Driven - Mazda's 2012 BT-50
MORE THAN "JUST A BAKKIE": With its stylish looks, interior design and 4x4 prowess, the latest Mazda BT-50 evolves into a vehicle well suited to any outdoor enthusiast lifestyle.
Mazda’s B-series bakkie has had a long, if not exactly game-changing, 50-year history. In 2006 the Japanese automaker adopted the BT-50 badge for its bakkie. In South Africa the second generation 2012 BT-50 has arrived, removing the popular Drifter moniker of the model it replaces.
The Japanese automaker takes aim at a new generation of drivers as it hopes to shirk the “just another bakkie” stigma and target the local lifestyle crowd.
So despite sharing a platform, engines and transmissions, not to mention design cues, does Mazda’s BT-50 have enough Zoom Zoom to stand out alongside its sister the Ford Ranger, not to mention the host of local rivals? After making sure our surroundings were free of Toyota Hilux drivers, we answer with a tentative 'Yes'.
TOUGHER THAN IT LOOKS
The BT-50 is available in 4x2 and 4x4 guise with three body shapes (single, double and Freestyle cab) and three engine options (2.5 petrol and 2.2, 3.2 diesel) along with two transmission options, amounting to total of 17 models! All 4x4 models have shift-on-the-fly between 2WD and 4WD.
Initially we thought BT-50 stood for 50 years of the B Series truck. The 50 is in fact a representation of its marketing "between half and one ton" bakkie.
In terms of design the new BT-50 loses the boxy, utilitarian shape of its predecessor for a shapelier, striking design. At the front you can spot the bold new face of Mazda as seen on the new CX-5. With its swept-back headlights, bold grille and assertive “face of Mazda”, the visage is more akin to an SUV than a delivery workhorse. At least it smiles...
Mazda's designer have gone the route of the Mitsubishi Triton, in that its ditched square jaw, cubic styling cues in favour of curves more in line with a coupe and a bold "grinning" grille. Its flanks are curvier and the rear more pronounced with a new tail light design. You’ll be forgiven for spotting more than a passing resemblance to the Ranger as both locally built models were created in conjunction.
STYLISH FOR A BAKKIE
Apart from the assertive front and tail lights, both models are identical. It’s certainly one of the better-looking bakkies on the market. Not everyone will be sold on its looks as I've heard the phrase "awkward" and "out there" in reference of to its styling from passers-by.
Its quality and 4x4 capability might be enough to offset any grumblings about its aesthetics.
We pitted the 2.2 MZ-CD SLX High Ride 4x2 six-speed manual diesel (sheesh, that’s a long name) against the more powerful 3.2 manual 4x4 diesel as we bundu-bashed our way through the wildernesses around Richard’s Bay and Mkuze near the Jozini dam.
If you’ve had the pleasure of driving Ford’s Ranger you’ll be quite at home behind the wheel of the next generation BT-50. This isn’t a bad thing considering the US automaker has fast become a top contender in the one-ton local bakkie market in just under a year.
The 2.2 diesel is capable of 110kW at 3700rpm and 375Nm from 1500-2500rpm. The engine is mated to a six-speed manual.
The ample torque is well suited for traversing irregular surfaces and should you have any trouble the rear differential helps mitigates loss of traction.
The 3.2 diesel is capable of 147kW at 3000rpm and a torque peak of 470Nm on offer from 1750-2500rpm. The engine is mated to a six-speed manual and has three modes - two high for driving on tar, four high for gravel and irregular surfaces and four low when taking on dunes or other low-traction surfaces.
The 4x4 proved its off road prowess in the untamed bush of the Mkuze wilderness. The surety of its "shift on the fly" driving modes enables the BT-50 to take on even the toughest terrain and with 237mm of ground clearance and an 800mm wading depth you'll be able to traverse dunes and cross rivers with ease.
The suspension is a rigid axle with leaf springs at the rear, double wishbones and coilovers at the front which combined with a stiff ladder frame ensures the BT-50 can handle large loads while remaining civilised on the road. The ride appears to be more tailored towards smoother surfaces as it feels jittery, picking up all the bumps and imperfections on 4x4 trails.
On the workhorse side, the model offers decent capacity with a payload over 1100kg and maximum braked towing capacity of 3350kg, with leaf springs under the rear.
Our pick among the rather comprehensive model range would be the 4x2 2.2 diesel double cab. For a start, it's R78 130 cheaper than the 4x4, offers the same practicality and kit and is more suited to those who need the extra ground clearance and power but won’t necessarily want to brave daunting outdoor trails more suited for the 4x4.
The double-cab option makes it a fantastic family ride with ample space for the kids or friends in the rear. Add a canopy and your bakkie can cater for the family vacation kit or more perishable items. I don’t like the design of the BT-50 with an added canopy, though, as the sloping roof and the high load bay are just not pleasing on the eye.
The BT-50’s interior is more in line with current Mazda models in that it’s not as sparse or as utility-orientated as bakkies of yesteryear. Sloping lines and ergonomic controls makes the interior a great space to be in. The deep-set dials and a chunky steering-wheel creates a very car-like cabin and the addition of soft-touch materials gives it a premium feel.
Seat comfort is reasonably good and you have excellent fields of vision. Road noise is minimal and apart from the diesel grunt you won't need to raise your voice to chat with back-seat passengers.
Features include dual aircon, power windows and a radio/CD player with MP3 compatibility. There's an aux port but it’s a shame the interior lacks USB connectivity.
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The Mazda BT-50 faces off against the aforementioned Ford Ranger, Isuzu KB and Toyota Hilux. Will it be enough knock Toyota’s powerhouse 4x4 off its perch? Not by a long shot as far as sales figures and brand loyal South Africans are concerned.
It’s unlikely that Mazda’s new model will shake-up the local bakkie market though it still remains a head turner and is a worthy consideration. Overall Mazda's BT-50 and its kissing cousin the Ford Ranger are a generation ahead of its local rivals.
Where the Ford is imposing and has machismo as standard, the Mazda is more subtle but has all the underpinnings of a true 4x4 workhorse.
Share your thoughts on the Mazda BT-50 in our comment section below.
I’d also like any bakkie owners out there to help answer a social quandary – if you’ve volunteered your bakkie for the transportation needs of your mates, does social convention dictate that you should assist in physically moving items (desk, bed, fridge etc)? You’ve already donated your time and vehicle, why are you then expected to become furniture mover as well?