Mazda double cab packs punch

I remember the first time I saw a double cab like it was yesterday. It was one of those “why didn’t I think of that” moments.

Finally here was a “bakkie” that married the practicality of having a load bin with the needs of a family.

Finally, here was a vehicle that really allowed you to pack everything, including the proverbial kitchen sink, when going on holiday with your wife and kids.

And, finally, here was a vehicle that was tailor-made for adventurous South African lifestyles.

Double cabs have come a long way since those early days.

While still practical, they are far more comfortable and car-like than ever before.

If you’re prepared to pay, top-end models come equipped with the latest technological safety and convenience features, look equally at home parked on a construction site as they do outside a Bunkers Hill mansion, and will negotiate a rough road just as well as the highway.

Even with all these additional comforts and driving aids, they’re still as tough as nails. Most major manufacturers offer one and some of those that don’t, plan on launching soon.

Mazda has been in the double cab game for sometime now, although it’s offerings have been overshadowed by Toyota’s Hilux and the Ford Ranger in recent years.

It’s strange, because the diesel powered BT-50 Double Cab SLE is actually very good. Sure, it has come in for criticism for not being the best-looking double cab on the market, but the 3.2-litre powerplant is punchy and the interior car-like and comfortable.

We used one on a recent trip to Huntshoek Game Lodge located on the Grahamstown side of the Fish River along the N2.

The reserve boasts two lodges – Huntshoek and Huntsdrift – and the rough dirt tracks around the property proved the ideal testing ground for the rugged-looking Mazda.

The 4×2 test unit was fitted with diff-loc and, despite not being a 4×4, good ground clearance and low-down torque provided by the diesel engine allowed us to pretty much go where we wanted.

At one point, while negotiating a steep, bumpy incline littered with loose gravel and rock, I selected first gear, took my foot off the accelerator and let the powerful 147kW (470Nm) engine do the rest – the BT-50 simply idled up the hill.

With the kids in the back and a high ride position upfront, it was also great for viewing game and we spotted giraffe, bush buck, zebra, impala and a tortoise.

The reserve boasts a variety of animals including nyala, kudu, baboon, wildebeest, warthog, bush pig and lynx. Without any dangerous game, guests are welcome to walk or cycle at their leisure.

Both lodges overlook the mighty Fish and later that evening we enjoyed sundowners on the deck of the Huntsdrift Lodge before retreating to the indoor communal braai area. Huntsdrift is able to sleep a maximum of 10 guests in several well-equipped stand-alone chalets, each with its own bathroom. Ours had an outside bath and it was the perfect place to lie back and relax while soaking up the sights and sounds of the bush.

The flagship Huntshoek Lodge, located on the opposite end of the property, consists of five large chalets, each able to sleep two. They are equipped with en-suite bathroom and open-air shower, while one of the chalets offers a self-catering option for four singles or two couples.

After breakfast and another game drive, we said our goodbyes to Charles and Adri Timm, who manage the property.

It was with heavy hearts that we left for our return to reality.

The Mazda effortlessly ate up the kilometres between the reserve and home, with the onboard computer recording consumption of 10.2-litres/100km.

In addition to the 3.2-litre diesel model, there is also a 2.2-litre petrol version available. Up against its competitors, the BT-50 range is limited – there are just 10 models to chose from.

Compare that to the Ford (nearly 40 single and double cab models) and the Toyota with over 20, you start to understand why we don’t see more on the road. The BT-50 Double Cab SLE model retails for R445400 and the 4×4 version for R503000.

lFor more information on accommodation at Huntshoek Game Lodge e-mail bookings@huntshoeklodge.com or call (046) 622-5984. — andrews@dispatch.co.za

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