The relationship between Mazda and Ford utilities dates back to 1972 when the Mazda B1500 and Ford Courier began sharing nameplates. Since then, the designs, drivetrains and engine offerings of both company's respective later iterations have remained fairly similar. At least, that was until 2011 when the second-generation Mazda BT-50 was introduced with differences that pushed the twins further apart.
Australia’s engineering input has helped progress the BT-50 from a commercial-oriented work vehicle to a road-oriented commercial vehicle, meaning that ride and handling has improved significantly over its predecessor.
While the exterior design may not have won many fans, the BT-50’s high ride height, flared arches and 'Mazda' badge has been enough to secure an 8.75 per cent market share across both 4x4 and 4x2 variants, which is ahead of the class-leading Volkswagen Amarok.
Mazda has recognised that the design may not be as appealing as it could be in this segment and is currently working on a major styling revision (both internal and external), which is due to hit the market mid-2015.
For now though, BT-50 pricing starts from $25,570 for the entry-level four-cylinder turbo-diesel two-door cab-chassis 4x2 XT and runs all the way up to $53,140 for the five-cylinder turbo-diesel dual-cab 4x4 GT.
After stepping up from terra firma into the driver’s seat, the design influence from Mazda’s passenger car range begins to show. A simple interface with a minimum of buttons and clutter allows the driver to focus on driving, while still having critical controls and features within arm’s reach.
The entertainment system is great with a six-speaker sound system, USB and iPod connectivity along with Bluetooth audio streaming as standard in dual-cab variants.
The only downside to the entertainment system, and vehicles fitted with satellite navigation, is the tiny five-inch LCD screen that sits at the top of the dashboard. It’s sometimes hard to read and lacks the size and definition of those used in competitors such as the Toyota HiLux, Mitsubishi Triton and Volkswagen Amarok.
There is plenty of room inside the cabin for heavyset tradesman (no offence intended lads), but they could find rear legroom and ingress/egress a little tricky at times due to the small doors and narrow swing. Getting in and out is also reminiscent of the now discontinued RX-8 thanks to its use of 'suicide doors' on both sides of the cab.
The high riding position presents an excellent field of view out the front and sides, while the driving position is more reminiscent of a passenger car than a commercial vehicle. A nimble steering wheel and comfortable driver’s seat offers the impression of driving a vehicle much smaller than the BT-50.
One of the first things you notice when setting off in the BT-50 is the responsive steering unlike some of the other vehicles in this segment, which are devoid of steering feel. This excellent steering feel becomes even more evident during city driving and while performing tight turns.
Equally, the ride and handling is exceptional and above average amongst its competitors. A finely tuned rigid rear axle with leaf springs complements independent front suspension. Normally this setup lends to a bumpy ride with no load, but it’s not really the case in the BT-50.
The BT-50’s tray dimensions and versatility rank highly among its competitors. Featuring six tie-down hooks (as opposed to the four hooks available across the competition, with exception of six in the Ranger), the tray offers easy access and comes with a high sill line for cargo storage.
The payload capacity of the BT-50 is the highest of its competitors too, boasting 1350kg in freestyle-cab guise, compared with 1088kg of its dual-cab equivalent. That also puts it 148kg ahead of the HiLux and Triton.
When it comes to towing capacity, the Mazda BT-50 is equal class leader at 3500kg braked. That means that you can tow a 3500kg trailer or caravan as long as it features its own synchronised braking system.
Under the bonnet, Mazda’s 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine is mated either to a six-speed manual or slick-shifting six-speed automatic. Producing 147kW of power and 470Nm of torque, the engine offers the perfect compromise between fuel efficiency and torque delivery.
Fuel consumption is excellent with a combined average of 8.4L/100km when teamed with the manual and 8.9L/100km for the auto. These figures are among the best in class and commendable considering the high torque output of the engine.
Servicing costs over a three-year period are covered under Mazda’s capped-price servicing program. Over three years, the 4x4 3.2-litre BT-50 variants cost $1983 or an average of $495.75 per service. This price is in the vicinity of the competition, but costs almost double that of the Toyota HiLux.
On the face of it, the Mazda BT-50 may not be the manliest ute of the lot, but it certainly presents excellent value for money from a quality perspective. If you have your heart set on a Mazda, but can’t stomach the design, it might be worth waiting until mid-2015 for the arrival of the facelifted version.
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