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Mazda BT-50 GSX


The Mazda BT-50's unusual car-like styling is a tricky thing:can't avoid talking about it, but when you do it threatens to overshadow everything else about this very important vehicle.

So let's just say there are photographs with this story, so you can make up your own mind. Styling is a matter of personal taste, after all.

The big issue about the BT-50 is really how it drives. As you will no doubt know by now, the Mazda is derived from the Australian-designed Ford Ranger (previously, Ford utes were spun off the Mazda product) and both have really redefined how pickup trucks should perform and drive.

Our mid-range BT-50 GSX double cab ($45,495 in 2WD or $56,895 in 4WD) is powered by the same turbo-diesel engine as the rest of the range: a 3.2-litre five-cylinder with a mighty 147kW/470Nm. It still sounds like a diesel and the six-speed manual gearbox is subject to a bit of drivetrain shunt when you're on and off the throttle - but that's because there's just so much torque fighting to get free. The noise isn't such a bad one, either: there's an interesting harmonic quality to engines with an odd number of cylinders.

Having driven the six-speed automatic recently, I'd say the extra money is well spent. It's a very slick shifter, responds quickly to the throttle and the torque converter puts a little bit of a buffer between your right foot and rear-wheelspin (remember, even the 4WD version runs in 2WD on the road).

It's too easy and a bit lazy to fall back into saying a ute is "car like". The BT-50 is more car-like than any other pickup (except the Ranger of course), although it's not exactly like a car. It turns into corners with alacrity, holds its line on-road incredibly well and has an amazing stability control system that helps without ever intruding. Although it's still bouncy when unladen, it rides infinitely better than its one-tonne rivals. Really, it's a pleasure because all that power never feels it's going to overwhelm the chassis.

And yes, the BT-50 is still a hard-core off-road vehicle, with separate-chassis construction, a live rear axle and low-range. Every BT-50 has a locking rear differential as well - a specification one-up on the rival Ranger, which only offers that crucial mud-plugging feature on certain models.

Not that you'd be thinking of off-roading from the inside. The BT-50's interior is pretty much the same as any Mazda passenger car, with curvaceous mouldings in place of the truck-like squares you might expect to find.

The GSX is pretty well kitted up: front, side and curtain airbags, cruise control, 17-inch alloy wheels, running boards, Bluetooth and USB input for the audio.

While I have trouble understanding why utes are so costly compared with cars - a Mazda CX-5 with a high-performance turbo engine, leather upholstery, fully loaded, is $48,995 for example - the BT-50 is still excellent value compared with its light-commercial rivals. Especially when you factor in the Mazda Commercialcare service plan, which guarantees that owners will pay no more than $200 per service for three years/100,000km. Which is also a class-leading deal. Even if the BT-50 looks a bit funny.

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