Mazda aims to box clever with their (mildly) revised BT-50, writes Brenwin Naidu
What is this car all about?
The pick-up market is a crowded house. You have the Toyota Hilux, Ford Ranger, Isuzu KB, Volkswagen Amarok, Mitsubishi Triton, Fiat Fullback, forthcoming new Nissan Navara and a bunch of other offerings from Chinese nonentities.
Indeed, South African buyers have a deep affection for the category – and it is one in which there is no dearth of offerings. The BT-50 was first launched in 2012 and it brought home most of the bacon for Mazda until its 2014 resurgence, replete with new products. But it never enjoyed the same popularity as the Blue Oval product upon which it is based.
Mazda is under no delusion that it will suddenly emerge as the sales chart leader with this augmented version. And so it has announced a mandate to target the “lifestyle” end of the market; buyers in want of pick-up practicality with all the tenets of a regular car. Mitsubishi stated a similar approach when they launched their latest Triton last month. There will be no single-cab, workhorse versions geared towards fleet buyers.
If you are the kind of buyer who lives in the suburbs but likes to picnic at a lake on weekends, this is for you. If you want the personal, hands-on treatment that ostensibly comes with a manufacturer that does not chase huge volumes, then this is for you. Or so promises Mazda, anyway.
What’s under the hood?
Remember, the BT-50 is basically a Ford Ranger in a kimono. The engine choices mirror that of its American counterpart. However, you will notice a disparity in outputs when you compare the two.
In the BT-50 you can have a 2.2-litre turbocharged-diesel (110kW and 375Nm) or a 3.2-litre turbocharged-diesel (147kW and 470Nm); both are available with either a six-speed manual or automatic. The smaller capacity unit is only available with two-wheel drive, while the larger mill is offered exclusively with four-wheel drive.
Does it stand out from the crowd?
It is bound to, since Mazda forecasts monthly sales of less than 100 units. This is a drop in the ocean compared to the thousands sold by competitors.
The manufacturer has sharpened up the styling, trying their best to incorporate the “Kodo” design philosophy that has worked so well in the rest of their line-up. It gains new lights, different fenders and fancier wheels. Most of the chrome items have been omitted and replaced with black trim elements. Mazda says this lends a sportier feel. Sure…
All things considered, it looks pleasant enough. There are no glaring traits that would put a person off – unlike, say, the face of the Mitsubishi Triton which looks like the character Yoshimitsu from Tekken. Or that weird underbite seen on the Toyota Hilux. Some may opine that it lacks the presence of a Ford Ranger or Volkswagen Amarok.
What’s noteworthy on the inside?
This is a nice place to be, seriously. The interior has a near-premium air about it. Surface materials are inoffensive. And even though you can easily tell that this product was birthed during the previous Mazda product cycle, that is not a bad thing. It still feels much classier than an Isuzu KB, for example, with its Tupperware-derived fare. The cabin offers quietness levels that are more than acceptable. But you will not find much in the way of smart infotainment: there is no fancy interface, just a button-festooned fascia. But hey – people are always going on about how they prefer actual switches to the fingerprint-stained efficiency of a touchscreen, right?
Is it good to drive?
Is the Ford Ranger upon which it is based good to drive? Well, yes. In many assessments of that vehicle we have expounded with great enthusiasm on the virtues of refinement and ride quality. And certainly, the BT-50 is still an accomplished pick-up truck. The suspension seemed to err on the firm side – but not uncomfortably so. We intend to stage a comparison with all the contenders in this sphere for a more conclusive verdict. But after this reacquaintance, we felt upbeat about the competence of the Mazda even though the landscape has seen more than a few changes since 2012.
Who’s going to lose sleep about this car?
The big players will not be tossing and turning in their piles of straw at night, since they have the market cemented well. But Mazda seems shrewd with their ambition to target the upper section of the double-cab pick-up segment. And at the very least, they are realistic in the knowledge that they are not going to set the sales charts ablaze. My old man owns a Mazda. He sleeps a full eight hours, probably soothed by outstanding after-sales experience that he gets from his dealership. Most buyers will agree, that counts for a bit. My mother on the other hand drives a Ford Kuga. She suffers from insomnia.
- Pricing for the Mazda BT-50 ranges between R441 600 and R541 700.