The new BT-50 was launched here in South Africa a couple of weeks ago and for the first time in eons it does not share a platform with the Ford Ranger. The Japanese manufacturer opted to partner with Isuzu and the vehicle is based on the new D-Max which arrives early in the new year.
First impressions count, and this new BT-50 scores highly on this measure. I did not like the previous model with its funny sloped nose and cheesy grin. The beefy new grille is in keeping with the latest Mazda brand identity and perfectly complements the narrow headlights.
The Active derivative we drove is the entry point to the range and is powered by a new 1.9-litre turbodiesel, coupled to a six-speed manual gearbox. It is rear-drive only and there is no auto option at this trim level.
While the diesel puts out a respectable 110kW and 350Nm, it tends to lag and bog down in the lower gears, which means it is not very accomplished at getting around town. Spooled up and on the open road, it felt more at home. Overtaking was fairly easy and we managed to do 120km/h going up most hills without having to drop down to a lower gear. We did discover a major bonus of that smaller displacement engine – our average fuel consumption was a frugal 8.9 litres/100km.
While the interior is all new, it already feels a little behind the curve and I think Mazda could have done a more thorough job here. We found the infotainment system a little fussy and difficult to figure out, though it does feature Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard, along with Bluetooth connection for devices. The instrument cluster is a high point, though is let down by the overall feel of the interior. I also did not get on too well with the seats. I am a big-framed person, and found the back rest too narrow, while my shoulders were tightly squeezed by the seat’s side supports.
The one thing that really disappointed was the suspension. We found it way too hard and bumpy compared to bakkie rivals. I doubt it was built for African conditions. Driving in suburbs where road maintenance is a myth, the pot holes exaggerated the over-firm set-up, and on gravel it wasn’t much better at all. There are definitely a couple of fitment centres that will be waiting for BT-50 drivers to come in for a suspension upgrade. Even when heavily loaded with five adults and all their luggage, the ride comfort was still bumpier than one expects from a leaf-sprung rear. The upside? The BT-50 felt confident on the open road and was well planted on the twists and turns.
Pricing for the rear-drive Active 1.9 we drove is set at R611 900, which we felt was steep for an entry-level derivative. It offers good looks and decent fuel consumption but is let down by a lacklustre interior and an over-firm ride.
The Individual derivative is offered with a 4×4 drivetrain coupled to a 3.0-litre turbodiesel with 140kW and 450Nm, which should put it in another league – or at least enough to justify the R793 400 price sticker. We are keen to drive this derivative soon, as it is no doubt more refined and likely to be a superior gravel travel companion.