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Car reviews - Mazda - BT-50 - utility range

Launch Story

Mazda logo20 Oct 2011

By JAMES STANFORD

MAZDA Australia predicts Australia will become the biggest market in the world for the all-new BT-50 workhorse, eclipsing Thailand.

Australia’s biggest full-line importer says it is confident local demand for the all-new global ute that goes on sale here next month will enable its dealer network to achieve 1000 sales a month and outsell the other 167 countries in which the hauler will be sold.

The company said at this week’s Australian media launch of the BT-50 that the handling, refinement, performance and capability advances were so great that it represented a two-generation advance on the current model.

The new BT-50 is closely related to the T6 Ford Ranger, but Mazda was involved in the development from the start.

Ford Australia led the overall project, but Mazda led the development of the rolling chassis, built the prototypes and had more than 50 engineers working on the T6 program at Ford Australia’s Campbellfield and You Yangs facilities over the past four years.

Mazda Australia has retained its diesel-only policy for the BT-50, contrasting with Ford Australia’s decision to offer an entry-level petrol variant.

It has also decided to fit driver and passenger front and curtain airbags to all models as standard, as opposed to Ford Australia’s position of offering an entry-level XL single cab-chassis version with no side or curtain airbags (which it says was requested by mining companies who want to fit their own roll cages for work utes). BT-50 models other than the single cab also have seat-mounted side airbags as standard.

The BT-50 is fitted with electronic stability control (ESC) as standard, along with traction control, trailer sway control and ABS brakes with electronic brake-force distribution.

The high level of safety is similar to that of the Ranger and Volkswagen Amarok, but far superior to most other workhorse utes. For example, only the top four models in the recently upgraded Toyota HiLux range are fitted with curtain airbags and ESC.

Mazda will offer the BT-50 in three body styles – Single Cab, Freestyle Cab (with short-distance-use rear seats) and Dual Cab, the latter being by far the most popular variant.

The dual cab will be available at launch in a mix of 4x2 and 4x4 variants. Mazda will begin importing the Freestyle version, which has rear-hinged rear doors, in November, with the Single Cab to follow soon after.

While they have much in common, the BT-50 and Ranger have unique exterior and interior designs, with the BT-50 penned in Japan by Mazda. It aimed to carry over the flowing lines of its road cars to its new workhorse. The BT-50 might be closely related to the Ranger, but Mazda is quick to point out that its engineers have given the ute a unique suspension tune to ensure it “drives like a Mazda”, meaning the goal was to make the vehicle handle more like a car than a truck.

It runs the same basic suspension system as the Ranger, which means double wishbones and coil springs at the front (replacing torsion-bar spring) and a rigid axle leaf spring set-up at the rear. The steering is rack and pinion with hydraulic power assistance, replacing the previous model’s recirculating ball system.

The BT-50 has a far stiffer frame, with 2.1 times the torsional rigidity of the current model, which helps improve the ride quality but also allows for a greater towing capacity of 3350kg for the 3.2-litre models and 2500kg for those running the 2.2-litre unit. The maximum payload for the Dual Cab varies from 1088kg to 1271kg, depending on the model.

Elements such as liquid-filled rubber cabin mounts are designed to provide improved isolation for the occupants.

The BT-50 shares its diesel engines with the Ranger, with both coming from the Ford commercial vehicle stable.

The Single Cab is available with a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel with 110kW of power at 3700rpm and 375Nm of torque between 1500rpm and 2500rpm.

This unit uses common-rail fuel injection and has a variable-geometry turbocharger to spread the engine’s power delivery. It is available only with a six-speed manual transmission.

Fuel consumption comes in at 7.6 litres per 100km.

Both the Freestyle Cab and Dual Cab models are available with the range-topping 3.2-litre inline five-cylinder turbo-diesel that generates a healthy 147kW of power at 3000rpm and 470Nm of torque at 1750-2500rpm. It also features common-rail technology and a variable-geometry turbo.

Customers can choose between the standard six-speed manual and an optional six-speed automatic.

Official fuel consumption for the 3.2 models stands at 8.4L/100km for the manual and 9.2L/100km for the automatic.

The 4x4 variants feature the ability to switch between most drive modes at speeds up to 120km/h and includes high- and low-range gearing. An electronic rear differential lock assists off-road traction and can be activated by a button on the centre console.

The BT-50’s ground clearance is 237mm, while the high-mounted alternator on both engines assists the vehicle achieve an impressive wading depth of 600mm for 4x2 models (up from 450mm) and 800mm for the 4x4 models (up from 750mm).

As with the outgoing model, the new BT-50 still sports disc brakes on the front and drums at the rear.

The new BT-50 range is significantly larger than current model, in all configurations, with the 4x4 Dual Cab a whole 204mm longer and 43mm wider. The Dual Cab’s cargo tub measures 1549mm by 1560mm.

Dual Cab models feature 55mm rear legroom in the second row of seats, while front passengers have 30mm more shoulder room and 16mm more headroom.

Mazda has loaded up all BT-50s with Bluetooth phone connectivity featuring voice control, as well as a CD sound system with an iPod-compatible USB socket and a 3.5-inch monochrome centre screen for the entry-level model, while other BT-50s gain an LCD display with satellite-navigation.

Cruise control, air-conditioning and electric windows are standard across all models.

There are three trim levels in the BT-50 range, kicking off with the XT, stepping up to the XTR and topping out with the GT model.

Mazda Australia has helped suppliers to develop a range of popular accessories including bull bars, sports bars, side steps, tonneau covers, canopies, and driving lights that properly integrate with the vehicle electronic systems.

Mazda will offer two special accessory kits – Boss Sports and the Boss Adventure. The Boss Sports kit includes an airbag-compatible alloy bull bar, Lightforce driving lights, stainless steel tubular side steps, an alloy sports bar, a lockable hard tonneau cover and 17-inch seven-spoke alloy wheels.

The Boss Adventure kit features a black steel airbag-compatible bull bar, Lightforce driving lights, 17-inch five-spoke alloy wheels, black tubular side steps, a black sports bar and a soft tonneau cover.

Mazda Australia expects to sell 1000 BT-50s a month, with 60 per cent of customers opting for the Dual Cab, 25 per cent going for the Single Cab and 15 per cent choosing the Freestyle Cab. Of those, it expects 70 per cent of customers to choose the 4x4 version.

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