2012 MAZDA BT-50 REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Dual-cab utility
Price: $48,810 (plus on-roads)
Fuel Economy (claimed): 8.4 l/100km
Fuel Economy (tested): 9.8 l/100km
While some may be turned off by the Mazda BT-50’s polarising styling, there’s no getting around the fact that it offers tremendous value for money.
In today’s market, it’s sharp buying - particularly for those who need to haul heavy loads during the week, and want to search some off-road adventure on weekends.
The XTR 4x4 model tested here features the optional Boss Sports package whose garish polished bullbar and shiny alloy wheels is not exactly to our tastes.
But the bulletproof build quality, off-road capability and substantial equipment list of the XTR, make the BT-50 hard to ignore if you’re looking for a dependable dual-cab ute.
Quality: Work utes aren’t known for their plush environs, but the BT-50 comes pretty close to providing a cockpit of car-like quality.
Plastic quality is good and most switchgear is of a feel you’d more expect to find in a family sedan than a dual-cab ute.
There’s an emphasis on ergonomics, without ignoring aesthetic appeal, and while there are some pretty obvious Ford-sourced parts dotted throughout the cabin (the BT-50 and Ford Ranger share their underpinnings), that’s not a bad thing considering the quality and solid feel.
Add to that a robust build, and the BT-50 scores highly for its cabin fit-out.
Comfort: The BT50’s seating position is upright and high up, affording an excellent view of the road ahead. Seat comfort is good too, and the driver’s seat squab adjusts for height.
Unfortunately, like so many 4x4 utes, the BT-50 doesn’t offer any reach adjustment on its steering column.
The back seat is spacious and more than comfortable enough for two adults, and the cabin’s width means three people can easily sit across the rear bench. Headroom is plentiful, and there’s also a waterproof bin under the rear seat for stowing muddy gear.
Equipment: Standard equipment on the BT-50 XTR includes foglamps, power mirrors, a trip computer, cruise control, Bluetooth, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, dual-zone climate control, sat-nav and a USB audio input.
Our tester was also optioned with the Boss Sports package, which adds an angular alloy bull bar, 17-inch alloy wheels, stainless steel side steps, a lockable hard tonneau cover and a pair of spot lights.
Storage: The BT-50’s tub measures 1549mm long, 1560mm wide and 513mm deep. There’s 1139mm between the rear wheelarches - just a few centimeters too narrow for a standard Australian pallet - and the tailgate opening measures 1330mm wide.
The BT-50 XTR manual can carry a maximum payload of 1217kg, and tow up to 3.35 tonnes on a braked trailer.
Unbraked towing capacity is 750kg.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: The BT-50’s 3.2 litre turbodiesel inline-five is a muscle-bound workhorse of an engine. Producing 147kW of power and 470Nm of torque, it’s capable of lugging some pretty heavy loads up some pretty steep grades.
Like most diesels, it runs out of puff well before redline. In the BT-50’s case there’s little point revving past 3900rpm (peak torque is spread between 1750rpm and 2500rpm), so shifting early and often is the best way to extract the most from this engine.
Unfortunately, that means having to deal with the heavy, rubbery gearshift and firm clutch of the standard six-speed manual.
With a bit of experimentation you can find the shift point that allows the gear lever to cut more smoothly through the gate, but some buyers may simply prefer the hassle-free six-speed auto instead.
We wouldn’t blame them.
Aside from that, the BT-50 is an easy car to pilot, happy to lope along at low revs, with just a gentle squeeze of the accelerator needed to dispatch hills and freeway onramps.
Hill starts are also pretty easy, thanks to the standard-fit hill hold mechanism.
It’s pretty quick when it’s not carrying a payload too, although there is the usual amount of turbodiesel throttle lag to contend with.
Refinement: It’s a diesel work ute, and as is typical for cars of its type there’s a prominent diesel thrum that penetrates the firewall. It’s a pretty smooth mill though, and the off-beat sound of its five-cylinder layout isn’t unpleasant.
The BT-50 has a sleeker shape than some of its rivals, and there’s less wind noise at speed - even with the garish protuberances of our tester’s bull bar.
Suspension: The BT-50’s suspension irons out big bumps with ease, but like most body-on-frame leaf-sprung utes it tends to jiggle over smaller imperfections.
Its ride is a lot more settled with a bit of weight sitting in the tub and at highway speeds it feels stable and secure
It’s comfortable too, and the Mazda’s steering doesn’t feel as ponderous as some of its competitors.
Braking: There’s discs up front and drums at the rear, and braking feel through the pedal is pretty good. We didn’t get an opportunity to test the BT50’s stopping performance while carrying a load, but it hauled up pretty smartly without one.
ANCAP rating: Five stars
Safety features: Standard safety equipment comprises stability control, traction control, ABS, emergency brake assist, electronic brake-force distribution and roll stability control.
There are also dual front, side and curtain SRS airbags, and all seats are fitted with lap-sash seatbelts.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Mazda offers a 2-year, unlimited kilometre warranty on BT50 models. If less than 100,000km is travelled in the first two years, the warranty extends to 3-years or 100,000 kilometres.
Service costs: Servicing costs can vary. Consult your local Mazda dealer for servicing costs.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Ford Ranger XLT Double Cab 4x4 ($53.390) - Under the skin, the Ranger is mechanically identical to the BT-50 XTR - same engine, same gearbox, same 4WD hardware.
It’s got a more universally-appealing look, but it carries a higher pricetag thanks to a slightly fatter spec sheet. (see Ranger reviews)
Toyota Hilux SR5 Double Cab 4x4 ($50,990) - Despite a recent update, the Hilux is nearly a full generation behind many of its competitors - and it feels it.
The interior is more utilitarian and less welcoming than the Mazda’s cab, and the Hilux’s 126kW/343Nm 3.0 litre turbodiesel is nowhere near as grunty as the Mazda’s 3.2.
That said, there’s still much appeal in the Toyota’s reputation for reliability, as well as its fixed-price servicing scheme and wider dealer network. (see Hilux reviews)
Isuzu D-Max LS-U Dual Cab 4x4 ($42,500) - A frequently overlooked contender is the Isuzu D-Max, but although it might not sell in the same numbers as its competitors, it’s by no means a lesser vehicle.
Its 3.0 litre turbodiesel puts out a handy 120kW/360Nm, and it boasts a robust build quality. Like the Toyota it’s not exactly cutting edge, but its substantially lower entry price makes it good buying for cost-conscious business operators.
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
It would be a mistake to dismiss the Mazda because of its awkward ‘out-there’ styling. Look beneath the surface and you’ll find one of the most capable utes on the market today.
It’s got a remarkably tractable engine, a commodious and comfortable interior and an equipment list that boasts more mod-cons than the typical 4x4 ute.
A superb workhorse, it is also super off-road. And, with that 3.35 tonne towing capacity, those with boats, horse floats or heavy trailers to tow will find the BT-50 right up their alley.
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