Marque mixers drive us to double vision
What’s in a name? Do some car badges shine brighter than others?
Badge engineering - different nameplates on essentially the same vehicle - is often an unbalanced partnership.
Holden sold more Commodores than the re-badged Toyota Lexcen in the 1990s. Nissan sold more four-wheel drive Patrols than Ford sold Mavericks, but then Ford sold more Falcon utes than the Nissan Ute from 1988 to 1991.
These double-ups were attempts to rationalise the Australian car business under the federal Button plan. Sharing vehicles between rival manufacturers fills gaps - often temporarily - in a line-up. It saves a mountain of money and may keep loyal customers in the family.
And sometimes a vehicle’s development and product is shared between competitors. Perhaps the best of current shared vehicle examples are the Ford Ranger and Mazda BT-50 utes.
For some years Ford took BT-50s and re-badged them as Ford Couriers and then as Rangers; Ford Australia didn’t have a four-wheel drive one-tonner on their books.
Then in the early 2000s, knowing the venerable Falcon ute was due to be parked forever, Ford began developing an all-new model with Mazda.
Much has been said, and written, about the ute and Ford Australia praised, rightly so, for this new-age Ranger. But there was a band of Mazda engineers working on the project here too; after all this was Ford’s first shot at a full range of two and four-wheel drive one-tonners.
So the Ranger and the BT-50 share the same five-cylinder diesel (now with some minor changes by Ford), the same size bodies (albeit with different styles) and the same chassis (with slight variations in tuning).
Yet the dearer Ford outsells the Mazda big time - in 2017 it was almost 37,000 Rangers to just over 13,000 BT-50s. It can’t be just the Mazda’s style – considered a bit soft by some.
We’re also about to see a Mercedes-Benz dual cab ute engineered over and around Nissan’s Navara but in this case there would appear to be a wider range of mechanical and chassis differentiations than between the Ford and the Mazda.
Then there’s the case of Toyota’s 86 coupe and Subaru’s BRZ, developed very much hand-in-hand and virtually identical in specification and style - yet last year Toyota sold 1619 86ers and Subaru sold 786 BRZs. Toyota’s dealer network is wider of course, but this is a low-slung sports car best suited to coastal civilisations.
Never mind, both are fun machines running a Subaru boxer engine and chassis with some differences is suspension tune.
Subaru’s newest version is the BRZ tS from $39,894 for the six-speed manual version or $41,894 for a six-speed auto. The tS is the range-topper of the BRZs with reworked steering, suspension and brakes from Subaru’s STI performance arm.
It, like all BRZs and Toyota 86ers, is a fun package here with extra sporting flavour. Well-mannered chassis and steering responses mean every kilowatt of the BRZ’s 152kW is enjoyed; with maximum torque of 212Nm arriving at 6400rpm the BRZ does need to be given full stick for an all-out attack.
The bonus here - back seats will accommodate a couple of grandkids for quieter drives.