30th August 2016
Ross Kiddie | Selwyn Times
When you look at all the product Mazda has to offer new car buyers, especially here in New Zealand, there's one vehicle which looks out of place - that is the BT-50 light commercial ute.
I say that because Mazda has a huge manufacturing emphasis on cars and sport utility vehicles, and the line-up it has now is focused heavily on providing buyers with quality product fit for purpose.
Nevertheless, to be profitable and competitive in today's global market, companies which have utility vehicles are experiencing a buoyancy like never before, more so here in New Zealand. Last year Ford's Ranger utility was the biggest selling vehicle overall, and that has never happened in this country before.
Mazda have capitalised on Ranger's success as well, the BT-50 is a sister vehicle; while the shape is different, the platform and engine are the same.
The BT-50 has just had a substantial upgrade both outside and inside. Major exterior changes include a new grille and lights up front, while rear tail light assemblies have had significant garnish changes. Inside, there are new seat coverings, and an upgrade on the plastic trim elements.
According to Mazda the changes give the BT-50 a more aggressive, muscular look and by my reckoning, it is still one of the best looking utes in the New Zealand market.
Elsewhere, the BT-50 is much the same rugged ute as it ever has been. It lands in a range of 13 variants priced from $35,295 to $57,295. All have a 3.2-litre fivecylinder engine, and there are the usual choices between single cab, Freestyle cab and double-cab, two and four-wheel-drive. And there are options between manual or automatic transmission, although it's fair to say, most are autos.
The test vehicle was the range topping GSX double cab automatic. Incidentally, that model with manual transmission is available at $55,295.
I've often written about how much I enjoy five-cylinder engines, they have a characteristic of their own, and in the BT-50, it stands out for its smooth and rattle-free operation.
It is a twin-camshaft, 20-valve unit which is rated at 147kW and 470Nm, it is a high technology engine which offers low maintenance costs thanks to a new capped price servicing initiative by Mazda New Zealand.
It also has the benefit of low fuel usage. Mazda claims a 9.2-litre per 100km (31mpg) combined cycle average for the BT-50. My time with the test vehicle constantly listed around 10l/100km (28mpg) with an instantaneous figure of 7.7l/100km (36mpg) available at a 100km/h cruise (engine speed 1800rpm).
Power is harnessed seamlessly through the six-speeder.
The ratios are a wide spread of what is required for low range work as well as broadening to promote those satisfactory fuel usage figures. The driveline is smooth, hiding well the tough mechanical elements that have high demands, such as a 3500kg towing figure.
Naturally, the four-wheel-drive system has a low ratio transfer case, it can be manipulated by a console-mounted switch. I didn't do a lot of off-road work, but I did tackle a long shingle incline deep in the Malvern Hills. The BT-50 is in its element on rutted road surfaces, the suspension is supple, dealing to bumps and corrugations, and providing a cushioned ride.
Bearing in mind that the BT-50 still has a leaf-spring located live rear axle, the suspension engineers have done well to create the civilised ride along with the load bearing properties needed in the traditional ute. The BT-50 also gets a high ground clearance of 237mm, which means crosscountry travel can be tackled with confidence.
A busy long weekend in the backyard culminated in a hefty load of foliage needing transporting to the green waste depot. The BT-50 served the job perfectly, just reminding me how versatile the double-cab ute is in today's market.
And while the BT-50 doesn't fit perfectly in the Mazda stable, it's a vehicle that has come to Mazda courtesy of the Ford/Mazda marriage. While that combination hasn't been perfect over the years, both sides have reaped benefits, and the BT-50 is a result of how well the relationship has worked.
Price - Mazda BT-50, $57,295 Dimensions - Length, 5365mm; width, 1850mm; height, 1821mm Configuration - Five cylinder, four-wheel drive, 3198cc, 147kW, 470Nm, six-speed automatic.
Performance 0-100km/h, 9.6sec Fuel usage - 9.2l/100km