With Ford’s macho new Ranger pick-up already doing brisk business in South Africa and dominating the headlines, Mazda’s spin-off BT-50 model faces an uphill battle to get its share of the limelight. Mazda’s product planners would’ve known that the Ford would be quite a groundbreaking new product, so perhaps this is the reason why the new BT-50 is such a radical design. According to Mazda, the new bakkie had to have a personality that was noticeably different to the Ford’s, inside and out. They’ve certainly achieved that… but, have they gone too far?
Controversial stylingLike the Ranger with which it shares its underpinnings, the Mazda BT-50 is a very large, very imposing vehicle that stretches the tape to 5 365 mm in length. But its size is not the first thing you will notice about it. The Mazda BT-50 looks, erm… strange. Its large V-shaped grille is flanked by aggressively slanted headlamps that flow into the front fenders. The curves continue along the sides of the vehicle and at the rear… well, here Mazda has really thrown caution to the wind with some very quirky tail lamps. Some onlookers commented that the big Mazda BT-50 resembled a SsangYong. This was not meant as a compliment…
There are no such bizarre design features in the spacious cabin. In fact, if anything, Mazda has managed to beat its Blue Oval counterpart when it comes to the general design and layout of the controls. The BT-50’s cabin architecture reminds a lot of the brand’s “6” sedan, with a very neatly integrated audio system, digital display on the top of the facia and deep-set, sporty instrumentation that brings some zoom-zoom spirit in the bakkie’s cabin. It is however quite a dark cabin, with little brightwork to break the monotony of the blacks and dark greys. And in some areas the plastic quality could be improved.
As you’d expect from such a large vehicle, there’s no lack of passenger space. Rear legroom is excellent and the seats are among the more comfortable you’re likely to find in a double-cab. But considering this BT-50’s likely leisure/family role, it was strange to find that the middle rear passenger is provided only with a lap belt, and that there are no Isofix rear child seat mounts – the latter is a particularly strange omission given the otherwise high safety spec, which includes six airbags.
Other standard features include climate control, electric windows/mirrors all-round, radio/CD system with USB/aux-in support and Bluetooth, cruise control, rear park sensors, a neat multi-function steering wheel and leather upholstery. Pity the steering wheel only offers rake adjustability.
Impressive engineThe BT-50 is powered by the same impressive 2,2-litre “high-output”, four-cylinder turbodiesel engine as used in the Ford Ranger. It delivers 110 kW and a meaty 375 Nm of torque (from only 1 500 rpm). Still, the BT-50 is a heavy machine that weighs nearly two tonnes, so it needs all of that grunt. Power goes to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual transmission. A rear differential lock is offered.
As described before in the Ford, the 2,2-litre engine is an impressive one that make you wonder whether the 3,2-litre is worth the extra money. It provides ample performance, good overtaking grunt and is also reasonably economical (expect to achieve around 9 L/100 km). In this Mazda, however, the transmission was not as refined as it could be, and some noises could be heard in the drivetrain. This, however, could well have been unique to our test vehicle.
Ready for work and playThe BT-50’s high ground clearance (237 mm) and big body make it quite an intimidating vehicle to drive at first. The rear park sensors go some way to lowering stress levels, but initially one is very conscious of its size. After a while, however, the high seating position does make one feel invincible, which is quite enjoyable. With its nicely weighted steering assistance the BT-50 is actually quite easy to drive, even around town.
It does, however, feel noticeably firmer than an Amarok, and possibly also firmer than a Ranger, which is somewhat strange. It’s not quite as bone-jarring as a Hilux, though. As ever, putting some weight on the back actually makes the ride less bouncy. On one longer distance trip with five occupants and some weight on the back, the BT-50 felt very much like the upmarket leisure tool it is made out to be.
Mazda BT-50 - VerdictHas Mazda managed to give its BT-50 a unique personality? Is it a sufficiently different proposition to the Ranger? Very possibly, yes. Firstly, you can’t really confuse the two anymore (unlike previous generation models), and the Mazda BT-50 has in particular a very good cabin. The engine is, of course, just as good as it is in the Ford, and the rest of the drivetrain should be, too (even if our test car’s wasn’t). In the end, it will come down to whether you actually like the looks (more than the Ranger’s). That’s a tough one…
- Individualistic looks
- Interior design
- Standard features
- Cabin space
- Individualist looks
- Drivetrain refinement
- No rear Isofix
Fast factsEngine: 2,2-litre, four-cylinder, turbodiesel Power: 110 kW @ 3 700 rpm Torque: 375 Nm @ 1 500 rpm Transmission: Six-speed manual Wheels: 17-inch alloy Top speed: n/a km/h 0-100 km/h: n/a seconds Fuel economy: n/a L/100 km
- Ford Ranger Double-Cab 2,2 XLS: The Mazda’s biggest problem is the vehicle it is based upon – the Ford Ranger. While the Mazda offers a few more features, its questionable looks and different driving feel diminish its appeal.
- Volkswagen Amarok 2,0 TDI Trendline: The Amarok is pricier and lacks the Ford/Mazda duo’s power and features, but nevertheless is probably the most comfortable bakkie on the road today. An exceptional first effort.
- Toyota Hilux 2,5 D-4D Raised Body Raider: The Hilux is quite an expensive offering but very popular. It boasts the new high-output 2,5-litre engine that delivers exceptional performance/economy/refinement. Plus, it has that reputation for indestructibility. The standard features list is long, too.