Mazda is still playing cover-up on its BT50 ute. The softer styling of the new model, most notably the smiling car-like front, has been masked to give it a harder edge and more of a tough-truck look.
Almost every promotional shot of the BT50 shows it with a confronting bull bar and bulging spotlights.
The face mask on the test car looked bizarre with its winged Edna Everage style cat's eye glasses and night piercing eyes. Without the facial surgery, styling marries a passenger vehicle front with the tub of a ute. Clearly some like it, some don't.
Explore the 2012 Mazda BT-50 range
The pointed nose, bulging wheel arches and wrap-around tail lights are overtly sporty and bear a striking resemblance to other Mazda models. Add the "zoom-zoom'' catch-cry and it's clear Mazda is gunning for what it calls the "active lifestyle'' market as well as the workhorse business.
The new BT50 is a quantum leap over its predecessor. It is more powerful, more refined, safer, more capable, better equipped, nicer to drive and is longer, wider and taller with a larger interior and a higher payload.
Under the skin it is the same as its non-identical twin the Ford Ranger. If you could drive blindfolded you would not pick one from the other. Mechanically they are identical right down to the gear ratios.
Unlike Ford, which offers an entry-level petrol model, Mazda's engines are diesel only - a 2.2-litre four cylinder and 3.2-litre five cylinder. The 3.2-litre diesel in the XTR on test produced a class-leading 147kW and 470Nm, or 37kW and 95Nm more than the 2.2 and 42kW and 140Nm more than the previous 2.5-litre diesel.
Combined fuel use is 8.4 litres/100km, the same as that averaged by the test ute in outer urban and country running, including an off-road loop. The dual cabs and freestyle cabs are on sale now but, like Ford, the single cabs have been delayed yet again due to the floods in Thailand. Pricing is similar to the Ranger, although there are few direct comparisons because models and equipment vary.
There are three trim levels - XT, XTR and GT. All models come with front and curtain airbags and all but the single cab get side airbags. Other standard features include stability and cruise control, traction and trailer sway control, Bluetooth, airconditioning and anti-skid brakes with electronic brake force distribution.
The XTR adds 17-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, satellite navigation, and a leather gear shift knob and steering wheel, while the GT adds leather seats, auto lights and wipers, and an auto dimming mirror. Pricing is similar to the Ranger, although there are few direct comparisons as models and equipment vary.
Off road, the BT50 has the grunt, traction, clearance and wheel travel to cope with anything a driver might do. And hill-descent control works in neutral albeit at the expense of extra brake wear. The suspension compromise between a decent ride and disciplined handling is impressive.
Mazda says it has gone for a firmer, sportier suspension than the Ranger, but it is hard to pick. Inside, the cabin is long and wide with generous head, leg and hip room, quality trim and a host of storage bins. The dash is clear, logical and intuitive and the main dials are easy to read.
Large rear doors on the crew cab open wide and give easy access to the well-padded seats, which have a decent rake on the backrest.