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Mazda BT-50 Arashi

 

It’s impossible to ignore, but does Mazda’s Arashi option-package for the BT-50 ute offer anything beyond its lurid exterior styling?

Base price: $57,595.

Powertrain and performance: 3.2-litre turbo diesel five, 147kW/470Nm, 6-speed manual, part-time four-wheel drive, Combined economy 8.9 litres per 100km.

Vital statistics: 5365mm long, 1821mm high, towing capacity 3500kg (braked), fuel tank 80 litres, 17-inch alloy wheels on 265/65 tyres.

We like: Trick rearvision mirror with built-in screen, extra equipment all good-quality stuff.

We don’t like: Could be too loud-looking for some buyers, appeals to urban crowd but too big for city driving.

How it rates: 8/10

WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW? Mazda New Zealand has launched a special-edition package for its BT-50 ute called Arashi. It’s all done locally but it’s pretty comprehensive: aside from some lurid stripes and body addenda, the interior gets a serious equipment upgrade.

It’s certainly not something for the shy, but then the BT-50 never was. The curvaceous styling is very different to its twin under the skin, the top-selling Ford Ranger. Think of Arashi as a rival for Ford’s dressed-up Ranger Wildtrak.

For the record, Arashi adds the following to a standard BT-50 GSX: 17-inch black alloys, three-piece lid for the rear tray, sports bar, deck liner, nudge bar, running boards in anodised black, a decal pack, weathersheilds, bonnet protector, LED running lamps, tinted windows, high-tech rearvision mirror with built-in satellite navigation and reversing camera, branded floor mats and embroidered front seats.

You can have the Arashi package only in the BT-50 double-cab body style, but with two or four-wheel drive and manual or automatic transmission. Our test vehicle was a manual four-wheel drive, priced at $57,595.

WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE? Nothing in the Arashi package has much bearing on the way the BT-50 drives. That’s fine, because the BT-50 and Ranger still show the utility segment the way to go in terms of performance and handling.

The five-cylinder powerplant is very strong and sounds great: it’s a diesel with real character and muscle. The BT-50 is a hard-core off-road vehicle of course, but it’s also impressive on-road. It’s hard to believe that a large pickup with a separate chassis can turn into fast corners with such crisp responsiveness.

There are of course subtle differences between BT-50 and Ranger in terms of chassis setup. Deciphering the truth from the marketing spin of both Mazda and Ford is difficult indeed, but for our money the BT-50 feels like the slightly more composed on the road, while the Ranger makes slightly easier work of the off-road stuff. Either way, you’re onto a winner: in this segment, only the Volkswagen Amarok comes close for driver satisfaction.

IS IT EASY TO LIVE WITH? The BT-50 is a massive machine and no mistake: 5.4 metres long and 1.8 metres high. Not necessarily a townie’s truck, however trendy it might try to be.

However, the Arashi package does bring many features that improve the Mazda’s ease-of-use.

There are two on a handy little thing called the Pantera Command Centre. This is an aftermarket accessory that replaces the rearvision mirror with a longer wired-in unit that includes a small touch screen, which can run fully featured sat-nav or serve as reversing camera when needed.

It takes some getting used to and yes, it’s really small, but it’s also right beside your eyes and it works amazingly well. Besides, a reversing camera of any kind suddenly turns a truck the BT-50’s size from urban nightmare to parkable device.

The BT-50’s interior picks up most of its styling cues from Mazda road cars (albeit not the latest generation of SkyActiv models like the CX-5 and Mazda3/6). So it’s not truck-like at all and nothing wrong with that: it’s well-configured and nicely made.

The audio and Bluetooth runs through a first-generation version of Ford’s Sync system (as does Ranger). It’s not exactly state-of-the-art these days, but does offer voice control and good USB/iPod connectivity.

SHOULD I BUY ONE? The look is likely to be a love-it-or-hate-it affair; how many potential buyers fall into each camp remains to be seen. Mazda New Zealand calls Arashi a ‘special edition’ but it’ll keep on offering this package if there’s enough takeup.

True, it’s mostly about outrageous styling addenda. But there are some worthwhile driver-assistance features in there too.

EQUIPMENT CHECKLIST

  • Air conditioning: Dual climate
  • Audio: CD, iPod compatible
  • Automatic lights/wipers: No
  • Blind spot warning: No
  • Bluetooth: Yes
  • Cruise control: Yes
  • Driver footrest: Yes
  • Gas discharge headlights: No
  • Head-up display: No
  • Heated/ventilated seats: No
  • Keyless entry/start: No
  • Lane guidance: No
  • Leather upholstery: No
  • Parking radar: Rear camera
  • Power boot or tailgate: No
  • Power seat adjustment/memory: No
  • Rear ventilation outlets: No
  • Remote audio controls: Yes
  • Satellite navigation: Yes
  • Seat height adjustment: Yes
  • Self-parking technology: No
  • Split/folding rear seats: 50/50
  • Steering reach adjustment: Yes
  • Stop-start: No
  • Trip computer: Yes

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