Curves on ute not so beaut

By com­bin­ing its pas­sen­ger cars’ curves with the chunky prac­ti­cal­ity of a tra­di­tional trades­men’s ute, Mazda is go­ing its own way in one of New Zealand’s most im­por­tant mar­ket seg­ments, writes Dave Moore

South Waikato News - - NEWS -

BUY­ERS out there in ute­land have never had it so good. In a year when Volk­swa­gen is get­ting in on the act with its Amarok, and Nis­san and Toy­ota are fronting up with heav­ily re­vamped mod­els, while Ford has a fleet of new Rangers in the mix, Mazda has barged through all this chunky squarerig­gery with a swoopy new BT50 whose nose looks like it was bor­rowed from the lat­est Mazda sedans.

It’s big, at 200mm longer than be­fore as well as be­ing bold and po­lar­is­ing but the rear has fa­mil­iar soft-shaped tail lights that leave no­body in doubt it’s a BT-50.

Any­way, no se­ri­ous work­ing ute-buyer ever bases his ve­hi­cle choice on looks alone. Other­wise, how did Toy­ota’s Hilux re­main at the top of the sales ta­ble de­spite look­ing the way it has for the last few years?

That’s why, de­spite crit­i­cism of the new Mazda BT50’S looks – it does re­sem­ble a Mazda6 with a wheel­bar­row tagged on to its rear, ac­cord­ing to some – I think once driven, any cos­metic mis­giv­ings will be for­given. That’s be­cause the new BT50 has the best cur­rent mid-sized ute driv­e­train you can buy, in the form of the 3.2-litre five-cylin­der tur­bocharged diesel and six-speed auto or man­ual trans­mis­sion it shares with Ford’s jus­tas-new Ranger.

The two Thai-built ve­hi­cles mark prob­a­bly Ford and Mazda’s fi­nal act of col­lab­o­ra­tion as the two com­pa­nies drift apart and nei­ther com­pany will deny that they have been good for each other over the years. Never more than with these tremen­dous new utes which of­fer more grunt and more gears in most forms than any oth­ers on the mar­ket, with id­iot­proof off-road elec­tronic as­sis­tance for their all-wheel-drive sys­tems, scads of load space, tidy, very re­fined road man­ners and a cabin you can spend most of the day in. As I did last week.

But back to the styling. The big grin on the front of the car may be gawky at first but af­ter a few hours, you can’t help but smile back at it, for this is a dis­arm­ingly ca­pa­ble piece of kit and if it has to look like a bit of a joker, well it’d go down well on MY farm any­way.

Shar­ing so much with the new Ford is very much a pos­i­tive. The amor­ti­sa­tion ben­e­fits are ob­vi­ous and when you tot up the kit that the Ford/mazda col­lab­o­ra­tion man­ages to slot into the pack­age, you soon re­alise that the BT50 and Ranger are pack­ing more stan­dard safety and home-com­forts para­pher­na­lia than that late-model six-cylin­der sedan you have in your drive­way.

No BT50 will do with­out air con­di­tion­ing, ABS, trac­tion con­trol or sta­bil­ity mit­i­ga­tion tech­nol­ogy, and if you are for­tu­nate enough to opt for the loaded Lim­ited ver­sions, with well-sorted per­fo­rated leather onto which you can set­tle your RM Wil­liams you can see how far utes have come in quite a short time.

As I said be­fore, the star of the show is the ute’s flag­ship 3.2-litre pow­er­house, which grunts out 147kw at just 3000rpm and a use­ful 470Nm of torque from 1750-2500rpm, which is enough to bash any hill farm into shape thanks very much, and judg­ing by the way I was able slide into trou­ble and grope my way out of it on some silly go­ing, it has the legs to match, with long-travel dou­ble front wish­bones, solidly sorted rear leaf springs and rack and pin­ion steer­ing that gives oo­dles of in­for­ma­tion with­out a sker­rick of thumb-thwack­ing kick-back. A great setup.

