That side of the family
You might already know that the Mazda BT-50 and Ford Ranger are cousins. A big fan of the latter, GAVIN MYERS ventures out in the former to see just how related they are.
We all know that side of the family. You usually only see them once or twice a year, and when you do, you wonder how on earth you’re related. Think of the cousins in Chevy Chase’s National Lampoons Vacation movies …
The BT-50, unfortunately, is that cousin. It’s closely related (in that they share almost everything except exterior and interior design) to the very accomplished Ford Ranger – one of the best bakkies currently available. Yet, you’d never guess so.
Why? It’s a new Mazda, and they make good vehicles. Old BT-50s enjoyed decent followings and this one, based on its genes, should be good.
Unfortunately though, somehow, it’s not. Sure, the model we had on test was fitted with the same, strong, 3,2-litre five-cylinder diesel engine you’d find in the Ranger. It’s a burly engine, producing 147 kW at 3 000 r/min and 470 Nm between 1 750 and 2 500 r/min. Mazda claims it will return good fuel consumption figures of 9,3 l/100 km and an emissions rating of 245 g/km CO2.
The basic suspension, too, is shared with the Ranger – double wishbones and coil springs up front and a rigid axle with leaf springs at the rear. However, the vehicle has ended up with disastrous ride and handling characteristics. The suspension feels softer than one would expect, yet the vehicle tends to bounce around over bumps, potholes and rutted roads, feeling a little skittish. The BT-50 also feels more bulky to manoeuvre. Maybe the BT-50 is meant to feel more “lifestyle-oriented” with a “SUV” type of feel, but it hasn’t worked.
There have to be some positives, though. One of these is the interior, which is a very pleasant, premium-feeling, well-designed environment. The space is good, the seats are comfortable, the driving position is good and so are the ergonomics.
The exterior styling, though, was an interesting topic of discussion whenever the BT-50 came into conversation. While styling is and will always be a subjective topic, the general reaction is one of raised eyebrows. It is certainly distinctive, though, and there’s no mistaking it from the rear with its un-bakkie-like horizontal, split tail-lights.
The rear opens to reveal a particularly spacious, rather square load bay, measuring 1 549 (l) x 1 560 (w) x 513 (h) mm. The vehicle has a good payload of 1 113 kg and a gross vehicle mass of 3 200 kg.
Our SLE 4×4 model was fitted standard with features such as an electronic shift-on-the-fly transfer case, hill-descent control, hill-start assist and a locking rear differential; cruise control; rear park distance control; ABS, EBD and EBA as well as traction control, stability control and rollover mitigation; and six airbags.
The BT-50 retails at R464 900 and has a four-year/120 000 km warranty and a five-year/90 000 km service plan as well as Mazda’s three-year MazdaMotion roadside assistance plan.
You’ll have to excuse the constant comparisons to the Ford Ranger, but it was rather unavoidable … Based on the same platform and mechanicals, one would’ve honestly expected the Mazda to be just as good as its Ranger cousin. But it isn’t – not even against other, non-related competition either. The terrible ride and handling, almost single-handedly (polarising looks aside) ruin what should be a great vehicle. Instead, it’s that cousin … and that’s a shame.