Utes have taken the Australian market by storm, with three of the top 10 selling vehicles now dual cab utilities.
Unfortunately for Mazda the BT-50 is not one of them, although in an embarrassing twist the donor Isuzu D-Max is — and therein lies the problem.
Enter stage left the bigger, bolder and blacker BT-50 Thunder, a special edition designed right here, with parts manufactured here and available to buy only here.
Thunder is geared with one object in mind, to attract attention — and hopefully dollars.
What’s it cost?
Based on the $56,990 GT model, Thunder is available with a 6-speed manual or automatic transmission, priced from $65,990 plus on-roads — an auto adds $3000.
That’s still 10 grand cheaper than Ford’s Ranger Raptor, but Raptor features a different powertrain, wider track suspension and beefier rubber.
Thunder opens its card with a prominent front-end treatment that includes a single hoop steel bull bar and a Lightforce dual-row LED light bar.
There’s also black 18-inch alloys, black wide fender flares, black side steps, and black exhaust extension, along with a premium sports bar and electric roller tonneau — also black.
All-up Mazda says the additional kit adds more than $13,000 in total value for $9000 more than GT (since then Mazda has slotted the SP model between them).
Standard kit for Thunder includes leather, dual zone climate air, LED headlights and daytime runners, auto lights and wipers, auto dimming rear view mirror, heated front seats, eight-way power adjust driver’s seat, front and rear parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, automatic high beam and traffic sign recognition and walk away automatic locking.
The infotainment system comprises a 9.0-inch touchscreen and eight-speaker audio system with satnav, Bluetooth streaming, AM/FM and DAB+ digital radio, Android Auto and Wireless Apple CarPlay — plus single USB and 12V outlets.
One of the speakers is mounted in the headlining, while a 6 x 9-inch woofer delivers powerful bass response and two-way dome tweeters emit clear mid- to high-range sounds.
Dash-mounted and rear door ‘balanced dome’ tweeters use a voice coil and dome-shaped diaphragm to create impressive depth.
A five-star safety package includes eight airbags, reverse camera and Autonomous Emergency Braking.
There’s also Attention Assist, Blind Spot Monitor, Emergency Lane Keeping Assist – Overtaking, Emergency Stop Signal, Automatic High Beam, Hill Descent Control, Hill Launch Assist, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Departure Prevention, Lane-keep Assist System (automatic models), Locking Rear Differential (4×4 models), Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Roll Over Protection, Secondary Collision Reduction, Speed Assist System, Traction Control System and Turn Assist.
What’s it go like?
BT-50, in fact all BT-50s, are powered by the same turbocharged 3.0-litre, four-cylinder diesel engine, that generates 140kW of power and 450Nm of torque — the latter between 1600 and 2600 rpm.
It replaces the previous 3.2-litre five cylinder unit that was good for 147kW and 470Nm, with torque available from 1750 revs.
The new power plant features an aluminium-alloy head and cast-iron engine block, chain-driven double overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, drive-by-wire throttle control and a Variable Geometry System (VGS) turbocharger.
Two-wheel drive models all get a 6-speed auto, while the 4×4 version is available with a choice of 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic.
The driver can change gears manually using the shifter in the auto, but the familiar steering wheel-mounted change paddles are absent.
The drive experience is solid but generally slow and truck-like.
Once it’s up and running, Thunder feels relaxed and easy to drive, cruising effortlessly on the motorway while using little fuel in the process.
With a 76-litre tank, fuel consumption is rated at 8.0L/100km.
We were getting 8.6L after more than 1200km of mixed driving (not as good as the 7.8L we got out of the XTR).
The cabin is trimmed in brown leather and has dual zone climate air, with heated seats for front seat occupants and air vents for back seat passengers.
The wheel is reach and height adjustable, while the driver’s seat has eight-way power adjustment.
Unlike other Mazdas, the infotainment screen is touch sensitive, with no central control knob — but no physical volume control.
Analogue instrument gauges flank a central info screen where speed can be displayed digitally, and traffic sign recognition keeps the driver informed of the current speed limit.
Thunder is a big vehicle at almost 5.3 metres in length and weighing 2213kg, but surprisingly easy to manoeuvre, according to my wife (who likes it).
To assist in manoeuvring it comes with front and rear park sensors plus a rear view camera.
Front suspension is independent via upper and lower wishbones with coil springs, gas-filled telescopic dampers and a stabiliser bar.
Down the back you still get old-style leaf springs, but XS models get a softer setup in keeping with their less work-oriented role.
Speed-sensitive, power-assisted rack and pinion steering is standard across the range, with 3.84 turns to lock
Switching to four-wheel drive is achieved via a rotary knob located in the lower part of the console, with high and low range available — as well as a locking rear differential in the auto.
With 240mm of ground clearance and able to ford 800mm of water, it’s got what it takes for medium off road duties — but as always it’s difficult to avoid denting side steps.
All grades and body types are fitted with under-body protection to guard against accidental damage off-road or in rural areas.
Thunder can carry a payload of 897kg and pull a 3500kg braked trailer.
The cargo box is 1571mm long, 1530mm wide and 490mm deep, with 1120mm between the wheel arches and four tie-down points.