18th October 2016
Ross Kiddie | Southern View, Christchurch
Price $57,295 Dimensions Length, 5365mm; width, 1850mm; height, 1821mm &RQJXUDWLRQ Five-cylinder, fourwheel-drive, 3198cc, 147kW, 470Nm, six-speed automatic.
3HUIRUPDQFH 0-100km/h, 9.6sec )XHO 8VDJH 9.2l/100km
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 BT50 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 BT50 is a sister vehicle; while the shape is different, the platform and engine are the same.
The BT50 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 BT50 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 BT50 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 five-cylinder 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 BT50, 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 claim a 9.2-litre per 100km (31mpg) combined cycle average for the BT50. 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 BT50 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 BT50 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 BT50 also gets a high ground clearance of 237mm, which means cross-country travel can be tackled with confidence.
The BT50 is at home on the seal as it is off-road. I took the test car on a long highway drive and it is relaxing and inviting to drive. Such is the civilised way it rides, it is easy to head into a corner with more speed on than realised, so it must be remembered there are some cornering limitations.
In terms of on-road performance, a standstill to 100km/h time of 9.6sec is pretty useful for a big, heavy vehicle which weighs in at just over two-tonne.
With the mid-range torque figure it will also blast thorough a highway overtake without effort.