THEY say style is subjective but, when it comes to workhorse utes, history shows tradies are a conservative bunch.
The formula of Australia's second-largest market segment (behind light cars) has not strayed too far from the boxy, macho machines that draw inspiration from such blokey items as power tools and oversized watches.
Mazda intends to buck this trend with its latest entrant, the all-new BT-50, which wears the instantly recognisable lines of the brand's passenger cars.
Whether buyers are willing to think outside their very familiar boxes remains to be seen. It's quite a gamble, given the Japanese brand predicts Australia will become the biggest market worldwide for its all-new ute.
Built in Thailand and developed alongside its mechanical twin, Ford's just-launched Ranger, the BT-50 gets a unique suspension tune to handle more like a car, with less body roll than a traditional ute.
Mazda says the latest model is twice as stiff as its predecessor, which improves ride quality and allows for greater towing capacity of between 2500 kilograms and 3350 kilograms for the 2.2-litre and 3.2-litre diesel-powered models, respectively. The dual cab's maximum payload ranges between 1088 kilograms and 1271 kilograms, depending on the model.
The BT-50 also offers an interior "as good as any other passenger car", according to Mazda, with ample space for five adults, supportive seats and a well-presented dash.
Mazda shares both turbo diesel engines with its Blue Oval stablemate, including a 2.2-litre four-cylinder (available from next month and exclusively mated to a six-speed manual transmission) and a 3.2-litre inline five-cylinder flagship, which comes with the choice of a manual or automatic gearbox (both six-speed).
On the move, the bigger of the two engines impresses with flexibility and refinement. Packing 147kW of power at 3000rpm and 470Nm of torque between 1750rpm and 2500rpm, it hustles the big dual cab along a country road with reserves of pulling power for easy overtaking or towing. Even at highway speed on rough roads, tyre and wind noise are well suppressed.
We averaged 11 litres per 100 kilometres during our day behind the wheel of a 4x4 dual cab equipped with an automatic transmission, against an official average of 9.2L/100km. The BT-50 does a reasonable job of minimising body roll in light cornering. Its steering feels more connected to the front wheels than some rivals.
Buyers hoping to go bush will be pleased the BT-50 is still up to the job, with an off-road arsenal comprising low-range gearing, hill-descent control, all-terrain tyres for maximum traction and good forward vision aided by a height-adjustable driver's seat on XTR and GT grades.
Standard safety includes stability control, four airbags for single-cab models and six airbags (including front-side and curtain) for dual and freestyle cabs.
Standard equipment highlights across the range comprise cruise control, Bluetooth with voice control, airconditioning, power windows, a USB input and a nine-centimetre monochrome centre screen for the entry-level model, while other variants gain an LCD display with satellite navigation. Mazda is sold & distributed by Nrranjans.