The 2021 Mazda BT-50 is a very good looking bakkie. So good that I tweet about it and how it reminds me of its CX-5 sibling. Now in its third generation, the BT-50 has been updated to follow Mazda’s Kodo design language, if that is what we can call it.
Before we go anywhere, its imperative that we mention that the BT-50 is riding on a new Isuzu-based platform motivated by an Isuzu diesel engine.
We reckon this could be that Mazda’s efficient diesel is not powerful or torquey enough to handle the BT-50’s 3,500 kg towing capacity. Instead, Mazda went to Isuzu for a solution. The answer came in the form of the latter’s 1.9 and 3.0-liter turbocharged diesel mills from the Isuzu D-Max bakkie. Mind you, that very same D-Max bakkie is yet to launch in Mzansi.
Let’s talk first impressions. The exterior of the BT-50 holds up better than the interior, particularly in Mazda’s Ice White paint. It somewhat suits the BT’s craggy fascia and deep sculpting well, as do the 18-inch alloy wheels. With the matching front skid plate, big Mazda logo grille, the BT-50 looks stolid and a little grumpy. Like a grown-up CX-5.
There is, for better or worse, a design language we expect from bakkies. While practicality is king, they also have to look burly and tough; we expect road presence and a sense of invulnerability, too. The original BT-50 was odd-looking enough that the conversation instantly shifted to that love-it-or-hate-it appearance, but Mazda’s second attempt was just close enough to a family SUV to be an outlier in its segment.
Compared to the AWD systems on rival bakkies, the BT-50 is not so positively space-age. On the road, it contributes significantly to how very much tractor-like the BT-50 feels: planted and steady, with the suspension level and predictable, and some of that unexpected squirming some bakkies can suffer when they’re underloaded and you suddenly put a little foot. The 6-speed automatic transmission is dependable and shifts with greater urgency.
The downside, though, is that some of the more mechanically-minded settings four-wheel drive competitors have are absent. There are modes modes for different off-road conditions, yes, but the Mazda lacks in character.
The inside is where things really start to fall short. Clamber in and you’ll find the cabin earns its name from us with cavernous accommodations. Even those as tall as 2m who refuse to take off their helmets and demand to sprawl their legs out are unlikely to complain. Storage is plentiful too, with big uncomplicated bins to fill including a sizable one under the 60/40 split rear bench. Everything feels sturdy and reliable, though that’s not to say it’s uncomfortable or spartan.
The 7 or 9-inch Display Audio infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is standard now. A range of safety features are standard too, with Auto door lock, Reverse Camera, Smart Advanced Keyless Entry, ISOFIX and Driver, Passenger, Knee (driver), Curtain and Side airbags.
Like in the best makeover shows, you’re rooting from the BT-50 from the start. Mazda’s bakkie always had most of the practicality required to satisfy everyday bakkie drivers. What it lacked wasn’t ability but aesthetic, and don’t let anybody tell you bakkie buyers are any less swayed by that than those shopping for a sports car.
What stands out in the 2021 BT-50 is how comprehensively Mazda has addressed that while avoiding diluting any of the vehicle’s underlying charm. It’s eminently drivable, and its on-road dynamics are a level above what most rivals bring to the table.