Mahindra Pik-Up VS Mazda BT-50
- Attainable entry price
- Looks pretty rugged
- Five-year warranty
- Cheap and cramped in the cabin
- Questionable dynamics all-round
- Cheaper models underdone with safety kit
- Sharp drive-away pricing
- Robust, eager drivetrain
- Family friendly on-road comfort and space
- ‘Metallic-shearing’ sound from diesel at low speed
- Non-reach-adjustable steering wheel
- Drab charcoal-coloured dash
For years now, our mainstream car companies (think Japanese, Korean, German) have been keeping a close eye on the Chinese manufacturers, convinced - as we all are - that a time is coming when they will be mixing it with the best in the business in terms of build quality, capability and price.
It's yet to set the sales world on fire, sure, but Mahindra reckons this 2018 nip-and-tuck will give its rugged ute its best chance yet of competing with the big boys of the Aussie market.
So, are they right?
|Engine Type||2.2L turbo|
Mazda Australia might be reluctant to admit it, but it has always been a bit touchy about the BT-50’s looks. So much so, it went to no end of trouble trying to hide the ute's bulbous conk with a bull bar when it first broke cover back in 2011.
But does a ute need to be handsome? Isn’t getting hung up about the styling of a ute like looking for elegance in a shovel? Apparently not, because the launch of the new 2018 Mazda BT-50 marks the third edit of that curvy front clip, and we're still taking about it. Only this time, it's all good news.
But, if you’re in the market for a gutsy, family friendly ute, the bigger story here is the pricing. Mazda’s BT-50, right across the range, is starting to look like one heck of a bargain.
However, before becoming blinded by the beauty of the new nose or the savings you might find on your local dealer's forecourt, let’s not forget that it was Mazda who put in the hard design and engineering yards into the strong and capable bones – the chassis, 4x4 drivetrain, and suspension dynamics – that sit under both this and the Ford Ranger.
And truth be told, this correspondent has always had a soft spot for the big, hard-grafting Maz’. We’ve hammered the BT-50 off-road and on it, spent countless hours chasing outback horizons behind that gutsy 3.2-litre turbo-diesel, strapped kids into booster seats in the back, tip-toed around shopping centre car-parks, dragged it in and out of rutted ravines and through deep river crossings (mostly with a pooch licking the left ear, or slobbering at a window), and never had reason to doubt that this is a very well-engineered, very strong and very capable multi-purpose holiday/work-truck/family/pooch conveyance.
And now, with this styling update, and while enjoying a hefty price advantage over the equivalent Ranger, the new BT-50 comes with a whole lot of enhancements inside and out; Apple CarPlay and Android Auto across all model grades, reverse camera across all models, and service intervals that have now been stretched from 10,000km or 12 months to 15,000km or 12 months.
To introduce us to the charms of this latest BT-50, Mazda Australia took us to the Gawler Ranges in South Australia where we put it through its paces on sand, rock-strewn gravel and bitumen.
But more of its driving character later; let’s talk about the styling – and its new-found elegance.
|Engine Type||3.2L turbo|
Let's be honest, it's not the best in its segment on the road. For mine, the seemingly willfully confusing steering and lack of any real creature comforts or advanced safety tech would rule it out as a daily driver. But the price is mighty tempting, and if I spent more time off-road than on it, a four-wheel drive model would begin to make a lot more sense.
Does a low cost-of-entry get you over the line for a Mahindra PikUp? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
Our score is based on a summation of the quality of the car, the robustness of the engineering, where it sits feature-for-feature, and the value in the drive-away pricing. You probably have your own views on the new nose on the updated BT-50; we quite like it.
At these new prices, the BT-50 demands your attention. The fact that you can comfortably take it to the Cape and back, tackle any four-wheel-drive adventure you’d sensibly dream up, and, at the same time, live happily with it as a big, capable, versatile family car, surely adds to the appeal.
Mazda, the little company “that can”, has been carving out its place in this market off the back of well-engineered cars right across its product range. There is more than one reason why it’s number two in one of the toughest markets on the planet.
What do you think of the 2018 BT-50? Like the new front end? Tell us in the comments below.
It couldn't be more blocky if it had been constructed using Lego. As a result, it doesn't really matter which body style you opt for, Mahindra's PikUp looks big, tough and ready to get down and dirty.
