Trio at the top: New Zealand's new one-tonne utes for 2020
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It tends to be feast or famine in the world of utes – they’re mostly models with long life cycles, but their popularity and intense competition also means we sometimes see furious new-model activity. There’s an important trio of new one-tonners being launched in New Zealand for 2020: an all-new incarnation of one of the most controversial utes on the market, a closely related reboot for a grassroots favourite and a heavily upgraded version of an icon.
With the previous BT-50, Mazda made much of the fact that it sported passenger-car styling cues.
It was a controversial look to say the least, with an incredibly smiley grille and horizontal tail-lights that crossed over into the tailgate – unique in the ute segment.
Mazda has done the same again with the all-new BT-50, but this time around those passenger-car cues seem to sit rather gracefully on a double-cab platform (and the tail lights are more traditional). It’s very clearly part of the same family as the CX-8 and CX-9 SUVs, but also classy-looking in its own right.
The interior must surely be one of the most luxurious-looking in the ute segment, with a nine-inch touch-screen and glossy trim inserts.
Power will come from a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel making 140kW/450Nm. It’s up with the segment best for towing (3.5 tonnes) and one-tonne payload.
Advanced driver assistance features are rapidly making their way into one-tonne utes. Like Hilux, the BT-50 will have features like adaptive cruise control, autonomous braking and lane-keep assistance.
The BT-50 is scheduled for launch late this year.
The biggest change for BT-50 is that it’s no longer built on the Ford Ranger platform – it’s now “supplied by Isuzu Motor Limited on an OEM basis”, in Mazda’s own words.
That naturally means there’s also an all-new Isuzu D-Max on the way. It’s the model we know least about at the moment; but the model’s tough new look was revealed late last year, with top models looking set to wear stylised bash plates and oversized wheel arch extensions.
The interior is different to the BT-50’s – but has taken a similar step up in quality and technology, also with a nine-inch infotainment screen. While the D-Max will be looking to retain its status as a tough workhorse, there are some very car-like interior trims and colours in evidence.
The Ford Ranger has been NZ’s number-one ute for six years now. But has the Blue Oval truck achieved the same iconic status as the evergreen Toyota Hilux? Feel free to argue amongst yourselves.
The big news for Hilux at the end of the year will be a power bump to 150kW/500Nm for its 2.8-litre turbo-diesel engine, increases of 15 and 11 per cent respectively. There’s more towing ability as well: the automatic-transmission 4WD models can now match the 3.5-tonne rating of the manual gearbox versions.
There are styling changes inside and out. Toyota NZ is slowly rolling out phone projection on its updated models, so Hilux will join Corolla and C-HR (not to mention Lexus RX) in offering Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
On the exterior, Hilux moves a little closer to the new-look RAV4 and Land Cruiser models with a noticeably larger grille and new-design headlights that further emphasise the width of the vehicle.
We also know that there will be a NZ-developed launch edition with a number of enhancements, including beefed-up suspension. No firm details yet, but this’ll be the closest thing yet to a Hilux rival for the Ranger Raptor.
Much further down the track it’s likely there will be a genuine GR Hilux – but that’ll be a different thing again and certainly not this year.