Weird and wonderful 2011 Mazda BT-50 pickup debuts in Australia

Trevor Hofmann - CAP staff
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If you want a compact pickup truck for lighter duty hauling there are few options in this country. Toyota's best-selling Tacoma is more of a mid-size model, as is its Nissan Frontier rival and the once top-selling Dodge Dakota. Honda's unorthodox Ridgeline falls into that category too. No, if you want a compact truck you're going to have to choose between four of the oldest models on the market, the Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, Ford Ranger and Mazda B-Series.

In reality, these four trucks are actually only two vehicles under the skin. Except for unique grilles and some other trim details the two GM models are identical, and Mazda's B-Series is really a Ford Ranger in drag. Both GM and Ford/Mazda models offer very good value, but compared to their rivals they're showing their age.

Updates to the Ranger/B-Series have been long-expected, being that their current designs date back to 1998, but instead the Ranger soldiers on as is for 2011, its final year, and the B-Series, which was dropped from the U.S. market at the end of its 2009 model run due to slow sales, is currently available in Canada as a 2010 model.

Outside of North America the Ranger/B-Series saga is more upbeat, as is the entire compact pickup truck market which in the U.S. has fallen from 8 percent overall in 1994 to a measly 2 percent today. An all-new global Ranger, available in 180 markets worldwide, debuted online last month, with styling cues pulled from its big F-150 brother and night-and-day refinement over its North American namesake cousin. Ford has chosen not to offer this Ranger in North America due to being much larger than the current North American Ranger. Actually, the global Ranger is about 90 percent of the F-150's size, so Dearborn doesn't believe that it makes sense to sell it alongside the ultra-popular full-size model.

The current U.S.-made Ranger still enjoys reasonable success in the marketplace at about 75,000 units per year, and the fact that its simple old design has paid for itself a hundred times over and therefore offers relative profitability, you'd think that Ford would just let it live on as is. According to the automaker's in-house research, however, most Ranger buyers don't purchase it for hauling duties, but rather because it's one of the cheapest offerings in a blue oval showroom. Now that Fiesta is in store, Ford believes its Ranger will experience greater sales erosion. So, after the 2011 model year, Ford will be without a compact pickup truck for the first time in almost 30 years.

Mazda's North American operations also find itself without a pickup truck for the first time since 1972, when the then-new Ford Courier was based on its B-Series platform instead of the other way around, as it is now. With a void to fill and no rebadged F-150 in its portfolio, is it possible that the new B-Series replacement, recently introduced as the BT-50 at the Australian International Motor Show in Sydney, could find its way across the Pacific?

It's an oddball design as far as pickup trucks go, appearing to take cues from South Korea's Ssangyong Actyon pickup as well as Mazda's own car and crossover lineup, but Honda has proven that unorthodox thinking can work in staid and conventional pickup truck circles if the market is approached in the right way.

Just the same, there has been no announcement to market the BT-50 in North America, which is a shame as Mazda's self-named "sophisticated beast" would certainly bring greater attention to the brand while enhancing the pickup truck segment in the same manner that its cars and crossovers have added spice and refinement to their respective classes.

The BT-50 gets a radically sloped front profile with the brand's familiar smiling grille front and centre, plus sweptback headlights that meld into bulging front fenders. Its taillights are shaped similarly to the brand's CX-9 crossover, albeit larger and deeper, which gives the truck a refined car-like appearance that should bode well for sales, helping it stand out amongst the throng of compact pickup trucks offered in global markets. 

Mazda isn't giving details about available drivetrains, but the BT-50 will likely offer the same engine and gearbox combos available in the new global Ranger. A fuel-efficient 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel featuring 150 horsepower and 276 lb-ft of torque will likely be offered, as will a larger diesel plus gasoline variants, while all will get six-speed transmissions.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Pickup, Mazda, 2011, BT-50,

Organizations: Mazda BT

Geographic location: Australia

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