It's a looker: Mazda's new BT-50 ute tested off the tarmac
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A very long time ago, an American actor by the name of Will Rogers said; “You never get a second chance to make a first impression,” and while Rogers may have died almost 100 years ago, his quote has stood the test of time.
I found this to be true when first laying eyes on the new Mazda BT-50, which is arguably the best-looking ute that you can currently buy in New Zealand. Obviously, some people will have their doubts about Mazda bringing its car aesthetic over to a ute, but the Japanese brand thinks that it has hit the nail on the head here, and I’d agree.
The first thing that Mazda wanted us to know about this BT-50 is that it is a completely new ute, from tow bar to bonnet. This means that the frame is built from high tensile steel, it’s got a brand new interior, and an exterior that’s been blessed with Mazda’s famous Kodo – Soul of Motion design theme.
This last part is important, as Mazda claims that it makes for a ute that can scrub up nicely, and look at home on both the farm as well as outside a nice restaurant in town.
As you’d probably know, the outgoing BT-50 was based on a Ford Ranger, but this time around, Mazda has decided to use Isuzu’s new D-Max as the starting point. This means that it gets a 3.0-litre turbo diesel engine which makes 140kW and 450Nm. Power and torque wise, it’s little down on what the Ranger and Hilux currently have, but means that a combined fuel economy of just 8.0L/100km can be achieved.
Interestingly, Mazda has chosen to exclusively offer automatic BT-50 models here in New Zealand, due to the current buyer’s trend. According to Mazda data, only 14 per cent of double cab utes sold in New Zealand come with three pedals and a stick.
Along the same lines, fans of single and crew cab ute will have to look elsewhere, as this ute is only available as a double-cab. Mazda revealed that this choice was more down to achieving the five-star ANCAP safety rating than anything else, but also mentioned that double-cabs currently account for 94 per cent of the ute market.
In terms of pricing, the Mazda is quite a cost-effective choice. Unsurprisingly, it’s cheaper than the likes of a Hilux or a Ranger, but it also undercuts the Isuzu that it shares a platform with.
There are three grades of BT-50; GSX, GTX, and the Limited, with pricing ranging from $47,490 for a 2WD GSX, to $60,990 for a range-topping 4x4 Limited. These prices also include the Mazdacare programme, which covers a five-year warranty, fixed-price servicing, and roadside assist.
For the launch of the BT-50, we started at Mazda’s headquarters in Mt Wellington before making the trek down to Pukerau Farm in less than ideal weather. The steady drizzle made for some slippery terrain as we trundled across the farm, but the 4x4 utes didn’t seem bothered.
During the off-road stint we tried out the BT-50s new hill decent control system which is controlled via the pedals rather than buttons, and is a little unusual at first, but is easy to use. Hill hold assist was the other system we sampled, with the utes making a hill start on a slippery gravel-covered slope look easy. On the road, the Mazda like a refined drive in a workhorse segment, with other utes prioritizing practicality over passenger comfort.
For DRIVEN’s time in the BT-50, we drove both the $58,490 4x4 GTX and the range-topping $60,990 4x4 Limited. The biggest difference between these two lies in the interior, with the Limited getting a full leather interior while the GTX makes do with an (almost comfier) cloth interior. Like all modern Mazdas, the interior of the BT-50 is stunning, with evidence of the bran’s attention to detail scattered across the cabin. The GTX and Limited get a large 9-inch touchscreen infotainment display, that feels a little clunky to use, but is what you’d expect in the ute segment. The GSX gets a smaller 7-inch display, but it’s worth noting that both systems have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. It’s also worth noting the slew of safety abbreviations that have been crammed into this ute, giving it an ANCAP five-star safety rating, and buyers another reason to choose it over its competitors.
This new BT-50 not only looks good, it also drives nicely and is safe as houses, so it will be interesting to see if Mazda can climb up the sales rankings with its consumer-driven choices and competitive pricing.