REVIEW | 2021 Mazda BT-50 is marred by harsh ride, unrealistic price
One of Mazda SA’s recent missteps involves the current ND-generation MX-5.
Someone thought it would be a great idea to cull the traditional fabric top variant, with its manual transmission, in favour of the RF version. Yes, the RF version, with a complicated, heavy metal roof and – gasp – an automatic transmission. In other words, the derivative that long-standing supporters of the breed wanted least. Way to extinguish the flame of one of the best sports cars ever produced.
The rest of Mazda’s current portfolio holds appeal, however. The 2 hatchback and CX-3 crossover might be a tad long in the tooth, but they remain desirable picks. The 3, CX-5 and CX-30 undoubtedly look the part, with praiseworthy interiors and high refinement levels. Though a little more grunt wouldn’t go amiss, say, if they offered the 2.5-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged-petrol motor that is available abroad.
Not long ago Mazda launched its latest generation BT-50. By now you know the model is a result of a joint venture with Isuzu, being based on the equivalent, latest D-Max. That counterpart is yet to be launched here officially. Perhaps the company is watching what critics say about the doppelganger product, addressing points of concern so their contender is better received when it comes to market. That would make sense. Because the new BT-50 doesn’t augur well for the imminent D-Max. But before we get to that, let’s talk about what we like.
It’s a great looker. Mazda has done an excellent job of grafting the family’s Kodo styling philosophy onto the front of the double-cab. A big, shiny, slatted grille flanked a determined-looking pair of slanted eyes, this is a handsome pick-up. Then there’s the interior layout. Straight cut, business-like and with ergonomics akin to those of a passenger vehicle. From the seating position, to the design of the dashboard it’s a lovely place to sit. It looks as sophisticated as it did in the initial teaser images we saw ahead of launch.
Here’s where the issues begin. On test here is the high-grade 3.0L Individual, positioned as the most luxurious of the line-up. To that end, there isn’t much. Sure, you get a leather-wrapped steering wheel, which is nice. But the seats are upholstered in cheap-looking black and grey fabric, which hardly says range-topping. While the cabin might have looked as good as the preview pictures, it certainly doesn’t feel as plush as was promised.
The perception of tactile quality is poor, coarse plastics abound and some trim pieces felt downright flimsy. That might be acceptable in a bakkie designed primarily as a workhorse. Not in a product with aspirations as lofty as this one’s. A nine-inch, touchscreen infotainment system is on offer. It’s a rudimentary affair that appears out of date, with a grainy display and delayed responses to input. The system used here has no kinship with the MZD Connect interface that features in their passenger cars range.
Thankfully, it supports Android Auto and Apple Car Play, useful since the system itself lacks conveniences such as navigation. But the biggest problem isn’t the BT-50’s hard touch points or its iffy digital offering. You’ll identify its biggest problem within 5km of driving the model. The ride could very well be the worst of any double-cab on sale in the country today. And that’s no exaggeration. Even at low, suburban speeds, the BT-50 is flummoxed by minor ripples in the road, amplifying them. Speedbumps and corrugations? They’re an absolute nightmare in the Mazda. On the freeway, it jitters and skitters all over the place.
Under the hood is a 2,999cc, turbocharged-diesel unit with four cylinders. It’s a power source derived from Isuzu. The motor is grumbly and intrusive, lazy in its delivery even though the 140kW and 450Nm on paper looks promising. Driving around with four-wheel drive engaged made the BT-50 feel as if the handbrake was left up. The six-speed automatic works nicely though.
Here’s the real kick in the groin. This 3.0 Individual costs R794,400! It doesn’t matter what your allegiance is because at that price point, any one of its direct rivals from Ford, Nissan or Toyota are superior in terms of equipment and overall execution.
Let’s do some price comparisons. You’ll pay R806,500 for a Ranger 2.0 Bi-T Wildtrak 4x4 automatic. The Navara 2.5 DDTi Pro-4X 4x4 automatic goes for R740,000. A Hilux 2.8 GD-6 4x4 Legend automatic costs R793,000. Wild card: the impressive GWM P-Series in fully-loaded LT trim with an automatic gearbox and four-wheel drive goes for R554,900.
With these alternatives around, there’s no way to justify the asking price of the BT-50 3.0 Individual. Here’s hoping the Isuzu D-Max is more competitive on price, specification and all-round refinement.