The days of the old car-based ute are almost over. There was a time when a ute was either a Falcon or Commodore -- now they're almost a curiosity on our roads.
Not surprisingly, big double-cab utes have taken their place, the 4x4 with enough room to take the whanau out at the weekend being a far better all-round proposition than a fairly limited two-seater "car with a tray".
As this segment has grown, the need of some ute owners to stand out has not gone unnoticed by the industry, and pimped versions of work hacks have been rolling out to satisfy the huge demand. The latest in the list -- which, along with all of the others, will be at Fieldays to show off to their buying public -- is Mazda's BT-50 Arashi.
The BT-50 is a staple of the Kiwi ute offering, and while it's not topping the sales sheets, where Toyota's Hilux and Ford's Ranger are duking it out, Mazda enjoys a lot of brand loyalty and its prize truck is a key machine in the line-up.
Arashi -- which translates to "Storm" -- is customised in New Zealand, which gives buyers a chance to tweak the ute to suit their own style. Mazda isn't generally big on customising its vehicles, but when buyers demand it, it has to be done.
The Arashi is bold, to say the least, and is available in either 2WD or 4WD with either a six-speed auto transmission or six-speed manual, and comes in the stark white colour scheme you see here, or black mica -- and it comes at no extra cost.
Taken from the well-specced GSX model BT-50, the toy list is comprehensive -- a nudge bar, bonnet protector and weather shields as well as a stylish three-piece deck lid, sports bar and a deck liner. All a bit flash, really, with 17-inch black alloys and black running boards thrown in for good measure.
Personally, I haven't been a fan of the latest model's looks, but the changes to the front with these add-ons are a definite improvement.
The star of the BT-50 is its 3.2-litre turbo diesel engine -- an unusual five-cylinder layout that slams out a solid 470Nm and 147kW. For outright pulling power it's a gem, and although it's a bit noisy, you expect a workhorse to sound like it's actually doing something. The notchy manual box is solid as hell -- but in reality advances with autos mean the six-speed trans is just as usable in most situations.
Underneath the black-and-white exterior are enough safety goodies to give the Arashi a five-star ANCAP rating -- emergency brake assist, load adaptive control, parking sensors with the ever-helpful reversing camera (this is a big vehicle in a tight parking space) and the full set of traction control systems, which can be disabled for mud-fights.
Mazda's BT-50 Arashi kicks off at $46,195 in two-wheel drive form -- and there are only 50 to share around the nation's jobsites.
The Working class
Driven's ute showpony favourites are the workhorses to have if you want to set your beast apart from the rest.
FORD RANGER WILDTRAK Ford's stunning ute packs a punch - and is fighting for supremacy in the market with the good ol' Hilux. It was our ute of the year in 2013. Read our test here:bit.ly/1kDA8FD
TOYOTA HILUX TRD Another newbie off the rank - only 250 Hilux 4WD Special Edition TRD are available, with a factory bodykit and 18-inch rims just some of the stylish ute's standout features. We haven't driven it yet, but you'll know when we do.
VW AMAROK R As the R suggests, this German take on the humble ute is specced at the high end - even rolling on whopping 20-inch rims. Read our test at: bit.ly/1ujSlLb