Australia is the biggest market for the Mazda BT-50. Here’s how it was saved after a 48-year partnership ended with Ford.
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Mazda Australia played a pivotal role in the new generation BT-50 ute, after a partnership that spanned almost half a century ended with Ford.

Development of the 2021 Mazda BT-50 started five years ago, and Australia was the driving force.

The Mazda BT-50 is not a global model for the Japanese brand, however it is critical for Australia. Indeed, some rural and regional dealers rely on the Mazda BT-50 for their survival.

So when it became apparent Ford and Mazda were going to part ways, the Japanese carmaker went in search of a new partner.

As it happened, Mazda and Isuzu had worked together on trucks.

And the new generation Isuzu D-Max lined up with the approximate timing for the end of production for the Ford-based Mazda BT-50.

CarAdvice has been told the alliance between Isuzu and Mazda on a compact pick-up (the industry term) was also aided by the simple fact both companies were Japanese – and spoke the same language literally and metaphorically.

It meant both companies had a better understanding of what the other wanted. Insiders say both Isuzu and Mazda have benefited from the joint venture.

Mazda reportedly pushed for certain creature comforts – as more buyers treat utes as SUVs and family cars – which also delivered a benefit for the Isuzu.

Isuzu set the parameters for the overall vehicle, and supplied its heart: the truck-based 3.0-litre turbo diesel, one of the key reasons people buy the D-Max.

Also significant: Mazda budgeted on unique bodywork, rather than simply changing the badge.

We are yet to see the two vehicles side-by-side, but at the very least the bodywork from the windscreen forward – and on the ute tub – is completely different.

The core structure of the cabin appears to be common, although the door skins look to have subtly unique pressings along the bottom half.

Inside, the Mazda and Isuzu have unique upper sections of the dash and front doors. The centre display unit is identical in both, and the steering wheels are also shared – except for unique horn pads that work well to set the designs apart.

Mazda Australia marketing boss, Alastair Doak, says the styling for the new BT-50 was done in Japan – and the designer nailed the brief in the first go, blending the company’s sleek design themes with a tough-truck look.

“We’ve been involved in the development of the BT-50 from day one," said Mr Doak. "We were very fortunate to spend time with the chief designer before he started working on it, and to share what we thought a new generation BT-50 should be like.

"We went back to Japan six months later to see the initial design themes and were so impressed with what we saw, we said ‘build that’. They got it right first go.”

As for capability, the new Mazda BT-50 is said to be about 90kg lighter than the outgoing model, so the modest drop in power and torque will be offset with better fuel efficiency and similar – if not better – performance.

“The new engine has a better spread of torque, the gearbox is more efficient and the car is lighter, so we expect it to have the same performance or better than the outgoing model,” said Mr Doak.

The 2021 Mazda BT-50 has also had a big step up in safety and technology.

It’s available with adaptive cruise control – using twin cameras in the windscreen (pictured above) rather than a radar sensor in the grille, so bulbar and driving lights can be fitted. Autonomous emergency braking, blind zone warning, rear cross-traffic alert, and lane-keeping assistance are also part of the package.

A centre airbag – a first for the ute class – will increase the chances of the vehicle meeting five-star safety requirements. You can read more about that here.

Creature comforts include a number of firsts for the Mazda BT-50: dual zone air-conditioning, rear air vents, push button start and sensor key, heated seats, twin glove boxes, massive door pockets (front and rear) and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The steering now has height and reach adjustment. There is a handy shopping bag hook on the front passenger seat (pictured below).

Some other observations for those who are detail-oriented: the sun visor has a vanity mirror but it’s not illuminated, the sun visor doesn’t extend to block side glare (as per Ford Ranger) and only the driver gets a one-touch auto-up and down power window switch. The Toyota HiLux and VW Amarok, for example, have express switches for all four windows.

However, there’s no doubt Mazda has most bases covered, and it’s a big step up on the current model.

On the technical side, as we have reported, the 2021 Mazda BT-50 will be powered by Isuzu’s upgraded 3.0-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder engine and matched to either a six-speed manual or six-speed auto transmission.

The output of 140kW/450Nm is down slightly compared to the current Mazda’s BT-50’s Ford-sourced 3.2-litre five-cylinder (147kW/470Nm), however Mazda says this will deliver better fuel economy, and that the vehicle has maintained its 3500kg towing capacity.

Although the engine has a Mazda logo on the cover, it's an Isuzu underneath. It may not be the most powerful in its class, but this engine is well regarded as being "under-stressed".

The new generation Mazda BT-50 will match the Ford-based model’s wading depth of 800mm, however it will be a step up for the Isuzu D-Max donor vehicle (the outgoing model is rated at 600mm).

Furthermore, it appears the Mazda BT-50 – and the Isuzu D-Max donor vehicle – will have a three-leaf rear suspension set-up, based on a peek under the rear end of the car. However, Mazda says certain models have a payload of 1000kg-plus on certain models.

Pricing for the 2021 Mazda BT-50 is yet to be announced. The only clue from Mazda is that it will be “competitive”.

The 2021 Isuzu D-Max is already on sale in Thailand but is not due in Australian showrooms until September; the 2021 Mazda BT-50 is expected to be close behind.

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