While plenty of utes are now shooting for a car-like shape, the PikUp definitely aims for more truck-like in its body styling, looking tall and square from just about any angle. Think 70 Series LandCruiser over an SR5 HiLux.
Inside, agricultural is the flavour of the day. Up-front riders sit on seats riveted to exposed metal framework and are faced with a sheer wall of rock-hard plastic, interrupted only by the jumbo-sized air-conditioning controls and - in the S10 models - a touchscreen that looks tiny in the sea of plastic jumbo-ness.
The answer here is 'yes'. What is interesting about the new BT-50, and its new nose, is that this car is unique to Australia.
In fact, it was Mazda Australia who designed the new-look front clip. The project began as something of a skunk-works operation between Mazda Australia and Queensland company EGR, who manufacture and supply the factory-approved canopies across the BT-50 range.
With Australia the BT-50's biggest market, it is perhaps no surprise that the design work done here – done, it has to be said, because Aussie buyers were not crazy about the BT-50’s schnoz – won the approval of Mazda in Japan.
While unique to Australia, the new front has all of the attributes – in terms of engineering, pedestrian protection, and aerodynamic efficiencies – of the nose it replaces. Airflow for cooling, in fact, is slightly improved, and drag, the coefficient of resistance, remains unchanged.
And from front-on, thanks to the new chromed grill and stronger horizontal lower lip, the BT-50 could easily be mistaken for an approaching SUV. Visually, there is certainly more conventional appeal in the new look.
Let's start with the numbers: expect a 2.5-tonne braked towing capacity across the range, and there's around one-tonne of load lugging capacity no matter whether you opt for the cab-chassis or the well-side tub.
Inside, the two front seats sit on exposed metal framework and leave you perched fairly high in the cabin. An armrest on the inside of each seat saves you leaning on the hard plastic of the doors, and a single, squared-off cupholder lives between the front seats.
There's another phone-sized storage cubby in front of the manual gear shift, and there's a single 12-volt power source and a USB connection. There's no room for bottles in the front doors, though there is a narrow glovebox and a sunglasses holder fitted to a roof lined in what looks like 1970s felt.
Weirdly, the central column that divides the front seat is massive and it leaves driver and passenger feeling cramped in the cabin. And the sparse back seat (in dual-cab cars) is home to two ISOFIX attachment points, one in each window position.
We only drove the dual-cab GT at launch. And, while the Freestyle cab with its rearward-hinged portal doors and compact cabin is perhaps the more sporting, the dual-cab wins hands-down for practicality.
There is lots of room in the rear even for adult passengers. And, for children, enough width to go three-abreast. Getting booster seats or capsules in and out is also well served by the square-opening rear doors. And the height is just right for wrangling belts and buckles around junior passengers.
The deep tub out back, while not as cavernous as the Freestyle's, still offers a very useful 1560mm width and 1549mm length. Not even the largest SUVs offer that kind of carrying capacity.
Externally, you’ll pick the dual-cab GT by the standard chromed bars and heavy-duty tub liner in the tray.
Price and features
Mahindra's PikUp arrives in two trim levels - the cheaper S6, available in two- or four-wheel drive and in cab chassis or 'well-side tub' (or pick-up) body style - and the better-equipped S10, which is exclusively four-wheel drive with the well-side tub body.
Pricing is at the forefront here, with Mahindra well aware it's attempting to lure customers out of far more established brands, so predictably the range starts at a sharp $21,990 for the single-cab S6 cab-chassis in manual.
You can have the same car with four-wheel drive for $26,990, or step up to a dual-cab version for $29,490. Finally, a dual-cab S6 with four-wheel drive and a well-side tub is $29,990.
The better-equipped S10 can be had in one flavour only; a dual-cab with four-wheel drive and a well-side tub for $31,990. All of those are the drive-away prices, too, which makes the PikUp very cheap indeed.
The S6 serves up steel wheels, air-conditioning, an old-school letterbox stereo and fabric seats and projector headlights. The S10 model then builds on that basic spec, with 16-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, navigation, central locking, climate control and rain-sensing wipers.
Mazda has always been prepared to take the sharp pencil to the pricing of the BT-50 range. And in terms of the quality feel of the product and the space it occupies in the segment, this car is very good buying.
