Herald Sun - Motoring - - IN THE GARAGE -

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.

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