Car reviews - Mazda - BT-50 - range
Fantastic new 3.0-litre diesel, 4x4's off-road ability and gravel road security, value, cabin quality and style
Room for improvement
It already feels old next to fresher rivals – although not necessarily off-road in the 4x4 version
7 Dec 2006
JUST quietly, Mazda will admit that – on the face of it – many buyers may find the BT-50 quite conservative – old fashioned even – compared to the bold and brash lines of the all-conquering Toyota Hi-Lux, promising new Mitsubishi Triton and impressive Nissan D40 Navara.
And that would be that… if looks are everything and talent means nothing.
But Mazda is not foolish, and it knows the light truck market better than most, selling the B-series and its ancestors in Australia for as long as Toyota has offered the Corolla.
So the BT-50 is hitting back hard in the areas that the competition knows will hurt – with very keen pricing, a pearler of a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel (it didn’t have a 2.5-litre base model for us to sample), and good all-round off-road ability.
Now if you are a farmer who is not exactly rolling in dough, these are essential qualities that will always mean more than aero styling, electro-luminescent instrumentation and ads with a thumping techno soundtrack.
Tradies, too, will find the BT-50's strengths vital to their business (Mazda's even retained the unique ladder clip).
With its "proven tough and reliable" carryover chassis components (albeit massaged here and there to provide greater load, off-road and comfort qualities), the BT-50 is the sort of light truck your grandparents might recommend – along with three square meals and that homely daughter of Dot from across the way.
Mind you, the sheer shove that follows after a prod of the pedal to the medal is nothing short of startling for this old timer, with a huge well of torque available to make the Mazda a very fast, flexible and refined performer.
We even started fantasising about how this powerplant would fare in the recently released CX7… how 'bout it, Mazda?
Other surprises include responsive steering, a much-improved five-speed manual gear shifter (no auto was supplied) and nicely progressive brakes.
The revamped interior – perhaps a little on the cramped side for the very tall or wide – isn’t disgraced among its newer-generation rivals, since Mazda has implemented a dash full of its passenger-car detailing, down to the instrumentation, Alfa-esque vents and lashings of silver trim.
It does seem old-fashioned inside, although less so in the unique Freestyle bodied models, because of the upright windscreen and narrow dimensions. But this is not necessarily a disadvantage, as you shall discover a little later on.
You ears are not assailed by the diesel working away ahead of you, the seats do a better job of supporting you than the Bravo's did, and there has been much thought put into making the cabin an effective and practical workplace.
So it's a shame that the ride is so jittery and uncomfortable on bitumen, even after Mazda put in a few load-simulating sandbags in the tray to keep the truck from bouncing around even more.
However, once you engage 4x4 (no 4x2s were available on the launch day either), the BT-50 becomes a comfortable and faithful companion on unsealed roads, soaking in the bumps, and tracking along – even at speed – without feeling skittish or unstable.
Take it on a 4x4 course like we did, and the low range will take you places that you might think twice about in the sexier trucks, simply because the Mazda is relatively narrow (ranging from 1715mm to 1807mm depending on model), easy to manoeuvre, and lacking some of that swish styling that you’d just hate to put a scratch on.
If you're after strong off-road abilities, then BT-50 3.0L shines.
It's also compact and wieldy enough to cut it in the urban jungle, although a test drive over your regular route is recommended, just in case that bouncy ride drives you nuts.
So the BT-50 isn't sexy, no matter how bull-nosed Mazda makes the grille.
But it is gutsy, affordable, economical, capable and pleasant to behold inside.
Mazda expects to sell more light trucks than ever, and on the face of it, the trusty B-series-based BT-50 should have little trouble convincing those who really require a dependable workhorse.
If only it was slightly more supple.
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