2012 Mazda BT-50 XTR Manual Review
What's hot: Effortless 3.2 diesel, great tow-vehicle, sharply priced
What's not: Unsettled front-end on road, polarising style
X-Factor: Car-like interior comfort and refinement, with gutsy work-truck capability
Vehicle Style: Dual-cab 4X4 Ute
Price Dual-cab XTR (manual): $48,810
Fuel Economy (claimed): 8.9 l/100 km
Fuel Economy (tested): 10.1 l/100 km
Mazda has led with its chin with the new BT-50. In fact, it’s the lines of that chin that splits opinion.
Where most contenders in the ‘work truck’ segment have all the sculptural qualities of a beer carton, the BT-50 has had its sheet-metal massaged and squeezed for an individual Mazda-family look.
Certainly, the Ford Australia-developed Ranger, on which the BT-50 is based, is a bit of a box. So is the Amarok. But has Mazda come up with a face only a mother could love – and does it matter?
It doesn’t bother me: it’s no picture-plate but it’s different. You can make up your own mind, but don’t judge it too quickly (it grows on you).
So we’ve dealt with the styling, let’s move on.
The BT-50, like the Ranger, is little short of brilliant off-road. It’s as robust as a vault, will effortlessly clamber up – and down – almost anything, and has the pulling power of a train.
On road, while it’s more of a mixed bag and not quite as settled as the Ranger, it’s strong, quiet and effortless. Mazda Australia expects to sell around a thousand a month. It’s got a couple of easily-addressed flaws, but it’s a heck of a lot better than that.
We drove the upper-spec XTR dual-cab with six-speed manual. It’s a seriously good car as well as a seriously capable tough truck. Mazda has also pulled a rabbit out of the hat with very competitive pricing.
Quality: Forget you’re in a work ute: the interior trims and finish of the BT-50 XTR is at least a match for most in the passenger segment.
From the soft-feel dash, to the brushed metal garnishes, the quality feel to the switchgear, leather-wrapped multi-function wheel, and smart door trims, this is a high-quality and very well-designed interior.
Comfort: The seats, long in the squab and generously proportioned are comfortable on road and off it. In the XTR, the addition of seat-height adjustment - useful for picking your line over the sloping bonnet - makes off-road work easier.
A debit, shared by the Ranger, is the curious lack of reach adjustment to the tilt-only steering wheel.
Equipment: All in the range (we won’t be seeing the freestyle cab for another month; cab chassis early next year) come with power windows and mirrors, Bluetooth, cruise control and air-con.
For the XTR grade we drove, add dual-zone climate control, sat-nav, leather-trimmed steering wheel and gearknob, foglamps and 17-inch alloys.
Storage: Stand at the rear-tailgate and you realise it’s huge in the deep tub. For me (short), the top of the tray is at armpit height. It's 1549mm long, 1560mm wide, 1139 between the wheel-arches and 511mm deep. The maximum braked towing capacity is a very hefty 3350kg.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: The BT-50’s shared five-cylinder 3.2 litre MX-CD turbodiesel engine is a beauty. It’s got 147kW and 470Nm of torque available under the toe and effortless low-end tractability (with 100 percent of peak torque on tap between 1750rpm and 2500rpm). Paddocks have been ploughed with less.
On road, in the six-speed manual, hills flatten beneath it, and swift, safe overtaking is a breeze. The throw of the gear-shift is chunky although a little wooly through the gate, but it's easy to use and the clutch is nicely-weighted.
Off Road: Like the Ranger, all that torque matched up with descent control, hill-start assist, locking rear differential, steep approach and departure angles (and ramp-over, even with side steps), makes short work of challenging off-road tracks.
There is so much torque, that, in the manual, you can simply point the nose at a gradient, engage first, slip the clutch and let it idle up and over.
There is even a cleverer trick when descending: engage descent control, grit your teeth (for the first time) and throw it out of gear into angel, take your feet off everything and let it simply carry you down.
It’s a little different to the Ranger in off-road feel. The answer we got from Mazda (as to its revisions) was a bit unclear. We think the front springs are softer, allowing more compression and travel, which helps in really rough going.
The dual-range transfer case can be shifted between 2H and 4H at up to 120km/h at the press of a button. For engaging low range, the car must be stopped.
In a mix of on-road and heavy off-road work, we averaged 10.1 l/100km: that’s pretty astonishing for such a powerful big ute, working hard. Claimed average consumption is 8.9 l/100km.
Refinement: The strong, smooth-revving 3.2 diesel is one of the best in the business. Vibration and harshness is beautifully isolated from the interior.
Best though, on road, is the near-absence of tyre and wind noise. The BT-50 is quieter at speed over coarse bitumen than the improved Mazda6. There is a little fluttering from the base of the A-pillar, but shearing from the tyres barely intrudes.
The BT-50 and Ranger are best in class for refinement by a long chalk.
Suspension: On road, this where the BT-50 needs more work. Nothing wrong on paper with the double wishbone front-end and leaf-sprung rear, but the tuning is out of whack.
At speed, it can wallow through dips and over rises, and the nose will ‘hunt' as it settles. It’s different to the better-balanced Ranger; Mazda was reportedly looking for better on-road comfort (but the information about the engineering changes is a little mixed).
We reckon the front spring rates are revised for longer travel, but are a bit at odds with the damping. It’s not bad, but there’s an opportunity there for the aftermarket until Mazda sorts it out.
Braking: Strong and arrow-true, with ABS and all the gear, and no sign of fade when off-road (the hill-descent control means you barely need touch them when crawling down from the clouds).
ANCAP rating: Not yet rated
Safety: Standard safety features for the range include dynamic stability control (DSC), traction control (TCS), anti-lock braking system (ABS), emergency brake assist (EBA), electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and roll stability control (RSC). There is also an auto-dimming rear view mirror, and dual front, side and curtain SRS airbags.
Hill-descent control and hill launch assist also feature on the upper-spec XTR model we had in our care.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Ford Ranger XLT: ($53,390) Its twin, but you’d barely know it from a style point of view. Profoundly capable, the Ranger is the new benchmark. Better on-road than the Mazda, but the BT-50 is the more individual looking and holds a hefty price advantage.
VW Amarok Highline: ($52,990) A tough competitor but its 2.0 litre diesel is no match for the imperious power of the BT-50’s (and Ranger's) 3.2 litre five-cylinder marvel.
Toyota HiLux SR5 TD: ($50,990) Only slightly wearied by age, the king is still king of sales, but now bettered by the Ranger and BT-50.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Like the Ranger, Mazda’s BT-50 is a tour de force. Strong, capable, effortless on road and off it, it’s a very complete package.
It also offers passenger car seat-comfort, features and NVH refinement. We gave Ford’s Ranger 4.5 stars; the Mazda version is a match in nearly every way but loses half a star for the slightly unsettled front-end.
But, six-speed manual or six speed auto, the new BT-50 is a heck of a lot of tough ute for the money.
It's very sharply priced and undercuts its equivalent Ford twin by a very healthy margin. You absolutely won’t be disappointed.
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