When you don’t know what sort of conditions you’ll experience on a trip, it’s a good idea to drive a vehicle that can handle just about anything.
Bakkies have changed enormously over the last decade or so. No longer pure workhorses, these days people buy them as leisure vehicles. They buy them not because they need to move bulky items on a regular basis, but because they simply want a vehicle that is practical and versatile. Few vehicles are as practical as a double cab bakkie. Need to transport four people? No problem. Need to be able to load luggage for four? No problem. Need to transport your muddy mountain bike or scrambler? No problem.
All this makes a bakkie a great vehicle for a road trip. Just consider the Mazda BT-50. With its 3.2-litre five-cylinder oilburner, the Mazda provides loads of power (147kW) and torque (470Nm), without demanding enough fuel to bankrupt you on the way to Cape Town. Fuel consumption isn’t exactly low (about 10 litres per 100km), but more than acceptable when you consider the oomph on offer. Mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, the engine provides effortless driving over long distances. At 120km/h, the oilburner chugs along without working particularly hard, so the auto gearbox doesn’t need to continually shift up and down. Overtaking is also quick and easy. The cabin can take four people quite easily, and the load bay can take a massive amount of gear. The cabin is comfortable, too: no longer do bakkies sport sparse and spartan interiors that are uncomfortable. Most interiors are now very SUV-like, and the BT-50’s cabin is no exception. With things like leather seats, an infotainment system and Bluetooth connectivity, spending prolonged periods in the Mazda isn’t hard.
Then there’s the off-road capability. One of the reasons bakkies are so popular is the fact that they can take you just about anywhere. If you’re unsure exactly where the road will take you, you can be fairly certain that a bakkie will be able to handle it. This is especially true if you have a 4×4 system. Few SUVs can equal the off-road ability of a bakkie. Mainstream SUVs have become increasingly road-oriented. In fact, the majority can handle nothing more than a dirt road. A bakkie still has excellent ground clearance, low-range gearing and a rear diff lock. The BT-50 is capable, boasting all the necessary traction aids. Of course, it didn’t actually need any of this during our trip, but it was still reassuring to know that it had them. And it also meant that dealing with the dirt roads we encountered was a painless experience. What’s bad about the BT-50? Well, there really isn’t much. As a vehicle for a road trip, it provides just about everything you could ask for. However, there is no denying that a bakkie isn’t quite as refined as a modern SUV. Its engine is louder and it still rides on a leaf-spring set-up at the back. If comfort is all you care about, a bakkie is not for you. But if you’re after a vehicle that is utterly versatile and capable, a bakkie makes a lot of sense.
While the BT-50 doesn’t sell in the prodigious numbers of some of its competitors, it is nevertheless a very solid offering that’s competitively priced. It also received a facelift recently, which maintained the versatile practicality and driving performance of the previous model, while updating the design to give it a sportier and more powerful presence. New exterior styling incorporates a newly designed front face, redesigned side steps, rear combination lamps and 17-inch aluminium wheels. The interior has been refined to give a higher-quality feel with the addition of Bluetooth, steering wheel switches and cruise control from the SLX model. The SLE model picks up new features that include a rear-view camera, an auto diming mirror and electrical driver seat adjustment. It’s a great lifestyle bakkie that perfectly complements the adventure lifestyle. When the road ends, the BT-50 can keep going.
Open-road rating 7 out of 10
The good Can tackle any road.
The bad Like any bakkie, lacks a bit of refinement.
Specifications – Mazda Bt-50 3.2 4×4 A/T
Engine 3.2-Litre, Five-Cylinder, Turbodiesel
Power 147kw @ 3 000r/Min
Torque 470nm @ 1 750r/Min
Transmission Six-Speed Automatic
4wd System Part-Time 4wd
Fuel Tank80 Litres
Fuel Consumption 9.7 Litres Per 100km (Claimed)
Tyre Size 265/65 R17
Spare Yes (Full-Size)
Luggage Space 1 549mm X 1 560mm (Load Area)
Price R555 700