The nice thing is, the peo­ple at Mazda have man­aged to give this farm­ers’ friend re­mark­able on-road man­ners too, with ter­rific lat­eral grip – not al­ways a tall ute’s strong point – and won­der­fully com­mu­nica­tive steer­ing. While we’re on the road it’s nice to note that the sixspeed trans­mis­sion has the BT50 at well un­der 2000rpm at 100kmh with au­to­matic or man­ual ver­sions. Thus fuel use and wear and tear are likely to be pretty low in day to day use.

My choice would cer­tainly be the au­to­matic which asks $2000 more than the man­ual. I found it bet­ter even for of­froad use, where you can man­u­ally over­ride the sys­tem where needed, lock­ing the trans­mis­sion into 1 while 2WD, 4WD and 4Wd-low, are merely a con­sole twist knob away. You can even use cruise con­trol to mod­u­late hillde­s­cent speeds when you use the truck’s elec­tronic dash-but­ton ac­ti­vated HDC (hill de­scent con­trol). The diff lock is also a sim­ple dash prod and use­ful when the go­ing gets wet and slip­pery on steep, grassy in­clines, for in­stance.

The au­to­matic op­tion is only avail­able on the 2WD and 4WD GSX, and the 4WD Lim­ited Dou­ble Cab BT50 mod­els but all mod­els take the full suite of safety gear, with front, side and cur­tain airbags where ap­pro­pri­ate, hill launch and de­scent con­trols, ABS, trac­tion con­trol, a de­vice for eas­ing trailer sway, sta­bil­ity con­trol and roll-over mit­i­ga­tion.

Al­to­gether, the BT50 of­fers nine all-wheeldriven mod­els and seven with rear wheel drive. Body styles in­clude reg­u­lar cab and dou­ble cab de­signs, with a clamshell four-door freestyle cab be­tween the two, which of­fers bet­ter ac­cess than sim­i­larly placed mod­els from other com­pa­nies with merely two doors.

The full range is a fairly easy one to get your mind around, as there’s no petrol op­tion, nor a smaller diesel, so it’s very much a price-step against per­sonal pref­er­ence propo­si­tion – the dog’ll like the freestyle, while hu­mans will pre­fer the dou­ble cab.

The 2WD range starts with the cab-chas­sis GLX at $35,295, with a well­side deck adding $2100, the $38,395 2WD freestyle GLX asks an­other $1900 for a well­side. Next, the GLX, GSX man­ual and GSX auto dou­ble cabs come in at $42,695, $45,495 and $46,495 re­spec­tively.

4WD BT50S which have a lock­ing dif­fer­en­tial in all spec­i­fi­ca­tions, start with a cab-chas­sis GLX at $46,795, fol­lowed by the freestyle GLX cabchas­sis, cab-chas­sis plus and Well­side at $49,795, $50,995 and $51,795. Dou­ble cabs with 4WD start with the GLX cab-chas­sis at $51,295, with the Well­side cost­ing an­other $1700, while the GSX Well­side asks $56,895 for the man­ual ver­sion and an­other $2000 with au­to­matic. The top of the tree BT50 Lim­ited Dou­ble Cab Well­side, which is an au­to­matic only, is $61,895, and has stan­dard re­vers­ing radar as well as leather trim.

Mazda’s care pro­gramme con­sists of a three­year, 150,000km care pack­age and low-cost ser­vic­ing, the lat­ter with a $200 per visit ceil­ing.

It may not have a par­tic­u­larly blokey look but there’s no ar­gu­ing. The BT50 is a stand-out in a sec­tor full of ruler-straight of­fer­ings that all look the same from a dis­tance or when they’re dirty. Nice work Mazda, with that bril­liant tur­bod­iesel five, an up-to 3350kg tow­ing ca­pac­ity, and pay­loads rang­ing from 1088kg and 1271kg, that smi­ley face has a rea­son for its grin.

MAZDA IN UTE­LAND: Go­ing its own way.

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