 in its native China, it’s BYD punching upwards. See one up close and you might assume it warrants such a sizeable price tag in materials alone. It measures a vast 5.3 metres in length, over 2m in width and tips the scales at 3,460kg – nearly enough to warrant a driving licence upgrade for Brits who passed their test after 1997.

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How on earth does it weigh so much?

Befitting its halo status, the Yangwang U8 has had all manner of technology thrown at it. The powertrain is heavily electrified, with a 295bhp electric motor at each wheel for a monstrous 1,180bhp total. The battery capacity is a modest 49kWh, however, with most of the U8’s power instead provided by a 268bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine. It acts purely as a range extender and isn’t connected to the wheels.

Yangwang claims a total range of around 620 miles on the Chinese test cycle, of which just 112 is yielded purely by electricity. The battery can still be topped up independently, though, accepting up to 110kW of DC charge for an 80 per cent top up in under half an hour. You’d be strolling around motorway services a whole lot longer if the U8 packed the necessary cells to be a pure EV.

Wondering what those three, taxicab-like protrusions above the windscreen are? They comprise spotlights, night vision and a Lidar that scans the road ahead to educate the adaptive damping – as well as open up the potential for autonomy.

Wait, doesn’t this car do tricks?

You sound like someone who’s been somewhere near the internet in the last few weeks. A wheel at each motor gives the U8 its TikTok-pleasing party trick; its maker calls it ‘vehicle origin turn’ but it’s more colloquially known as ‘tank turn’. It resembles a low-key donut as the vehicle spins up to 360 degrees on the spot thanks to the motors on one side of the car turning slowly in the opposite direction to the others.

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It looks bizarre from the outside and feels even more discombobulating inside, but if your brain has anything like the mechanical sympathy of ours, you’ll soon be fearing for the diffs and tyres. The new electric Mercedes G-Wagen will do much the same thing, it’s worth adding, albeit there it’s called a ‘G-Turn’.

Is it fair to say there are hints of G in the styling, too?

Yup. New-age Defender and Kia EV9 too, perhaps. But I still don’t think you’ll mistake the U8 for anything else, its lighting signatures bordering on ostentatious. It makes a bold statement from every angle, but it needs substance to back those up.

That arrives in body-on-frame construction that’s allied to over a dozen electronically controlled all-terrain modes and a whole array of suspension settings that, if the teaser videos are to be believed, will make this thing a goliath over rough stuff. Claimed 36deg approach and 35.4deg departure angles ally with the individual wheel control yielded by BYD’s new e4 electrified platform to give the U8 some proper off-road flex.

Somewhat ironically given BYD makes the more prosaic Dolphin and Seal, this car actually swims, too; underestimate the depth of any water you cross and the car can apparently float for up to 30 minutes while its (appropriately sealed) e-motors scurry away below the surface to direct you back to shore. This is no Insta-pleasing party piece, though, rather an emergency back-up that calls for an immediate trip to the dealer once it’s triggered. Which means no, we’ve not tried this particular part of the Yangwang U8 repertoire…

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It looks like you’ve taken it on track, though.

Indeed, so early is our access to the U8 that it’s not yet road homologated, leading to half a dozen laps of Goodwood Motor Circuit. Natch. One of the fastest and fiercest tracks in Britain is a baptism of rapidly spreading fire for a 3.5-tonne luxe 4x4, and the result is entirely predictable, Yangwang’s stability control cutting in starkly even with the U8 in its sportier driving modes and our cornering speeds and steering inputs kept ‘considered’.

Yet the continuously adaptive damping and torque vectoring capabilities of its e4 setup ensure the U8 isn’t much more of a shambles than other, non-sportified SUVs of similar heft would likely be. A current Range Rover Hybrid weighs three tonnes and our hunch is that it wouldn’t lap Goodwood significantly quicker.

Is the Yangwang U8 fast?

Well, its maker claims a 3.6sec 0-62mph sprint (if a restrained 124mph top speed). We were disappointed to rarely clock more than 500bhp of output on the digital gauges as we propelled down the Lavant Straight – low battery issues, perhaps – but it was still a rather visceral experience. You’d have to mislay a number of your marbles to genuinely crave more velocity from its lofty vantage point. Fair play to the brakes which stayed predictable and didn’t noticeably fade, either.

We clearly need a much lengthier drive (across more appropriate topography) to truly dig into the U8’s slightly dizzying drive modes, but the Goodwood paddock served up ample opportunity to assess its bougier side. The interior is inevitably chock-a-block with pixels; three displays across the dashboard include a central curved OLED setup while a pair of screens indulge rear passengers, too. Smart Nappa leather and natty wood inlays ensure it feels a sizeable cut above its cheaper BYD cousins.

A big enough jump to warrant £120k, though?

Sales aren’t yet confirmed for the UK, nor many territories outside of China. Almost 4,000 examples have sold in its homeland so far, however, while its minor online fame is blipping Yangwang on a lot more radars than freshly launched brands might usually dare hope. The U8 can certainly navigate the hostile plains of the digital world, but how it clambers over the unforgiving physical terrain it’s been built for – or perhaps more pertinently, how easily it slots down a Surrey lane at 8.30am – is something we hope to discover soon.

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