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I usually refrain from making pronouncements on styling as it’s such a subjective issue, but I’m reasonably certain that the new Mazda BT-50 will never make it into any “Classic Designs” coffee table book, especially a photo of the rear end.
Not that many bakkies would make it into such a tome, but the Mazda’s oversized rear tail lights look just wrong on a bakkie. I kept hoping they’d grow on me but no dice; it looks like two giant watermelon wedges have been stuck to the tailgate.
The Mazda’s front end is far more palatable to look at, with its more generically modern lines that don’t try to make such a bold statement.
Inside the cabin, the news is good too and the new BT-50 has followed the trend to making modern bakkies ever more plush and car-like. It’s not quite in the class-leading VW Amarok’s league, and uses hard instead of soft-touch plastic on the dash, but its modern design and neat execution makes the BT-50’s cabin a pleasant place to sit in.
So too the leather seats, as fitted in the top-of-the-range model on test here which is badged (deep breath) the Mazda BT-50 3.2 double cab 4x4 SLE automatic. Selling for R462 210, including a four-year/120 000km warranty and five-year/90 000km service plan, this model’s also available as a manual for R450 890.
The locally-built new BT-50 was launched in South Africa in August with no less than 17 models offered, including Single Cab workhorses, Double Cab adventure vehicles, and something in-between in the form of the Freestyle Cab (cab-and-a-half). All body types have grown in length, width and height compared to the previous BT-50, providing a roomier cabin and a larger load capacity. There are internal hooks in the load area for tying down weekend-adventure toys.
The Mazda shares its platform and mechanicals with the recently-launched Ford Ranger, but the exterior panels were independently designed and the two bakkies have only the windscreen, roof, and rear screen in common.
Mazda’s taken technological leaps into the 21st century with most of the BT-50 Freestyle and Double Cab derivatives getting features like Bluetooth phone and music connection, a USB port for music players, and voice control for various functions including the telephone and audio system.
The top models, like the SLE tested here, also get a multi-function display integrated into the top of the dashboard. Automatic aircon, cruise control and a trip computer are also ticked off on the SLE’s spec sheet, as are six airbags, stability control and ABS brakes.
For me the star of the show is that gutsy 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbodiesel engine, the same one powering the Ford Ranger. With 147kW and 470Nm on board, it’s one of the most powerful diesel bakkie engines in the business, providing gutsy midrange performance so there’s seldom any need to harass the throttle with any real gusto.
Many diesel automatics suffer from turbo lag at Gauteng’s energy-emasculating high altitude, but not this Mazda. Apart from a small delay when you first press the throttle, there are no irritating power pauses and the big bakkie just effortlessly goes about its easy-cruising business. The six-speed auto gearbox is a smooth performer and offers a sport setting that better keeps the engine in its power band.
Our test vehicle’s average fuel consumption was 10.9 litres per 100km, quite decent for such a behemoth.
The BT-50 is a proper workhorse with a payload of 1082kg, but perhaps more importantly for an upmarket lifestyle bakkie is its very generous 3350kg towing capacity which will make light work of lugging caravans and boats.
This 4x4 version provides proper continent-crossing, bundu-bashing ability thanks to having all the offroad toys in its repertoire: a generous 237mm ground clearance, shift-on-the-fly 4x4, low range, a rear diff lock, hill launch assist, and hill descent control. What’s nice is that there aren’t any big levers to manhandle and it’s all button operated. Sand dunes, dongas, mud pits, bring them on ....
IT’S JUST SO BIG
This is a big bakkie that takes up a lot of road space, and the wing mirrors always seem in imminent danger of being bashed off. This sheer volume makes for happy passengers in the family-sized cabin, but it also means that every parking bay seems too small for this hefalump.
Ride quality, as is typical of any bakkie, feels reasonably bouncy until you put a heavy load in the back. If a silky smooth ride is top of your priority list, get an SUV instead.
Mazda’s one-tonners, for whatever reason, have traditionally been niche sellers against more aspirational bakkies from Toyota, Ford, Nissan, and Isuzu.
Those ugly tail lights might ensure the new BT-50 continues to stay relatively under-the-radar and unappreciated, but if you can look past them this go-anywhere, do-anything luxury double cab makes a compelling package if you can afford its 460k pricetag. -Drive Times