Tested: 2021 Mazda BT-50 D/C 3.0TD 4×4

One of the easiest jobs in the world is that of an armchair critic. Especially in today’s egocentric society, it’s so convenient to sit behind the safety of your keyboard and spread hatred to whatever takes your fancy. I kept that in mind while reviewing this new Mazda bakkie…

It would be incredibly easy for me to criticise what I don’t like, jump on a car-journo bandwagon or two, abuse a witty metaphor and call it a day. But it’s always been our policy to not be overly critical unless the vehicle in question is completely hopeless, or comparatively bad, or we/I have a better suggestion.

Car companies spend an insane amount of time and money on getting their products right so I think it’s my journalistic duty to give it a professional (and fair) appraisal. And don’t worry, friends of Mazdas, I’m not saying that because this new BT-50 is useless, but rather because it has entered an extremely fierce battle field.

The double-cab leisure bakkie (pick-up) scene is full of tinted yet shiny and bulbous macho machines because – and I’m just hypothesising here – it’s bought by people of the same ilk. On top of that, no other market segment suffers from the extremely ridiculous levels of brand loyalty like this one. My Dad can beat up your Dad.

It’s proper Kindergarten sandpit fist fight stuff.

For a new wrestler to enter this arena, it should ideally be as reliable as a Toyota, versatile as a Ford, ride like the Amarok and cost as much as those Mahindras. Nissan and Mercedes didn’t really crack the code, and on top of that they platform-shared, which somehow angers every automotive keyboard warrior in the land.

Uh-oh. Although the Mazda BT-50 is not a complete newbie, the vehicle you’re seeing here is an all-new creation based on the utilitarian Isuzu platform. And where most established double-cab contenders rely on garish grills and lashings of plastic chrome, this Japanese product shows much finer design details.

It’s fairly delicate and stylish for a bakkie.

That statement applies mostly to the front of the BT-50, for the side is still as chunky and blunt as this vehicle architecture dictates. The rear end is an obligatory boring affair, although Mazda tried to jazz up the light clusters while running fancy indentations along the edges of its tailgate. Bevelled logo, chrome handle, job done.

Actually, Mazda probably learnt its lesson from the previous BT50 (which was based on the Ford Ranger) where they tried to differentiate their product by giving it some pretend rear light clusters on the tailgate. It looked… umm, different. If they were going for a unique look, that certainly worked. Street cred? Not so much.

As for the interior of this newcomer, it’s a similarly stylish affair which I won’t credit to Mazda alone; other brands have also lifted the double-cab cabin from its erstwhile farm implement feel. Ironically, the BT-50’s host platform has yet to follow that trend.

A trend of modern shapes, textures and gadgets.

There are those that like their bakkies to lean more towards the farmyard than a sushi bar – I guess I’m one of them – but for those buyers seeking a stylish double-cab with the latest tech, this BT-50 certainly fits the bill. Silver trim, snazzy fabric, USB, Bluetooth, digital trip computer, full climate control, it’s all here.

An obvious buzz(ing) kill, in any bakkie, is the rattling diesel engine which can be had in 1.9 or this 3-litre capacity. Mazda even gave each power train two trim levels so that your price range of about 615,000 to 800,000 encompasses various specifications, manual or automatic transmission, as well as two- and four-wheel drive.

Can you see the problem yet?

Those prices are nowhere near the territory where you’ll excuse any bad or average points, while it is my humble opinion that the new BT-50 doesn’t lift itself above the crowd with much more than its styling. And that sad chapter – tarting up a bakkie and its price – was already written by Mercedes-Benz.

Performance from the big four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine is also on par, with our best or three 0-100km/h runs showing just 10.56 seconds. Mazda doesn’t publish acceleration figures for this 140kW unit but I hasten to add that, due an unforeseen venue change, our performance-tests were stacked in the BT-50’s favour.

The six-speed automatic transmission is reasonably slow to shift ratios but, as another industry standard, it’s perfectly acceptable in this application; no thanks to 450Nm of bridging force. Ditto for the ride quality, so I would place this Mazda in the more modern and comfortable double-cab class.

Handling and braking are exemplary for this segment, possibly due to fairly fresh Dunlop Grandtrek rubber fitted here. This dark grey BT-50 offered a lot of lateral grip before handing over to a semi-strict ESP system, and then absolved a single emergency brake test from 100km/h in just 2.69 seconds and 39.08 metres.

Excellent values for a bakkie!

In conclusion, the new Mazda BT-50 doesn’t do much wrong and the manufacturer has done their best to find a happy spec vs. price medium. Its biggest selling point is most certainly the refreshingly stylish design language, plus there’s an unlimited mileage warranty and service plan included with each sale.

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