SHARP pricing, an increased payload capacity, better performance, improved economy and a refreshed interior herald the main attractions of Mazda's new BT-50.
The Japanese company has re-skinned its Thai-built light truck inside and out to make it seem as new as the Toyota HiLux, Nissan D40 Navara and Mitsubishi Triton competition, when in reality much that lies underneath are tried-and-tested bits from the eight-year-old B-series Bravo.
Nevertheless, Mazda does not see this as a disadvantage, setting the BT-50's pricing from a highly competitive $20,990 (as a promotional launch price) to lure the trade and rural buyers it expects will appreciate the value-for-money equation the BT-50 offers, along with its proven reliability.
Recommended retail pricing starts from $23,255 and does not include air-conditioning, which is another $1862.
"A significant and serious upgrade, with new drivetrains and lots of attention to dynamics" is how Mazda describes the Bravo's transition to BT-50.
The company is also aiming to lift sales of the 4x4 models in a growing sub-segment, from the B-series' 45 per cent mix to at least 50/50 parity with the 4x2.
As before, three body types are available: a two-door Single Cab with two or three seats; a 'Freestyle' Cab (offering back-hinged, B-pillar-less rear doors) offering four (2+2) seats; and a conventional four-door, five-seater Dual Cab style.
As a re-skin of the Bravo, no model variant offers any significant increase in interior space although the body has been stretched 70mm and the door panels are 30mm taller than before. The cargo box walls sit 60mm higher. The Single Cab model has an above-average 2400mm accessory alloy tray capacity, while the 1410kg load limit is a 30kg improvement over the Bravo.
The new one-piece plastic nose cone incorporates the familiar Mazda grille, bumper, headlights and foglights (if fitted). The 4x4 models also add front and rear wheelarch flares that Mazda calls "overfenders".
At the heart of the new Mazda light truck range is a pair of common-rail twin-cam 16-valve turbo-diesel four-cylinder engines, dubbed MZR-CD. Compliant with the Euro IV emissions standard, both engines feature a variable geometry turbocharger and a large intercooler for increased engine efficiency.
Mazda claims it has also paid considerable attention to improving the performance of the BT-50's cooling system, since buyers demand their work trucks to perform in a vast array of operating environments.
The MZR-CD is also 1.5 decibels quieter than the old MZ-DE diesel found in the Bravo.
In the base Single Cab Chassis 4x2, a 2.5-litre 2499cc unit produces 105kW of power at 3500rpm and 330Nm of torque at 1800rpm. The outgoing Bravo's 2.5-litre single-cam eight-valve unit mustered 82kW and 271Nm.
Fuel consumption plummets 14.4 per cent, from 9.7L/100km to 8.3L/100km, the 0-100km/h sprint time is claimed to take 10.4 seconds, while the 2.5L's braked towing capacity rises from 1800kg to 2250kg.
In all other BT-50s, a 3.0-litre 2953cc version delivers 115kW at 3200rpm and 380Nm at 1800rpm – figures that eclipse the Ford Explorer-derived 154kW/323Nm V6 petrol found in the Bravo. Speaking of which, no petrol engines will be offered for now.
Both diesels send torque to the rear or four wheels via a five-speed manual floor-shift gearbox, which has been significantly upgraded for use in the BT-50, or a five-speed automatic option on top-end 3.0-litre models.
Equipped with remote freewheeling hub-lock mechanisms, the manuals come with a manual 4WD transfer case shift lever, for 2L 2WD to 4H 4WD High, 4L 4WD Low and Neutral drive modes. It is all done electronically and 'on-the-fly' on automatic models.
A limited-slip differential is standard on all 4x4 models.
Mazda has carried over the Bravo's ladder-frame construction, underpinned by double wishbone front suspension and a rear leaf-spring set-up, but with a number of upgrades.
Larger shock absorbers are employed, along with longer (to 1320mm) leaf springs, for a better ride quality than before, while revisions to the hydraulically powered steering system aim at improving feedback and feel.
A sturdier brake feel has been achieved as a result of changes to the system, although the ventilated front disc and rear drum layout remains as before.
Mazda has redesigned the dashboard to mimic its passenger cars' efforts, as evidenced by the rounded outer vents, silver-look trim inserts, audio system interface, and tri-dialled instrumentation binnacle.
Other cabin changes include seats that are now 43mm taller in their backrests and have thicker sides and new internals for greater comfort, while the rear seat in the Dual Cab has a more angled backrest.
Dual front airbags are standard (although the farmer-focused 4x4 Single Cab model can be ordered without them), along with pre-tensioner seatbelts, an immobiliser, a tilt-adjustable steering wheel, remote central locking, a slide-out drawer above the glovebox, various other storage facilities, a radio/CD/MP3
player, a 12V DC outlet, and variable intermittent wipers.
Among the options are a new-design canopy, 'sports' bar and airbag-compatible bullbar. ABS brakes are available on all 3.0-litre models and are standard on the SDX.