BEST TESTS ’22: Mazda BT-50 breaks records, asks bakkie questions

There’s a quaint bakkie performance record that means way more than most will ever admit. Oddly enough, in a quarter-century of testing double cabs, which is basically since they have been a thing, there’s only one aspect that really matters to a bakkie owner.

So What is the Most Important Bakkie Spec?

No, it’s not payload. Nor is it towing ability. Or ride height, or even break-over, approach or departure angles. Believe it or not, what really makes bakkie owners look twice, is when something breaks our four-cylinder turbodiesel double-cab bakkie 0-100 km/h sprint record. No, seriously, performance means so much more than any bakkie owner will ever admit.

So, that this Mazda BT-50 3.0 TD 4×4 quite unexpectedly smashed our test strip records this week, was quite a thing. Only on Monday did we re-test a recent record holder, when the Ford Ranger Stormtrak reiterated its 9.48-second mark. Its only ever been beaten by the Mitsubishi Triton. By the skin of its teeth. But now this Mazda has taken two tenths of a second off that 0-100 record. Which is quite something.

It’s not just 0-100 where the Mazda is the new king either. It’s across the board. From the quarter-mile to overtaking acceleration to fuel economy. This BT-50 4×4 furthermore tops double-cab load ability and matches anything in towing ability. Wow!

Houston, we have a problem…

But hang on a second – Houston, we have a problem! Astoundingly enough, Mazda actually defies that the BT-50 is actually a bakkie. It rather tries to pretend this this vehicle is a SUV. Look at the pictures. See the problem in that? Which is a crying shame. Especially since this is one of the better all-round bakkies we’ve tested for a while. The real shame is that self-denial stretches further than just the press kit.

See, because of that SYV stance, they have ignored a few other bakkie essentials too. Mazda has left the load bay naked and uncovered, in a niche where a bakkie liner, roll hoop and load top are expected essentials. Of course, having none of that standard allows you of spec all of it for yourself. But all this Mazda’s real market rivals come with all that spec as part of the deal. And when we loaded it as part of our test, we scratched the loadbay floor…

There’s also the fact that the BT-50 feels like a bakkie, drives like a bakkie and rides like a bakkie. So anyone who is foolish enough to buy that SUV lie will likely become angry when taking en some of the tar roads we have to deal with in Africa. Even versus Mazda’s own real SUV siblings, this vehicle is too hard, too bouncy and too uncomfortable on the road. But take that SUV nonsense out of the equation, and it’s all quite acceptable as a bakkie. Which if we are not mistaken, BT-50 actually is!

Bring That Basket of Keys!

Anyway, enough of that. Looking at this latest BT-50’s roots outs even more proof that the bakkie world is a most incestuous little place. Ford divorced Mazda and married Volkswagen. Mercedes died and widow Nissan has hooked up with Mitsubishi. Which dumped Fiat. And jilted Mazda is now in bed with Isuzu. This BT-50 is the spawn of that last entente. But it’s built in in Thailand, while the D-Max will be made in PE. The old BT-50 of course came from Pretoria. See what we mean by incestuous? Indeed!

So, this is the BT-50 stepsister in that new Isazda nest. The D-Max will follow in a month or three. Which means that there’s another most intriguing twist to this one. This is actually the next D-Max in drag. Surprisingly enough, this 140 kW 450 Nm 3-litre turbodiesel four-wheel drive gains a handy few kilowatts and Newton-metres over the top D-Max. But not quite enough to warn us of its record-smashing capability. But then it’s the same for the Mitsubishi, which the Mazda now joins as an all-time bakkie sleeper.

It certainly looks the part. This one had an intriguing metallic battleship grey hue to complement BT-50s Mazda Kodo design language. It’s completely different from its forthcoming Isuzu sibling up front. But you’ will be challenged to tell them apart from the back, once that D-Max hits the road. Being a pretend SUV, this bakkie is well specced. It runs cool 285/60 R 16 Dunlops on neat machine faced black alloys, has LED daytime running lamps and rain-sensing wipers. BT’s ample, albeit open bay is good for a ton’s load and even has a lockable gate.

Smart Cabin Earns its SUV Status

Remote keyless access opens up a comfortable, typically spacious and durable quality Mazda cabin. It’s human centric design boasts a connected feel. You sit on a comfy six-way adjustable cloth clad driver’s pew behind a multifunction steering wheel. Striking dials comprise a smart odo and rev-counter each side of a multi-information display. The 9-inch Auto, CarPlay and USB infotainment touchscreen does the job well, has decent surround sound and a reverse camera too.

The new BT-50 comes with a 5 Star ANCAP Safety rating. It has driver and driver’s knee, passenger, curtain and side airbags, ISOFIX kid seat mounts and auto locking. Add ABS and EBD brakes, stability and traction, hill launch and descent controls, and rollover and trailer sway mitigation. Ample safety. Without overdoing it.

So, the BT-50 3.0 TD is now the quickest-ever double-cab diesel bakkie we have ever tested. Not just that, but it has class leading load and towing ability. All of which really and truly. A jolty ride excluded, makes it one of the best new bakkies out there. But Mazda is selling it as an SUV. And because of that, this flagship BT-50 lacks in some crucial spec to go with its leading loadability.

Has Mazda Missed a BT-50 Trick?

So yes, the BT-50 is a damn good bakkie. In fact this 3-litre 4×4 is one of the best. The only problem is that its maker seems to think it’s something else. All of which leads us to believe that Mazda SA has missed a very important trick with its new bakkie. And that’s a pity indeed. – Michele Lupini

Testing & images: Giordano Lupini

ROAD TESTED: Mazda BT-50 3.0TD DC Individual
Engine: 140 kW 450 Nm 3.0-litre turbodiesel I4
Drive: 6-speed auto 4x4
Payload:          1,106 kg
Towing Capacity:  3,500 kg
0-60 km/h:        3.93 sec
0-100 km/h:       9.25 sec
0-120 km/h:       12.93 sec
0-160 km/h:       25.62 sec
400m:             16.5 sec @ 135 km/h
80-120 km/h:      6.67 sec
120-160 km/h:     12.69 sec
Fuel:             8.0 l/100 km
CO2:              203 g/km
Warranty/Service: 3y unl./3y unl. km
PRICE:            R794K
RATED:            8
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