Look at the one we’re driving, the top-of-the-range BT-50 3.2-litre dual-cab GT 4X4 with a six-speed auto. Its drive-away price is just $51,990. Line it up, feature by feature, with the equivalent Ranger, and you’ll recognise a saving here of the better part of $10k. It is cheaper, even, than the second-tier Ranger XLS. That kind of saving is not to be sneezed at.
Line it up against the equivalent Isuzu D-Max, and, on that drive-away price, you’ll see a saving of thousands of dollars. It is also cheaper than Mitsubishi’s Triton Exceed, which has long been one of the price leaders in the segment.
The BT-50 range begins at $28,990 drive-away for the 2.2-litre 4x2 cab chassis; the 4x4 range starting at $37,990 drive-away.
Some in this segment just can’t hide their ‘workboots’ feel. But there are no ratty plastics in this cabin, and few indicators of the BT-50’s built-for-work origins. The sloping soft-touch dash gives an SUV-like feel to the interior, as does the large (7.0-inch or 8.0-inch) screen occupying the centre stack, as well as the solid feel to the doors and passenger-car ambience when on the road.
Start adding in features across the range - like standard reverse camera, power windows and mirrors, air-conditioning, cruise control, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, quality Alpine sound systems, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, rear-view mirror auto dimming, and sat-nav with live traffic updates and off-road maps – and you’ll possibly agree that there is more than a bit of substance packed behind those drive-away prices.
For XTR and GT models, to the list above you can add side steps (tubular, polished), tailgate lock, rain-sensing wipers, and dual-zone climate control. The GT also gets leather trim, an eight-way power front driver’s seat, chrome rear bars and heavy-duty tub-liner.
Engine & trans
Just the one on offer here; a turbocharged 2.2-litre diesel good for 103kW/330Nm. It is paired only with a six-speed manual gearbox that will power the rear wheels, or all four, should you spring for four-wheel drive. If you do, you'll find a manual 4x4 system with low-range and rear diff lock.
Lift the bonnet and what you are looking at there is grandpa’s axe. The redoubtable five-cylinder, 3.2-litre turbo-diesel, which shares duties under the bonnet of the BT-50 and Ford Ranger (with a 2.2-litre turbo-diesel also available in lower-specced models across both brands), has been around since Adam was a pup. It produces 147kW at 3000rpm and 470Nm at 1750rpm.
It’s essentially the same engine that began life as the Td5 diesel under the bonnets of the Land Rover Defender and Discovery 20-or-so-years back. But it's now vastly more refined, robust, and quiet. And teamed with either a six-speed manual or six-speed auto, it’s as strong as a train.
This 3.2-litre diesel is not the most abstemious among the new generation of turbo-diesel, twin-cab 4x4s, and is bettered by the latest 3.0-litre Isuzu D-Max (8.1L/100km claimed) and the 2.8-litre Toyota HiLux (8.5L/100km claimed).
In our hands, on this trip, we recorded 11.2L/100km on the highway and gravel roads approaching the Gawler Ranges (mostly fair secondary roads with patches of damp red bulldust to watch out for). This rose to 13.2L/100km after some heavy going on a long stretch of sandy inclines.
Mazda claims 10L/100km on the combined cycle for the auto, and 9.7L/100km for the manual. But this is a tarmac-based figure, not the kind of driving we were doing, or that you would do on a family beach or bush adventure.
That said, given the willing output of the diesel – if needing a surge of power, it can summon all 470Nm in very quick time – and the weight of the rig (2161kg for the GT auto), plus its effortless towing capability, the figures we recorded on new engines are not bad, and will give a good indication of what you might achieve in similar driving.
In sand, that muscular torque sitting across a wide band – from 1750 to 2500rpm – is particularly useful. If you’re carrying some weight behind, it won’t run out of shove and leave you stranded when the going gets heavy.
The BT-50 has an 80-litre fuel tank.
And so, after an admittedly short run in the dual-cab PikUp, we found ourselves rather pleasantly surprised in places. The diesel engine feels smoother and less ragged than our previous reviewers have noted, while a ratio change for the manual gearbox has made rowing through the gears a far more intuitive process.
The steering, though, remains utterly confusing. Light enough at turn-in, before all the weight turns up roughly midway though a corner. It's painfully slow, too, with a turning circle that leaves your arms tired and makes even wider roads a three-point job.
