JOHANNESBURG – The Mazda BT-50 released simultaneously with the Ford Ranger has always missed out on the limelight. This could be mainly due to such as seemingly a simple thing as styling. The pre-facelift model had excessive bling, mainly in the lighting department, with chrome-effect trim abounding.
This has now been toned down with the latest version to provide more visual appeal. Mazda has been through a transformation in terms of its separation from Ford and the company now has its own, 52-strong dedicated dealer network. With a commitment to please, not only owners but dealers happy too, the brand seems to be on an upward road to full recovery. The man who made it all happen was David Hughes, who now hands over the reins to Craig Roberts.
So, back to the facelifted BT-50. The bakkies are now fully manufactured in Thailand, unlike the Rangers that are made in Silverton. Mazda and Isuzu have already confirmed a future collaboration in pick-up design and production, so this is a space to be watched (in terms of the next-generation BT-50) as both companies have excellent track records and respected badges.
For now, Mazda will concentrate on its double-cab range (see full pricing here), where it is planning on selling about 85 units a month, with the target market being lifestyle/leisure owners mostly below the age of 55. Later, the Freestyle (cab-and-a-half) and single-cab versions may join the stable.
The top of the line model is the five-cylinder, 3,2-litre SLE 4×4 fitted a six-speed automatic transmission. Features fitted as standard to the SLE models include dual-zone climate control, 17-inch wheels, auto headlamps and rain-sensing windscreen wipers. The latter is not a feature I would want on a bakkie as the wipers sometimes activate with dust or sand, just when you don’t want them to.
A reverse camera is handy for such a large vehicle and a heavy duty towbar is supplied to hitch up a maximum of 3,5 tonnes. The steering wheel adjusts for rake only, which is a pity. This is a full 4×4 with locking centre diff on the fly and low range, plus a rear diff lock. It also has ESP with trailer sway mitigation and hill descent control. A six-airbag package is impressive for a bakkie and cruise control is almost a must for those longer trips on the open road. Ground clearance is above average, at 237 mm unladen, and the wading depth comes in at 800 mm.
The ride is very reasonable considering the empty load beds (although there were three occupants per vehicle). These bakkies have to be able to take a full load without upsetting the suspension too much so you cannot expect sedan-style ride comfort levels. Refinement levels are good, as expected these days from modern double-cabs.
This segment of the market is a growing one due to the lifestyle of South Africans who require space for passengers, some comfort, features plus the ability to load up sporting goods, furniture or garden rubbish. There really is nothing as versatile as a double-cab.
The 3,2 engine produces 147 kW so you always have enough grunt. The automatic gearbox is successful except that, with six ratios, it is difficult to avoid hunting for the best cog. With this one, you do get some to-ing and fro-ing, especially in the upper three gears. Due to the large capacity engine, fuel consumption will be higher than that of the 2,2-litre double-cabs that are sold with rear wheel-drive underpinnings, but customers will at least have the choice between the two power outputs and can decide what is more important.
We expect the fuel index of the 3,2-litre 4×4 model to be 11,64 L/100 km. Note that the 2,2 still produces 110 kW. Mazda was not able to slot in the latest version of Ford’s 2,2, which now produces 118 kW.
Mazda is offering an unlimited kilometre warranty spanning three years, as well as a three-year service plan and 15 000 km service intervals.
Engine:3,2-litre, five-cylinder turbodiesel
Top Speed:175 km/h limited
Fuel Consumption:9,7 L/100 claimed
Maintenance Plan:3-year/umlimited km service plan