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LONG-TERM TEST: Mazda BT-50 3.2 4X4 A/T

4 September 2017

Our long-term Mazda BT50 double cab 3.2 SLE has breezed past the 5 000km mark. Now it’s time for its transformation from city slicker into a real-world, practical overlander to start. This month we feature round one of the transformation process.

We really dig our Mazda BT50. It’s not that we particularly like the styling; although the latest version certainly upped its game in the looks department, it’s still not the best-looking lorry in the world. It’s rather the laid-back, luxurious nature of the drive that has been quite impressive over the 4 000km we’ve covered since taking custody of the stock double cab. The five-cylinder 3.2-litre turbodiesel engine is at its happiest at lower revolutions. That’s right where the 470Nm of torque lives (peaking at 1 750r/min). Coupled to the five-speed automatic gearbox, the set-up allows for a very laid-back, relaxing drive in traffic. There’s no need to rev the engine and get all excited. Just let the torque and the automatic gearbox deal with the details as the bakkie easily keeps up with the rest of the traffic flow.

However, if you do need a burst of speed, the drivetrain sure has plenty of power to get the big double cab to pick up its skirt and take up a bit of a sprint. After a few long-distance drives, the average fuel consumption seems to have settled on the 10.9 litres mark. Not bad at all considering the size and performance potential of the 147kW engine. But the laid-back driving style has obviously helped in this department, too. So, when we were planning the transformation of the BT50 from a city dwelling runabout to a real-world and practical overland touring vehicle, we didn’t want to mess with that laid-back character too much. Normally we’re all for bigger wheels. This time we resisted the temptation and stuck with the standard 17-inch rims (which look pretty darn good, by the way), fitted with 265/75 R17 BFGoodrich KO2 all-terrain tyres.

The latest KO2s feature 20% tougher sidewalls than the company’s previous generation all-terrains. They also have new rubber compounds that are not only said to last 15% longer than the older tyres, but also offers more grip on all surfaces. We can attest to this: the new KO2s inspire a lot more confidence (on especially tar) than the previous version. Additionally, the 265/75 R17 tyres ensure that the overall diameter of the Mazda’s wheels have increased only by the smallest margin. So there is no real influence on gear ratios. Bigger diameter wheels inevitably have a negative influence on both performance and fuel consumption, as the wheels have an impact on gear ratios. We also upped the BT50’s 4×4 game, too, and 4×4 Mega World came to the Mazda party with a raft of upgrades. This, vitally, includes a complete Old Man Emu suspension upgrade, which included new rear leaf springs. For its overland application, the bakkie will be required to carry some heavy loads over rough terrain; the OME upgrade ensures that it will be able to handle that. The upgrade also resulted in a 50mm lift, which obviously helps in the ground clearance department. The complete suspension upgrade amounted to R27 000 (excludes fitment).

An ARB bull bar (R29 449) replaced the standard front bumper, and it is fitted with an 8 500lbs T-Max winch (R8 995) as well as ARB Intensity LED driving lights. We must make special mention of these lights: they cost R30 490 per set, which seems like a stupid amount of money for two mere lights. But when you drive at night, and these lights come to the party – holy smokes, they make day of night, and they do it far into the distance, too. If there are more effective driving lights out there, we haven’t seen them yet. 4×4 Mega World also added a Desert Drawer system (R14 500) in the Mazda’s ‘bak’ as well as a Ring dual battery system (R10 500). Rosslyn-based company Rhinoman, manufacturers of a range of aluminium vehicle accessories, fitted a Rhinocab all-aluminium canopy (R24 900). It offers a highly practical solution to overlanding, with gullwing doors on both sides ensuring easy access to contents in the ‘bak’. It also comes standard with mounting rails for a roof rack or tent.

The interior received some attention. Takla Products supplied a set of the company’s latest Signature range seat covers, which start from R7 450. These luxurious seat covers come with laminated foam padding (8mm) and diamond-top stitching, and they really look and feel the quality part. They are manufactured from the company’s famous Cantech material, and these top-quality covers feature a lifetime guarantee. The kit also included Takmats, based on the company’s well-known Loadliner design. The mats offer complete protection of the floors and footwells, and are made from high-quality, durable and flexible material. That is where we are at with this build. Still on the menu are a few roof rack options, a fridge and possibly a roof-top tent. As mentioned though, this lorry is all about practicality, and real-world application. Every accessory on this custom job is about serving a purpose on an overland trip, and not so much about just looking cool. So far the Mazda BT50’s laid-back, let-the-torque-sort-it-out character has not been compromised and we don’t reckon it will be once we are finished with it either. And that’s a very good result.