This year we’ve already seen the impressive new Mitsubishi Triton and are soon to be introduced to the new Nissan Navara and Volkswagen’s V6 Amarok shortly. Another bakkie, which is seen as a left-field option has been updated. It is of course the Mazda BT-50 and I had a go in the refreshed model in northern Gauteng recently.
The changes made to the BT-50 are minor to say the least. There’s a new front grille and reshaped headlamps meaning that overall the front-end is an improvement and no longer looks like it has a bulbous forehead. In side profile there are new 17-inch alloy wheels for all SLE variants while at the rear the Mazda’s emblem now protrudes from the tailgate and the taillights now feature new surrounds. I will admit that the BT-50 isn’t the best looking bakkie in its segment and despite the fact that it looks better after the update; it is still far from winning any beauty contests.
You’d be hard pressed to note many changes inside however there are some changes in quality that I noted from the model that I drove back in 2013.The BT-50 is now made in Thailand and not Silverton in Pretoria and in that transition there seems to be a slight lack of interior quality coming through.
It could be that the competition has stepped its game up since then and subsequently skewed my judgement however I don’t recall the interior surfaces being quite as hard as in the new model. The interior also features Ford’s rather frustrating Sync 1 technology in the infotainment system, a plethora of buttons and overall provides a general feeling that is misses the mark.
The engine range remains unchanged with the same Ford 110kW/375Nm 2.2 litre diesel populating the lower end of the range and the 147kW/470Nm 3.2 litre turbo diesel topping the range off. There is both a manual and an automatic transmission available within the line-up too.
The big change comes in the form of body style and derivatives. For the time being there will only be double cab variants sold locally with the possibility of extra and single cab variations appearing at a later stage.
The other important aspect of the range is the fact that the 2.2 litre motor is available in the lower SLX grade as well as the SLE grade with either a six-speed manual or an automatic gearbox with a 4x2 configuration only. The 3.2 litre range on the other hand only comes in the SLE guise with 4x4 and either a manual or an automatic transmission. These changes are largely due to the fact that the new factory in which SA cars are built stipulates model availability and partially because Mazda wants to focus on having the BT-50 as a more lifestyle-orientated product.
Drive quality and ability
We had a chance to drive the updated model on tarmac, dirt roads and at an off-load course. Again, I feel that after sampling the competition that the ride in the BT-50 isn’t quite up to scratch. Over a smooth surface it whispers along however it feels quite unsettled when things get bumpy, especially at the rear.
On the off road course things got better, where the rear diff-lock and four-wheel drive system got us through the obstacles without much effort. However, the 2.2 doesn’t have a 4x4 option and will likely be used for mild off-roading and road driving where it feels underwhelming and even quite harsh at times.
It’s hard to be a bakkie in South Africa and despite the fact that overall the BT-50 is a good product I feel that to succeed in a market where the badge and image seem to matter most you have to be exceptional in just about every way.
Warranty and service
All BT-50 models come with a three-year unlimited mileage warranty and service plan which sweetens the deal somewhat.
2.2L DE SLX 6MT 4X2: R441 600
2.2L DE SLE 6MT 4X2: R477 700
2.2 L DE SLE 6-speeds Auto 4x2: R497 700
3.2L DE SLE 6MT 4X4: R541 700
3.2L DE SLE 6 Speed Auto: R555 700