BUILT TOUGH

MAZDA BT-50

GIVEN THE STRONG SALES OF FORD’S RANGER, THE MECHANICALLY SIMILAR BT-50 REALLY SHOULD BE DOING BETTER THAN IT IS.

2015’S MOST POPULAR 4X4S

Mazda’s BT-50 was ranked ninth for 4x4 sales in 2014 and it retained that ranking in 2015, although it achieved a modest 368 sales increase, up from 8312 to 8680.

The interesting thing here is that the BT-50 is a close cousin to Ford’s Ranger, but for every BT-50 Mazda sells, Ford sells nearly three Rangers. Now, Mazda may be happy to sell the BT-50 in those numbers, as the marque is enjoying record sales elsewhere, thanks to the popularity of its CX-5 and CX-3 SUVs and its Mazda 3 and Mazda 6 passenger cars.

The BT-50 came out in late 2011, about the same time as the Ford Ranger, and in their original guise the two were almost mechanically identical. Aside from the obvious styling and equipment differences, the two varied only in their steering-rack ratios and suspension damper calibration.

All of that changed last year when both the BT-50 and the Ranger underwent mid-life makeovers, but to vastly different degrees.

Where Ford introduced a raft of mechanical changes to its Ranger to improve its performance, off-road ability, driving feel and refinement, Mazda’s rework of the BT-50 was limited to exterior styling, a new dashboard for the mid- and top-spec models, and some equipment changes. The only mechanical change of note was a new linkage for the six-speed manual, designed to address the previously vague shift action.

At a time when ute engines are being downsized to smaller and smaller four-cylinder designs, the BT-50 (and the Ranger) stand out with their relatively large-capacity (3.2-litre), in-line, five-cylinder diesel. On the road the ‘big’ five is low-revving and has an easy and relaxed feel to it.

In fact, the BT-50 is a big ute all over – big cabin; big wheelbase; big GVM and payloads; and a class-leading towing capacity.

It is just a pity the BT-50’s recent facelift didn’t bring the in-depth changes that have made the Ranger a far better ute than it was in its original guise.