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