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Why new Mazda BT-50 2021 won't suffer same fate as Mercedes-Benz X-Class despite premium push

Mazda's new ute fits with its premium Kodo styling, but is it too pretty for Australia's ute buyers?

There’s no question Mazda’s new Isuzu D-Max-based BT-50 is a premium-looking product.

It fits with Mazda’s more upmarket push, wearing many of its signature ‘Kodo’ design elements inside and out, forgoing a rugged utilitarian appeal for something more swish.

That’s all well and good, but one notable carmaker tried something similar in recent years, to well-publicised failure: Mercedes-Benz with its Navara-based X-Class.

At the Australian launch of Mazda’s new SkyActiv-X engine, we asked the brand’s marketing boss, Alastair Doak, why he thinks it will succeed with a more upmarket ute where the X-Class failed.

“The X-Class was coming in cold in that segment,” he explained, “We’ve been a player for decades… forever. That gives you a certain familiarity – a different position in the market. We understand where the market is with BT-50, and we’ll be competitive on value.”

Mercedes had high hopes for the X-Class in markets like Australia and South Africa. Mercedes had high hopes for the X-Class in markets like Australia and South Africa.

There's no word on pricing yet, but it was certainly a factor for Mercedes' X-Class, with prices ranging from $50,400 to $79,415. X-Class sales in Australia totalled 2186 when its discontinuation was announced, with a last second boost from the late-arriving diesel V6 powertrain, helping separate it from its Navara cousin.

Mazda believes the Kodo styling will actually push many consumers to the BT-50 over its D-Max cousin, telling CarsGuide in July “we think the design is great. Obviously, that sets us totally apart from our partner”.

But it’s not just styling. According to Mr Doak, the Mazda will get the brand’s sought-after market appeal and aftermarket care, with a strong dealer network to boot.

The Mazda BT-50 will utilise Isuzu’s highly regarded 3.0-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine (140kW/450Nm) with a six-speed automatic transmission. Mazda will back its ute with a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, while Isuzu currently has a six-year/150,000km offer.

The BT-50's interior will be essentially the same as the D-Max with a few Mazda-specific trimmings. The BT-50's interior will be essentially the same as the D-Max with a few Mazda-specific trimmings.

A full active safety suite and what the brand hopes will be a five-star safety rating will also increase its appeal to fleet buyers, according to Mr Doak.

The BT-50 is set to arrive in Australia before the end of the year, with current information pointing to a Q4 2020 launch date. “We’re just impatient to get it on sale,” Mr Doak said. “It will be here before the end of the year.”