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Driven: Tiny tweaks to Mazda BT-50
Mazda adds minor updates to mid-life BT-50 refresh despite renewed competition
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25 Sep 2015
By TIM ROBSON
MAZDA Australia has resisted the temptation to make wholesale changes to the second generation of its successful BT-50 ute range, offering up relatively minor revisions for its mid-cycle refresh for the four-year-old workhorse.
This comes despite renewed and vigorous competition from the likes of Nissan and Mitsubishi, who have both served up all-new versions of 4x2 and 4x4 pick-ups this year.
As well, Ford has significantly upgraded its Ranger, while Toyota’s new HiLux launches in September.
“We choose our own adventure,” said Mazda Australia marketing director Alistair Doak, when asked if the company has done enough with the mid-life update.
“We think the changes that we got are exactly what we wanted. We were involved with head office from day one. We’re happy with it, and our dealers are happy with it. Maybe the other guys are catching up with our design direction.” Mazda’s tweaks are aimed at attracting a broader base of customer to the BT-50 range, while its often-criticised front and rear styling has been toned down via relatively mild makeovers of the lower front bar and grille, along with differently styled but same-sized headlights and tail-lights.
Mazda Australia managing director Martin Benders said there was some hesitation from private buyers when the model launched back in late 2011, but added that it is gaining traction with fleet customers.
“We have addressed the major issues. We did have rejection from private buyers early on some people loved it or hated it,” he said at the media launch in Melbourne. “We’ve converted it to something that’s more fitting for a typical ute buyer, and it’s something we’ve done to expand our reach into the business fleet buyer market someone who wants a tough ute but doesn’t like an accentuated style, if you like.
“Certainly the private buyers weren’t put off (by the original design), and the changes we’ve made won’t affect them, but it should suit the small business buyer better.” Inside, a new centre console binnacle with a new infotainment screen makes its debut across the range, with a 7.8-inch screen optioned for the mid-spec XTR and top-line GT 4x4s.
The satellite-navigation system integrated into the screen can be optioned with topographic HEMA maps for $295. Mazda claims it is the only ute on the market available with this option.
The larger screen also means that a reversing camera is now standard on these two grades, and is now available as an $820 option across all of the BT-50 range.
The XTR also scores tubular-style running boards, tailgate lock, as well as satellite navigation, auto-dimming interior mirror, automatic lights and rain-sensing wipers.
The GT, meanwhile, receives privacy glass and folding external mirrors.
New-design alloy wheels are also fitted to XTR and GT, while the XTs get 16-inch alloy rims instead of steel.
The base XT adds a lockable glovebox to bench-seat models, while a more adjustable driver’s pew is now fitted to the two-seat version.
Powertrains across the 23 variants remain unchanged, with the choice of a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel offering 110kW and 375Nm for the 4x2 variants, or a 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo diesel producing 147kW and 470Nm for the 4x4s.
Announced earlier in the month, pricing across the range has risen. One variant – the entry level 4x2 cab-chassis manual – remains the same price, while the biggest increase is seen in the XRT 4x4 dual-cab, with a jump of $810.
The only mechanical change is a minor revision to the BT-50’s manual transmission, with a revised linkage to improve first-to-second changes. A new gear knob has also been specced.
All BT-50s feature as a minimum anti-lock brakes, dynamic stability control, emergency stop signal, hill descent control on 4x4 variants, hill start assist, locking rear diff on 4x4s, stability control, traction control and trailer sway control.
The 3.2-litre five-cylinder diesel can tow 3500kg of braked trailer load, while the 2.2-litre can tow 2500kg.
A new electronic brake controller – sourced from Redarc in South Australia – has been added to the specs list, and will cost $550. “I think we are the only manufacturer to offer this at a factory level,” said Mr Doak.
The BT-50 has been on sale in Australia since 2006, and will, according to Mazda, pass through the 50,000 sales barrier by the end of September. It has sold 9488 BT-50s so far in 2015, with its 4x2 sales figures up 10 per cent year on year, while the 4x4 is up nearly nine per cent.
It currently lies seventh in the 4x4 category, well behind the segment-leading Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger, and fourth in the 4x2 stakes.
Dual-cab models make up 72 per cent of all sales in the segment as a whole for the year to date, while 4x4 variants make up 77 per cent.
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