IN 2012, Mazda had high hopes for its then all-new BT-50 bakkie which was positioned as an “Active Lifestyle Vehicle” and which sported some rather unusual styling at the front and rear. This softly-softly approach was perhaps a mistake as South Africans seem to believe that all bakkies should project something of a macho image. “Tough” is the password and that may just be why locals fell into Ford showrooms to get their hands on the mechanically very similar Ford Ranger which I’m sure is no tougher than the Mazda.
Perception though is all pervasive but that hasn’t stopped Mazda from introducing in March 2017, a facelifted version of the BT-50 which sports new but still traceable frontal and rear end styling together with new side steps, different wheels and an upgraded interior which includes Bluetooth, steering wheel controls, a rear view camera, auto dimming mirror and electric adjustment for the driver’s seat.
Perforated black leather is also standard fare in this model which with its more curvaceous dashboard and deep-set instruments looks a tad more homely than the Ford Ranger despite sporting what look like identical door mouldings. Certainly the Mazda holds its own in terms of comfort and general ambience of the interior but don’t expect too many soft-touch surfaces.
Other niceties include power windows, lots of chromed external finishes, smart alloys, integrated audio, reverse camera, auto lamps and more. This model is made in Thailand and interestingly, detail such as panel gaps, especially around the bonnet, is not as good as with the SA-made Ranger.
Under the bonnet, everything is familiar with the rather old-school 3.2 litre 5-pot turbo D doing service. Although this 147kW motor (as used in the Ranger) offers better towing ability and more pull in extreme conditions, it’s a bit of a gruff operator being relatively noisy hot or cold. It is fine though on the cruise. Truth is the 2.2D motor offers nearly the same grunt but does so with more decorum.
The auto transmission is also familiar from before and as with most venerable transmissions of this type, it is prone to slip when under load but in exchange it offers smooth if slightly slow shifts and is altogether preferable to a manual gearbox.
As usual, I didn’t play with the 4WD system but noted 4H and 4L are available at the flick of a switch and that aids such as hill hold and hill descent control are all on board along with roll-over mitigation, trailer sway control and load adaptive control.
Underneath this Mazda , the ladder frame remains true to its bakkie genes which means ride is not saloon-like but by bakkie standards, the compromises are acceptable unless the driven surface is truly nasty when vertical movement is very evident. Out on normal tar roads though, the BT-50 cruises effortlessly and surprisingly rapidly and is easy to manoeuvre thanks to the provision of power steering. The load area is also generous and includes a multitude of tie-downs.
In summary, the changes made to the BT-50 are moistly cosmetic and intended to dissipate the market’s apparent dislike of the original’s front and rear end styling. The changes wrought seem entirely satisfactory to my eyes such that this Mazda deserves to do a lot better in the sales race given that it shares so many of the underpinnings of the regular market leader. Let’s say we live in a fickle world when it comes to perception and it’s that very issue that Mazda needs to overcome to shift more bakkies off the floor.