MY husband is territory tough. That's an expression I've become accustomed to hearing through the years.
In our globetrotting days before we had children it meant a whole lot of adventurous things and was something I was grateful for in some dodgy bazaar in a far flung part of the world.
These days it means that he's the one who gets to go in search of the cockroach spray while the girls of the house are exercising their lungs.
When we go camping though, he is in his element. So there we were on Noosa's beautiful North Shore, not a cloud in the sky, knocking the final tent pegs into the ground. I was just contemplating the first cold refreshment of the day when out of the blue came a gust of wind so fierce, 27 knots we would learn later, that it knocked me off my feet. The kids ensconced in animal camp chairs were tangled in the sun shelter and hanging on for dear life while the kind souls from the caravan 100 metres away rushed to help us keep the tent in the ground.
We managed - just - to stop it blowing away but paid the price with snapped poles and a tear in the fly.
I am not ashamed to say I thought of packing for home but my husband was already starting to mount an offensive. Using the Mazda BT-50 as an anchor he tied and pegged a gazillion ropes to every surface he could find.
No, it didn't look pretty but as the wind picked up again later that night the BT-50 held firm - another string in an already impressive bow.
The Mazda BT-50 may look like a workhorse but it is one with a stylish saddle. The interior is a modern blend of practicality and comfort with space as well as top-notch equipment. Surfaces are nicely textured with the cabin well designed for both driver and passengers.
These days manufacturers pride themselves on designing utes that present as cars and Mazda has done a great job here. Seats are wide and supportive, there are plenty of storage options including a wet bin under the rear pew while switchgear has that quality feel. The steering is uncluttered and firm to the touch but unfortunately adjustable for tilt only.
At 1549mm long, 1560mm wide and 513mm deep the tray is more than adequate to deal with large loads for tradies or a camping trip.
On the road
The 3.2-litre five-cylinder diesel powering our test vehicle was a highly capable machine making short work of challenges both on and off the bitumen.
The BT-50 handles a little differently from the Ford Ranger, its "twin under the skin", letting in a few more of the smaller bumps but remains an enjoyable effortless ride.
Peak torque is available between 1750rpm and 2500 rpm allowing for excellent grunt quite quickly. It performs much better under load which seems to balance a tendency to be a bit top heavy. Four-wheel drive selection is on the fly up to 120kmh with the exception of 4-low for which the vehicle has to be at a standstill.
The tray is just short of the width of a standard Australian pallet but it is deep and will be able to carry all you need - within reason of course - whether you use it for work or play.
An enviable safety package which includes descent control, hill-start assist and a locking diff combine well with excellent ground clearance to enhance off-road performance.
What do you get?
The inclusions across the range is impressive with all exponents getting power windows and mirrors, Bluetooth, air conditioning and cruise control. Our test vehicle added 17-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, sat-nav and fog lamps. Safety features, too, are extensive - dual, front, side and curtain airbags, traction control, dynamic stability control, anti-lock brakes with EBA, EBD and roll stability control.
The BT-50's twin the Ford Ranger (from $53,390) is making ripples in a segment that also includes the Toyota HiLux ($50,990), VW Amarok ($52,990) and Nissan Navara ($53,290).
Four-wheel drive utes accounted for 13% of all new vehicles sold in Australia last year up from just 6% five years ago. The refinement and performance of these vehicles make it easy to see why these family trucks of sort have become so popular.
This is a big ute though and it would be sensible for a reverse camera and sensors to be fitted as standard. A 3.35 tonne towing capacity and serious off-road cred has seen the BT-50 catch the eye of caravanners.
Official figures hang around the 9.2 litres/100km mark. Our test week produced numbers closer to 10.3 litres/100km which is still remarkable for a vehicle of this size. Mazda offers a two-year/100,000km warranty.
The BT-50's looks are quite polarising with those that prefer the squarish nose of competitors poo pooing the features that align it to the Mazda family.
We quite like that trademark grille, that it sits so proudly on its haunches and dares to be different.
Utes have come a long way with the dual-cab variety certainly making strong market inroads. Like the Ranger, the BT-50, with its good on-road performance, excellent off-road credentials and comfortable cabin, has become a force to be reckoned. And it is extremely fun to drive.
The fact that Mazda has trumped its competitors on price also speaks volumes. Take one for a test drive or take it camping - it is unlikely to disappoint.
What matters most
What we liked: The excellent power and versatile nature. It was a fun drive.
What we'd like to see: Reverse camera as standard.
Warranty: BT-50 has a two-year, unlimited kilometre warranty. If you haven't reached 100,000km at the end of two years, cover extends to three years or 100,000 kilometres, whichever should occur first.
Model: Mazda BT-50.
Details: Four-door four-wheel drive dual-cab utility.
Transmission: Six-speed auto or six-speed manual.
Engine: 3.2-litre five-cylinder in-line DOHC intercooled turbo-diesel generating maximum power of 147kW @ 3000rpm and peak torque of 470Nm @ 1750 -2500rpm.
Consumption: 9.2 litres/100km (combined average).
Towing capacity: Braked 3350kg, tow ball maximum 335kg.
Bottom line: From $48,810 (plus on-roads).
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