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Click to view road test review picture gallery“Hard on the outside;
  soft on the inside.
  No, this isn’t a Penguin
  but a P-P-Pick-up.
  To be precise, Mazda’s
  sharp new BT-50. If
  you’ve ever wondered
  why people are
  prepared to pay Golf
  GTI money for one,
  read on...”

of their appeal for those who do. For the former
, the thought of shelling out the same money that would buy a Golf GTI is inconceivable. For the record, Mazda's BT-50 Double Cab costs 19,529 for the TS2 range-topper. But if you're VAT registered then you're onto a winner from Day One, because you can claim back the VAT — which claws back the best part of 2,900. The allure for the pick-up enthusiast is that that outlay will buy him (or her, because lots of ladies drive them too!) a distinctively rugged 4x4 vehicle that's intentionally not a trendy SUV but one that will handle just about any task you ask — whether work, play or business.

Most popular as 'lifestyle' purchases are the Double Cab pick-ups —
the family-capable four-door versions that make a practical alternative to a sports utility. One big advantage enjoyed by pick-ups over SUVs
is that the 'green police' don't give pick-up drivers a hard time. In fact, during our week-long test of Mazda's brand new BT-50 Double Cab, the only emotion we encountered was approbation. Interestingly, a chance visit by a family friend during our test saw him deciding to buy one to share his driveway alongside his immaculate Cosworth. And before you ask, Yes, his wife will enjoy driving them both!

Another aspect of running a pick-up that drivers of 'ordinary' cars
often overlook is the fact that they're designed for back-breaking toil every day of their working lives in some of the most inhospitable places around the globe. Compared to that, surviving the urban jungle is a piece of cake. A common misconception amongst car drivers is that because they look tough on the outside, pick-ups must be Spartan and uncomfortable on the inside. Wrong again. Think SUV quality and you won't be disappointed.

Open a door and park yourself on one of the BT-50's comfortable, smartly upholstered seats. You'll find it little different from any other well-specced modern car. Standard equipment in the TS2 model in-cludes air conditioning, a high-performance audio system with six speakers and an MP3-compatible 6-CD with an in-dash multi-changer, four electric windows (with one-touch lowering for the driver's), power door mirrors, a smart leather-clad steering wheel with perforated leather on the ten-to-two 'work' areas and tinted glass as well as a three-stage heated driver's seat. So it's unquestionably much more than a basic workaday interior. Externally, there's a set of smart 16-inch alloy wheels, front fog lights, a pair of practical non-slip alumin-ium-finish side-steps and some good quality chrome fitments.

The cabin itself is spacious and airy. Think about it and you'll realise that pick-ups are, of necessity, built to accommodate a large variety of body shapes that are often wrapped in bulky work clothes. Lots of room, the, for people in 'civvies'. Storage space is equally good with
a large lockable and illuminated two-tier glovebox, bottle holders built into the door pockets, and an accommodating bi-level cubby below the centre front armrest. There's even a slide-out tray above the glove-box. The fascia is uncluttered and smartly finished — as is the dash — and the instruments, with grey faces, white graphics and green poin-ters, are different but easy to read. Trim materials, including the two-tone (silver-grey/black) Velour upholstery, are of good quality and well fitted. As too is the paintwork — on our test car a very striking Strato Blue Mica.

Thoughtful touches include the distinctly different warning chimes for the lights left on and the key left in the ignition, and the foolproof hi-fi controls set high — as too are those for the very efficient A/C — on the fascia. No dodgy looking down while you're driving! While talking of the BT-50's good points, the upright front screen is refreshingly reflection-free on sunny days.

The driving position is first-rate, thanks to great all-round visibility (the rear screen stretches the full width of the cabin) made even better
by being able to see all four corners from the driver's seat. The four-spoke steering wheel feels good in your palms and adjusts for height. In combination with a height-adjustable seat, setting a good driving position easy. The parking brake is one of those umbrella-handle devices located just under the dash and is easy to operate — plus it frees up space between the front seats. Back seat passengers also benefit from loads of headroom, and good legroom for two — five will fit, but the fifth only gets a lap belt whereas the other two have proper three-point seatbelts. Also provided is a wide and well-sited centre rear armrest.

Like its hard-as-nails chassis and running gear, the Mazda's engine is designed to run and run — 150,000 miles and it should still be going strong. These common-rail direct-injection turbodiesels are built to last — which is why a lot of owners 'chip' them for more power with no adverse side effects. Under the BT-50's bonnet is a 141bhp 2.5-litre four-cylinder 16-valve engine with a variable-geometry turbocharger that helps generate 243lb ft of torque from 1,800rpm.

