Bla­tant Tempter

Mazda zooms to­ward the top of the ute class with the all­new, big­ger and bolder BT-50

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive - BRUCE MCMA­HON bruce.mcma­hon@cars­guide.com.au

THERE will be dis­cus­sion about the move to­wards an SUV-like style— in­side and out — but there will be few ques­tions about the on-and of­froad abil­ity of the new ma­chines as life­style dual cabs. The BT-50, as with its Ford Ranger coun­ter­part, moves into this seg­ment with con­fi­dence.

The busi­ness is still dom­i­nated by Toy­ota’s HiLux and the Nis­san Navara. There is fresh com­pe­ti­tion at this top end of the ute mar­ket from Mazda, Ford, Volk­swa­gen’s Amarok and the com­ing Holden Colorado.

Utes that do dou­ble duty as peo­ple car­ri­ers are a very healthy, steadily-grow­ing mar­ket seg­ment and Mazda is pre­pared to forgo some of the cheap-and-cheer­ful tradies’ work­horses to move in for a big­ger slice.

There are three BT-50 cab styles, rear-and four-wheel drives, two en­gines, two trans­mis­sions and three spec grades. First up are the dual cabs driven at launch and avail­able from Novem­ber 1, fol­lowed by the Freestyle cabs later that month with sin­gle cabs due in early 2012.

VALUE

Fi­nal pric­ing was un­der dis­cus­sion as Cars­guide went to press this week. Mazda prom­ises to be com­pet­i­tive with ri­vals, so ex­pect rises of be­tween $1500 and $5000 across the range. That puts the vol­ume­selling XT 4WD­d­ual cab at $42,260 and the top-spec GT from $50,710.

Few miss out on gear, from air­con­di­tion­ing and Blue­tooth to trac­tion con­trol, sta­bil­ity con­trol and roll con­trol.

DE­SIGN

The BT-50 uses the chas­sis de­vel­oped with Ford but Mazda— thanks to the ef­forts of 50 en­gi­neers in Aus­tralia over four years— has gone its own way with ex­te­rior and in­te­rior style and sus­pen­sion damper set­tings.

The re­sult is a ute in­fused with Mazda’s cur­rent DNA. The front end bears the CX-7 wagon’s big grin, the rear has dis­tinc­tive treat­ment with hor­i­zon­tal tail-lights that scream around from the body side to the tail­gate.

Mazda reck­ons this gives the BT-50 a dy­namic, fu­tur­is­tic look. Some are un­cer­tain whether Aus­tralia’s ute buy­ers are ready for the fu­ture.

TECH­NOL­OGY

Mazda has stacked these utes, in par­tic­u­lar the up­mar­ket 4WD ver­sions, with a host of elec­tronic driver aids. Be­yond the se­cu­rity of the full (and well-tuned) chas­sis, there is an ar­ray of gear from sta­bil­ity and roll con­trol to hill as­sist and hill de­scent con­trol to bring car­like driv­ing and safety dy­nam­ics to the BT-50. The 3.2-litre turbo diesel is Mazda’s first five-cylin­der en­gine.

SAFETY

The sec­ondary safety aids— in­clud­ing Load Adap­tive Con­trol to plot the elec­tron­ics’ re­ac­tions ac­cord­ing to load and Trailer Sway Con­trol— are com­ple­mented by driver and pas­sen­ger front and side airbags plus cur­tain airbags. Mazda en­gi­neers are con­fi­dent of a five-star ANCAP rat­ing.

DRIV­ING

The BT-50 is a fair way re­moved from its pre­de­ces­sor. It is big­ger in­side and out, qui­eter and bet­ter-man­nered on tar and dirt.

En­gi­neers have given it taut, pas­sen­ger car-like dy­nam­ics with ex­cel­lent turn-in to cor­ners (with rack and pin­ion steer­ing) and top grip on good and bad roads.

It is par­tic­u­larly com­pe­tent on fast dirt roads.

The 3.2 is stacked with torque, handy on and off the road although the six-speed man­ual shift could be slicker; the six-speed auto shines. But with ei­ther trans­mis­sion the BT-50 is a quiet, al­ways

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