Mazda’s facelifted BT-50 is a practical bakkie that can double up as a leisure vehicle

The facelifted Mazda BT-50, which is still catching up to the Ford Ranger with which it shares its drivetrain and underpinnings, has all the nice-to-haves which elevate it to a cut above your everyday bakkie.

Brian Joss – I had a great deal of fun driving the top of the range the 3.2 SLE 4×4 Auto, all over the Western Cape, in all sorts of road conditions: from Milnerton to Gordon’s Bay, Stellenbosch, Hout Bay, Wellington and points beyond. 

The only thing I didn’t do was go bushwhacking or carry a load but by all accounts the BT-50 is a star in the rough and fully laden it also performs well.  However, I think the people who buy one will use it more as a leisure vehicle, loading up with surfboards and mountain bikes, instead of garden rubbish or big pieces of furniture.  The KODO design inspired Mazda’s “soul of motion which depicts the power and elegance of a wild animal in the instant that it pounces on its prey. We want a car to be something that exudes the vitality of a living being. That’s the inspiration behind the “soul of motion” design”.

The facelifted BT-50: a practical lifestyle vehicle which appears to have enough torque, and a rear diff-lock, to handle the rough stuff. Picture: Quickpic

The BT-50 was launched as an “Active Lifestyle Vehicle” and the intention was to go beyond traditional business users to extend its appeal to families, pleasure-seekers and recreational buyers. 

Basically the latest bakkie is a facelift of the 2012 model which is why it shares some features with the Ford Ranger. However, the BT-50 is imported from Thailand and the Ranger is built in South Africa.

Some of the cosmetic revamps on the double cab, the only one available for now,  include a redesigned front; a shimmering black grille; embedded fog lights and new-look back light clusters.  There are sporty alloy wheels, black and chrome side steps and a darkened back window all aimed at a younger segment of the market. 

The nice-to-haves on the SLE include  leather seats, a reverse camera, which pops up in the rear view mirror, a sensible idea, I thought,  cruise control, satellite controls, Bluetooth connectivity, powered seat adjustments, auto-dimming mirror and a central control switch to select 2-wheel high, 4-wheel high or 4-wheel low drive mode. There’s also load adaptive control, hill launch assist and hill descent control, to name some.

 

Inside, the can is neatly finished but don’t expect the technology that comes with the Ford Ranger (tested The Gremlin March 23, 2017).

The infotainment centre in the BT-50 is quite basic, and is probably based on Ford’s Sync 1 , the Ranger is fitted with Ford’s trademark Sync 3. The screen in the BT-50 is small with a lot of buttons to press.

However, while the BT-50 is not to be dismissed out of hand,  I think it is an interim measure for Mazda who have, since their split from Ford, been concentrating on their passenger vehicles, with great success, I might add.

However, I predict that within the next two years Mazda will spring some surprises with its bakkie range.  Market talk is that the next BT-50 will be a rebranded new generation Isuzu KB. 

The 3.2-litre engine is the same one it shared with the Ford Ranger. It is a powerful engine and the five-cylinder turbodiesel, mated to a six-speed automatic gear box,  puts out 147kW@3 000rpm and maximum torque of 470 N.m is from 1 750 to 2 500. Top speed, claims, Mazda is 175km/h, though I didn’t put it to the test, because “Big Brother” is always watching, even from a speed camera disguised as a miniature electric sub-station, but I have no doubt it will reach that magic figure.

The six-speed auto transmission, I found, was not always that smooth, especially at lower speeds, crawling along in heavy traffic, where there was some turbo lag. But that’s probably just nit-picking, and unless you buy the

BT-50 to use as a light commercial vehicle, I think it will spend more time on the open road with the leisure and pleasure seekers.

The ride is smooth but it felt a bit harder than the Ranger. As I have pointed out previously ,  comparisons are odious, I just can’t help comparing them, and even though it is a generation or two behind, my own view is that the BT-50 has the edge on Ford’s offering, despite the shortcomings like the infotainment centre and the somewhat harder ride, which may not always please the sybarite in us.

There is a lot of space in the BT-50, even for the peanut gallery at the back. Enough room to stretch your legs too. The seats are good, with excellent lumbar support, and, as my front passenger remarked, they are more comfortable than those in the Ford. The build quality was excellent and even on a rain-eroded mud path to a fruit factory shop on a farm, there wasn’t a squeak or a rattle. And on the motorways there was no cabin noise at all.

As for fuel consumption,  Mazda claims 9.7 litres/100 km in the auto: I recorded figures of about 11 litres/100 km, but then I didn’t put pedal to the metal: it was always sedate driving at the legal limit.

The Mazda BT-50 3.2 SLE 4×4 Auto is a practical bakkie that can do the hard work on the daily grind and double up as a leisure vehicle as long as you don’t expect some of the luxury features like the newer technology that features in the Ranger.  It sells for  R555 700 (check with your dealer), about R40 000 less than the Ford.

It includes a 5-year/unlimited km warranty and 3-year/unlimited km service plan. Service intervals are every 15 000 km.

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