Keep it on straight and slow-speed roads, and the PikUp performs just fine, but challenge it with twistier stuff and you'll soon uncover some significant dynamic drawbacks (a steering wheel that tugs at your hands, tyres that squeal with minimal provocation, and vague and confusing steering that makes holding anything resembling a line near impossible).
That said, it won’t take you long to get used to the more utilitarian feel of the BT-50, nor to the length of the beast (these utes can sometimes feel like aircraft carriers in city carparks). Helping here is the reversing camera (standard across the entire range), the well-weighted power-assisted steering, and the general comfort of the cabin and relatively quiet operation (some diesel noise at lower speeds notwithstanding) of the engine.
Fact is, live with it a while, and you’ll forget about the compromises of its workhorse engineering and learn to love the imperiously high driving position, the ready power, and the convenience of that big tub on the back.
Access in and out is also good, and at a perfect height for strapping the junior members of the tribe into the back seat. And with the icing being a long feature list and a half-decent sound system, it offers the conveniences of any modern sedan or hatchback. You’ll be surprised by its easy driveability, too.
For all its strengths, however, the weight inherent to a strong ladder chassis, a heavy-duty 4x4 drivetrain, and the other compromises built of necessity into a dual-purpose vehicle, will take a week or so to get used to.
Wheels are 17-inch alloys on 265/65 R17 AT tyres. Brakes are 302mm ventilated discs at the front and drums at the rear. The BT-50's tray is also handy for both real work and house-and-yard duties, measuring 1549mm long, 1560mm wide and 513mm deep.
Where once these twin-cab dual-purpose 4x4s were a tad raw, with juddery suspension, vague steering, indifferent handling and little in the way of creature comforts, many of the new wave of models, such as this BT-50, have comfort levels close to those of the big 4x4 wagons - and even some SUVs.
I’d happily circumnavigate the continent in the BT-50. The seats are good, it’s quiet on-road (with less tyre noise than some passenger wagons), the feel through the steering is good and well-weighted (if a little vague at the dead-ahead), and there is effortless power underfoot.
Like any other modern car, it swallows highway kilometres with just the gruff muted growl of the turbo-diesel for accompaniment. On gravel – such as you’ll find on any long run through the outback – it can be driven surprisingly quickly and comfortably thanks to the long wheelbase, large wheels (with All-Terrain tyres), and that reasonably compliant suspension; independent double wishbone, coil-over dampers at the front, and live-axle leaf-spring at the rear.
The ride in the BT-50, like the Ranger and VW Amarok, is certainly among the better performers in the segment. Corrugations can have the rear moving around a bit, especially when unladen, but it needs one hell of a whack for bumps, ruts or hollows (like an unexpected washout) to unsettle things in the cabin.
For difficult off-road work, this Mazda's figures – 237mm ground clearance (unladen), and approach, departure and ramp-over angles of 28.2, 26.4 and 25 degrees – all check out.
If trailer towing is your thing, the BT-50 has a maximum towing capacity of 3500kg (braked), 750kg (unbraked) and a towball download of 350kg.
It's a pretty basic package, I'm afraid. Driver and passenger airbags, ABS brakes and traction control are joined by hill-descent control and, should you spring for the S10, you get a parking camera, too.
Little wonder, then, it was awarded a sub-par three stars (out of five) when ANCAP tested in 2012.
The BT-50, of course, has a five-star ANCAP safety rating, with all of the expected safety features that sit behind that rating. Importantly, for family duties, the airbag protection extends from the front to the rear cab, with driver and passenger airbags, both front and side, and curtain airbags front and rear.
Other features include anti-lock braking (ABS), dynamic stability control (DSC), and emergency stop signal. Assisting off-road is hill descent control (4x4 only), hill launch assist, a locking rear differential (4x4 only), traction control and trailer sway control – the latter a Godsend when towing at highway speeds or when on loose surfaces (there are few things caravaners fear more than finding the caravan dictating terms at speed).
Mazda’s standard two-year warranty has been sweetened, with servicing intervals now extended from 10,000km/12 months to 15,000km/12 months.
On Mazda’s calculations (as supplied), based on a 15,000km/12 month interval, this will save owners more than $850 after five years of servicing. And, for owners clocking up real-world distances of 25,000km per annum, the potential saving is $1920 over the five years.