TESTED: Mazda BT-50 has premium vibes, but the ride lets it down

By Jason Woosey Time of article published Oct 4, 2021

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Review: Mazda BT-50 3.0 Individual 4x4 automatic

JOHANNESBURG - When it comes to bakkie manufacturing partnerships, we’ve seen a switching of allegiances in recent times. The previous Mazda BT-50, for instance, was based on the Ford Ranger, but since the Mazda-Ford divorce, the Blue Oval is now preparing to build the second-gen Amarok for Volkswagen and the new Mazda BT-50 that you see here is in fact built by Isuzu and based on the new-generation D-Max.

In fact, the new Mazda BT-50 has beaten its Isuzu counterpart to market as the D-Max is going to be built in South Africa and there were various Covid-related delays in making that happen. The BT-50, though, is sourced from Thailand and it comes to the party with a bold new look and a far more modern cabin.

The previous BT-50’s exterior design drew criticism for its curvy front end and strange looking taillights but the new one seems to get the balance right by adopting a persona that reminds us of the Japanese carmaker’s latest line of SUVs. The visual attitude is not exactly ‘tough truck’ but it’s attractive nonetheless and the design team has done a good enough job of distinguishing it from the Isuzu.

Under the hood you’ll find an upgraded Isuzu 3.0-litre turbodiesel motor that produces 140kW at 3600rpm and 450Nm from 1600-2600 revs. This is paired exclusively with a six-speed automatic transmission and Mazda offers a choice between 4x2 and 4x4. There’s also a more affordable 1.9-litre turbodiesel 4x2 model, which is good for 110kW and 350Nm.

But how does it drive?

Our week with the new Mazda BT-50 3.0 Individual 4x4 model thankfully coincided with a weekend trip down to the Vaal river, which brought a combination of highway and dirt road driving. Fuel consumption proved decent enough for a vehicle of this size and stature, averaging around 8.3 litres per 100km on the mostly-highway route.

Performance was rather good too. It doesn’t necessarily feel fast, but the vehicle does deliver relatively effortless performance and there’s enough power to overtake when you need it. It is a touch on the noisy side though, although that’s not the biggest criticism I’m going to level at it.

The BT-50’s ride quality is disappointing. Look, no one ever expects a cosseting ride from a leaf-sprung load lugger that was designed primarily as a workhorse, but even as far as bakkies go the Mazda’s rather ‘busy’ ride on anything but the smoothest tar surface is just not comfortable enough to cut it in the leisure vehicle segment.

It behaved a bit better than expected on the dirt, however, and I was actually impressed with the BT-50’s road-holding and steering response. Sure there is a fair amount of body roll, which you can’t avoid with this kind of stature, but through corners the Mazda BT-50 feels more confidence inspiring than you’d expect from a bakkie.

We didn’t get to take it on an off-road trail, but given that it has all the necessary 4x4 ingredients, including a low-range transfer case, locking rear diff and 240mm of ground clearance, we have absolutely no doubt that it will tackle gruelling trails with ease.

As you’d expect at this level, the vehicle has a braked towing capacity of 3.5 tonnes and an unbraked capacity of 750kg.

How practical is the Mazda BT-50?

The Vaal road trip also highlighted an impracticality that exists with all bakkies on the market, barring a few special edition Ranger models. Our test car had not been accessorised with a tonneau cover, rubber lining or luggage divider, so the luggage had to go into the back of the cabin so as to prevent it from blowing off. Surely an R800 000 bakkie should at the very least come with a tonneau cover as standard? And we’re not only pointing fingers at Mazda here as all manufacturers are guilty of this.

Another bugbear was the central locking system. It locks the vehicle when you pull off (which is a good thing of course) but fails to do so when you are about to disembark. The vehicle also locks itself as soon as you’ve exited the vehicle, which can be infuriating when you want to get luggage or shopping from the cabin, which you couldn’t put in the back since there’s no tonneau cover or divider. Is it that hard to put a timer on the auto-locking system?

But besides these irritations, which owners will probably become accustomed to over time, the BT-50’s cabin is actually a very pleasant place to pass time.

The cockpit, with its stitched leather dash top trim, makes for a classier vibe than you’d expect in a bakkie. It really feels like a premium vehicle inside, right down to the piano-key ventilation controls beneath the infotainment system. On that note, the cabin architecture strikes a good balance between analogue and digital. The aforementioned climate controls look great, and they’re simple enough to use. Mazda hasn’t simply thrown all functionality onto the central screen, although it does have a very decent 9.0-inch infotainment system with eight speakers. The system is simple to use and the graphics are easy on the eye. It lacks navigation, but that is easily solved by connecting to Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.

It’s easy enough to get comfortable behind the wheel of the Mazda BT-50 and unlike rivals such as the Ranger, the steering wheel adjusts for both height and reach.

A curious omission in this range-topper is leather seat upholstery. Personally I’m happy with cloth, but I suspect there are buyers out there that expect to find a fair quantity of cow inside their bakkie at this price point.

In terms of spec, the Mazda BT-50 3.0 Individual comes with dual-zone climate control, auto headlights and wipers, front parking sensors, reverse camera and a leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel. For the record, the cheaper 3.0 Dynamic model has the same cabin spec, but loses the four-wheel drive.

VERDICT

With its striking design, classy cabin and decent all-round performance and dynamics, the Mazda BT-50 is a bakkie we really want to like. But it’s let down by a ride quality that we didn’t find to be comfortable enough. Its price tag is also a little on the high side, at R794 400, although it’s not totally out of the bakkie ballpark spec-for-spec.

However, if you can live with the ride, the Mazda BT-50 could make for an interesting and refreshing alternative to the usual bakkie suspects.

SPECS: Mazda BT-50 3.0TD double cab 4x4 Individual

Engine: 3.0-litre, 4-cyl, turbodiesel

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

Drive: Four-wheel drive

Power: 140kW @ 3600rpm

Torque: 450Nm @ 1600-2600rpm

Fuel use (tested, highway): 8.3 l/100km

Fuel use (claimed combined): 8.0 l/100km

Warranty: 3-year/unlimited km

Service plan: 3-year/unlimited km

Price: R794 400

IOL Motoring

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