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
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.