Mazda have released the latest version of their legendary B-series bakkie, the BT-50. Mechanically similar to the recently launched Ford Ranger, Mazda have aimed the BT-50 squarely at the leisure market.
In keeping with the Japanese manufacturers Zoom-Zoom design philosophy, BT-50 features an advanced drivetrain coupled with class leading safety features.
The model line-up reflects a clearly defined lifestyle orientated marketing strategy.
The double cab versions now even feature a traffic-trundle friendly 3-litre, turbo diesel automatic and the single cabs are not available in 4x4 anymore.
Clearly the focus with BT-50 has shifted from traditional, commercial bakkie applications to something more urbane.
From the rear BT-50 looks virtually indistinguishable from its Ford Ranger sibling, whilst the front view yields a softer, more rounded, look in comparison to the Rangers squared off 'truck' styling.
The BT-50 roll-bar especially, with its twin round bar treatment looks unmistakeably macho.
Generally well proportioned, colour-coded and neatly detailed with a requisite front nudge-bar (a standard feature which is airbag compatible), the BT-50 is an unambiguously handsome bakkie.
Only the garish nomenclature graphics detract from the overall styling flow and symmetry.
The BT-50 interior car-like too - in both layout and trim. It even features a sliding tray for the front passenger, which is a very handy feature for both culinary contingencies and doubles as a great impromptu map reading surface.
All double-cab versions are equipped with standard leather seats (with funky orange stitching and inlays), a 6-disc CD shuttle and both front and side airbags for the driver and front passenger which makes BT-50 a formidably safe and comfy bakkie.
Worth torqueing about
Obviously the most profound change with the new BT-50 series is the drive train which features the much vaunted new 3-litre, common-rail turbo diesel engine. Our previous experience with this unit in the Ranger was very positive and in the Mazda it reaffirms its abilities.
Practically instantaneous to start, and near silent when idling, this is a turbo diesel very much of the 21st century.
With 380Nm of torque and a very handy five speed gearbox, coupled with a smooth and positive shift action the BT-50 drive train is an absolute joy to pilot.
Off-road the rear-differential lock is nearly superfluous with the amount of torque you can summon to twist those tyres out of trouble.
In low-range, first gear dispatched even the most severe, sandy sloped inclines our Mozambican test trail could deliver.
A boon on the 3-litre double cab 4x4 is the presence of remote electric front wheel hubs which negate the chore of getting out and manually locking hubs.
The highly durable 2.5-litre 80kW/257Nm turbo diesel is carried over from the previous generation Drifter and should be joined by 2.6-litre fuel injected petrol power by the first quarter of next year.
On-road cabin insulation is good, ride quality comfortable and handling not too ponderous for a 4x4. The steering feel is still just a touch too light, and in strong cross-winds the 4x4 models, with their increased ground clearance, might wonder about the highway a bit.
The key question remains though: why would you buy one of these instead of a Ford Ranger? Mazda has gone to great lengths to position their bakkies as lifestyle/leisure accessory vehicles, instead of utilitarian workhorses.
Softer, more urbane styling is one of the key elements here, making the BT-50 an easier adventure companion to blend into suburbia than perhaps the more robust looking Ford Ranger.
Inexplicably though, despite the comprehensive interior comfort and safety specifications, and the BT-50 raison d'être being an activity lifestyle vehicle, roofracks are not standard but an extra cost option. Not an extra cost option though is the Mazda Motion five-year/90 000 km service plan which is standard across the BT-50 range.
Despite the truncated model range, Mazda BT-50 offers a very competitive turbo diesel bakkie solution for keen outdoor enthusiasts who might reside in urban environments, but spend their weekends trundling about the outdoors.
Mazda BT-50 2500TDi SLX 4x2 - R204 990
Mazda BT-50 Drifter 3000CRDi SLX 4x2 - R223 990
Mazda BT-50 2500TDi SLE 4x2 - R254 990
Mazda BT-50 Drifter 3000CRDi SLE 4x2 - R274 990
Mazda BT-50 Drifter 3000CRDi SLE 4x2 A/T - R284 990
Mazda BT-50 Drifter 3000CRDi SLE 4x4 - R311 990