RIDE ’EM, KUROI
UTES are clearly in vogue at the moment. Last month the Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger became the first two workhorses to top the Australian new-car market.
So we thought we’d get reacquainted with one of the unsung heroes of the ute class, the Mazda BT-50.
We’re in the Kuroi edition, a $5600 option pack that includes a black-painted sports bar, nudge bar, side steps, 17-inch alloy wheels, driving lights, tonneau cover and decals.
Based on the $47,990 XTR (the middle of a three-model range), the Kuroi pack bumps the price to $53,590 — dearer than the flagship GT (now $49,990 drive-away).
This still undercuts the vehicle with which the BT-50 shares its underpinnings, the Ford Ranger.
There’s a complication: the Ford and Mazda are going in different directions before they end their 30-year ute partnership by 2020.
The latest Ranger has a raft of changes including new turbocharger and injectors, better noise suppression, electric power steering, Apple CarPlay, big-screen rear view camera and, as an option, radar cruise control and lane keeping.
Mechanically, the BT-50 has not changed since it went on sale four years ago (with the possible exception, we suspect, of minor tweaks that Mazda hasn’t disclosed).
The first crop of (then new) BT-50s we drove four years ago bounced around because the suspension was too firm. Mazda was trying to inject some “zoom” in a move to differentiate the BT-50 from the Ranger — but the changes made it worse. And the five-cylinder diesel engine was noisy, just as it was in the Ranger.
But the BT-50 we’re driving now has a more compliant ride (it almost feels as good as in the Ranger) and it sounds as if Mazda has borrowed some of Ford’s sound deadening off the shared production line.
So, first impressions are good — mainly because there are more changes than we were expecting. Mazda can’t tell us when over the past four years the updates occurred.