Acceleration from standstill to 62mph takes 12.5 seconds, so you won't be the last one away from the lights, either. Satisfyingly, the power-plant is refined as well as powerful and, while there's a reassuringly pleasant hum when it's working, there's no diesel clatter — even with the needle climbing towards the 4,500rpm red-line. Top speed is 98mph but be warned that 95mph comes up easily on the motorway if you're not watching the speedo. More law-abiding citizens will be able to cruise along at 70mph at a laid-back 2,300rpm in fifth gear. Adding to its usability, the BT-50 remains quiet and stable at fast motorway speeds. And, commendably, there's no sign of wander, either.

Many owners buy a pick-up to tow lifestyle equipment such as jet-skis, a dinghy or a powerboat. The BT-50 will pull as much as 3 tonnes of braked trailer and with the substantial torque on tap from low revs, it doesn't really matter what's attached to the rear of the Mazda. The BT-50 will also haul a substantial 1,212kg in the 'cargo box' — the open pick-up bed behind the cab.

If you look underneath the BT-50 you'll find a tough ladder-frame chas-sis made from steel girders — its job is to support the load bed and
cab unit and, to paraphrase a well-known advertising jingle, 'take a licking and keep on trucking'. The ride, you will be surprised to find, is actually very comfortable on normal tarmac — thanks in part to smartly-upholstered and supportive, well-cushioned seats that do as much to filter out harsh bumps as does the suspension. The Mazda even rides well when there is nothing in the load area (pick-ups, remember, are designed to work well when carrying heavy burdens). Drive it over rough unmade roads and you'll find that even if the leaf-spring suspended rear-end does kick its heels, the independent front suspension helps keeps it all fairly civilised for the driver and front passenger.

Cornering a pick-up is no different to an everyday car: the BT-50's power-assisted steering provides sufficient feel and the only thing
you might notice is that, like SUVs, it requires more turns lock-to-lock (3.92) but there's a good reason for this: to minimise shocks when you're tackling off-road trails. There's good grip from the 245/70 Bridgestone Dueler rubber stretched over the Mazda's modish 10-spoke silver-finish alloy wheels. The actual turning circle of 12.6 metres is no more than that of a large estate/SUV.

What does take a little getting used to is reversing into parking bays — the BT-50 measures 75mm over 5 metres nose-to-tail and there are no reversing sensors. For off-road work there's a second, stubbier gear lever for engaging low-ratio, which gives the Mazda added traction on mud, sand and snow — or for hauling heavy loads up steep gradients such as, for example, getting a boat in or out of the water on a slip-way. The BT-50 will also 'wade' through water as deep as 750 milli-metres.

Off the beaten track, the Mazda is amply-equipped to tough it out. The bold, extra-wide wheel arches allow for longer suspension travel; while short overhangs and 207 millimetres of ground clearance help
it clear ruts and steep rises. For normal road use the Mazda is best left in high-ratio, rear-wheel drive mode. Shifting from 2WD to 4WD or
back again on the fly is straightforward. Safety is addressed with 4-Wheel-ABS backed up with Electronic Brake-force Distribution and a Limited Slip Differential. Four airbags are provided: a side and front each for the driver and passenger. Ventilated front discs ensure hard stops are free from any drama, and there's good modulation from the pedal. Additional passive safety is provided by the cab unit itself, which has been designed as a stand-alone passenger safety cell.

For something that looks like it slurps fuel quicker than a cat does cream, the BT-50 is agreeably economical. Overall we recorded 29.5 mpg, which is close enough to the official combined figure of 31.7mpg to lend credence to the official urban and touring figures of 25.9 and 36.2mpg respectively. A 70-litre (15.4-gallon) tank helps keep you off garage forecourts for as long as possible.

It says a great deal that the only single thing we can fault the BT-50 on is its non-lockable tailgate. Overall the Madza BT-50 is a clear indicator why pick-ups are so popular in America: it really is a no-hassle drive. Even if you've never driven one before, you can simply get in and turn the key. And go. No problemo.

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Mazda BT-50 TS2 | 19,529
Maximum speed: 98mph | 0-62mph: 12.5 seconds
Overall test MPG: 29.5mpg | Power: 141bhp | Torque: 243lb ft

CO2 244g/km | Insurance group 11A
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