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Driven: Mazda BT-50 3.0TD D/C 4x4 Individual

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For decades, the double-cab bakkie has enjoyed great success in South Africa. Consumers love their dual personality. Like a family saloon, it has seating for five, all the modern amenities and a spacious interior. Like an SUV, it offers a raised ride height and chunky good looks. But unlike both, it can also double-up as a workhorse, rugged underpinnings allowing the double-cab to do nearly anything you ask of it.

Locally, the Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger rule the roost. By far the most popular derivatives, they have got some formidable competition. Despite being 10 years old, VW’s Amarok is still an absolute joy to drive. Mitsubishi’s Triton provides a smooth ride and, for sheer toughness, Isuzu’s D-Max is still the one to beat. However, another contender has entered the ring - and we’ve been driving it.

In our opinion, the Mazda BT-50 is one of the best looking double-cabs currently for sale on our market. Wearing the brand’s traditional front-end, it looks upmarket and conservative without losing the rugged appeal that people love about bakkies. Our test unit, the 3.0TD 4x4 Individual, receives 18-inch alloy wheels, as opposed to the lesser model’s 17 inches. Tasteful chrome garnish and LED headlamps complete the look.

Step inside and Mazda continues to impress. Their passenger car line-up is renowned for having high-quality interiors filled with premium feeling materials. Being a bakkie, there are few soft-touch materials to be found. Despite the harsher plastics, everything feels solid and as if it was built to last. What’s more, at R794 400, you receive plenty of spec in return for the outlay. Climate control, front and rear park distance control, a reverse camera and a comprehensive infotainment system (with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto) are all part of the standard package. 

On the road, for the most part, the BT-50 is comfortable. The chunky tyres do their part to iron out the bumps but the suspension can feel rather harsh at times. The 3.0-litre turbodiesel provides decent performance, fading into the background as the six-speed automatic shifts away smoothly.

A muscular 144 kW and 450 Nm of torque give the Mazda sufficient grunt in town and certainly aids in off-road driving. The steering doesn’t feel as direct as the Ranger or Amarok, reacting slower to steering inputs. This isn’t as noticeable on gravel or off-road, where the relaxed steering actually bestows the BT-50 with a feeling of control.

While Mazda claims a reasonably efficient 8.0 L/100 km fuel consumption figure, we saw closer to 10 L/100 km. Still, that’s not bad for a large 3.0-litre bakkie.

Verdict

A big improvement on its predecessor, the BT-50 picks up where the previous model left off. It looks great, has a roomy, well-specced and classy interior and, what’s more, is rather excellent off-road. The question is, though, has Mazda done enough to sway would-be Ranger and Hilux owners from their beloved brands? Only time will tell.

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