FACELIFTED FOR 2016, THE MAZDA BT-50 DUAL CAB XTR IS ON A MISSION: it wants the share it deserves in the four-door four-wheel-drive ute segment.
Australians love this segment. In the first five months of this year they purchased 58,580 utes from the ‘pickup/cab chassis 4x4’ class. Where the Ford Ranger and Toyota HiLux have each snared a 20 percent slice of that cake, however, the Mazda BT-50 has latched onto just 6.6 percent – despite being near-twinned with the Ford.
More’s the mystery given that Mazda passenger and SUV models sell up a storm in this country. So the question is simple: why aren’t more tradies buying the BT-50?
Vehicle Style: Ute / Pickup
Price: $50,890 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 147kW/470Nm 3.2 litre 5cyl turbo-diesel | 6sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 9.2 l/100km | tested: 14.2 l/100km
Firstly, the BT-50 4x4 Dual Cab costs $2000 more than the BT-50 4x4 Freestyle Cab. The latter comes with two tiny rear doors and a ‘jump’ seat for occasional use, rather than proper doors and a properly padded rear-bench as featured here.
With an automatic transmission, the cheapest 4x4 Dual Cab is the XT at $46,490 plus on-road costs, followed by the XTR at $50,890 (plus orc) – the one we’re testing – and the flagship GT at $53,140 (plus orc).
You can choose a six-speed manual for $2000 less in each case, and Mazda estimates 45 percent of buyers will. The same share of buyers is expected to go for either an XTR or GT.
There is no shortage of competition in this circa-$50K space however, so how does the BT-50 stack up?
- Standard equipment: power windows and mirrors, multi-function trip computer, dual-zone climate air-conditioning, cloth seats, cruise control, automatic headlights and wipers, auto-dimming rear-view mirror
- Infotainment: 7.8-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB input, AM/FM radio, CD player, satellite navigation and six speakers
- Options fitted: none
Spending $4400 to upgrade from BT-50 XT to BT-50 XTR buys a decent but not outstanding amount of additional standard features.
Basically you get dual-zone climate control, a touchscreen with sat-nav and reverse-view camera, automatic on/off headlights and wipers, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
That’s in addition, we should note, to foglights, sidesteps and 17-inch (rather than 16-inch) alloy wheels.
It’s also worth noting, however, that a $47,490 (plus orc) Mitsubishi Triton Exceed includes full leather trim with an electrically adjustable driver’s seat and front heating, keyless auto-entry with push-button start and a digital radio – all missing here.
Similarly, a $54,490 (plus orc) Nissan Navara ST-X gets all of the Triton’s extra kit and further adds an electric sunroof and rear seat air-vents. Even the $53,140 (plus orc) BT-50 GT misses a powered roof opening, heated seats and digital radio.
That said, the BT-50 XTR is $4700 cheaper than a near-identically-specified Ford Ranger XLT (which even the BT-50 GT undercuts).
In terms of their body shape and build, the BT-50 and Ranger are essentially the same vehicle, each departing from the latter marque’s Thailand factory. However, now more than ever, the two utes are separate in feel and in philosophy.
Mazda has simply made fewer changes to the facelifted version of its ute.
Where Ford has redesigned the interior to accommodate a new infotainment system with digital radio, plus (optional and expensive) technology such as collision warning and lane departure alerts, and adaptive cruise control, the BT-50 has mostly maintained its station.
The cabin is starting to feel dated, with the red monochromatic trip-computer display (positioned between the speedometer and tachometer) and aftermarket-looking sat-nav screen far from complement each other in design terms.
The display itself uses cheap graphics and unintuitive menus that are a world away from Mazda’s superb MZD-Connect infotainment system used in the majority of its models including the sub-$20,000 Mazda2 Maxx.
Seat comfort is fine however and the rear seat is one of the more generous around for depth of support and legroom offered. But the Mazda misses the Ford’s recent addition of rear air-vents.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine output and configuration: 147kW/470Nm 3.2 5cyl turbo-diesel
- Transmission type and driveline configuration: six-speed automatic, AWD
- Suspension type, front and rear: Independent front, leaf spring rear
- Brake type, front and rear: ventilated front and rear drum brakes
- Steering type and turning circle: hydraulically assisted mechanical steering, 12.4m
- Towing capacity: 3500kg
The upgraded BT-50 takes the 4x4 Dual Cab’s towing capacity to 3500kg, matching the Ranger and Navara while eclipsing the (3100kg) Triton.
At more than one tonne (1097kg) the XTR also boasts one of the highest payloads in the segment, and those figures are a great reflection of the Mazda’s sturdy, no-nonsense character.
Its 3.2-litre five-cylinder engine – shared with the Ranger – is a grunty unit, with 147kW and 470Nm among the highest in the segment.
It makes a gruff gravelly diesel sound however, especially noticeable at lower speeds and when accelerating. Sound deadening could be improved in a ute that commonly doubles with family duties as well as hauling bricks and mortar.
No doubts, though, about the way it can quickly pick up its nuts, and bolt, even with a load on board, thanks to that surge of torque nestled under the bonnet.
The tuning of the six-speed automatic also leans to hard graft with heavy loads and seems to struggle to adapt to unladen work. Quite often the gearbox will hold a lower gear fractionally too long, leaving revs to hang high (to the detriment of refinement) before thumping into a taller gear.
Likewise the suspension tune seems primed for heavy, rather than domestic, duties. It is very firm and occasionally abrupt when travelling lightly, but it hunkers down nicely when occupants and – as we tested it – a load of Ikea flat-pack furniture is aboard.
Mazda aimed for a sportier driving feel than its Ford compatriot and the BT-50 sticks with traditional hydraulically-assisted power steering, where the Ranger has switched to newer electrically-assisted steering.
There is a noticeable difference between the two, and while the XTR tested here is fine when cornering at speed – it is actually quite linear – it is also dreadfully heavy at low speeds around town.
More than a bit like stirring thick concrete, in fact, which at least some tradies will have the muscle to manage.
With plenty of ground clearance, bush-ready tyres and a choice of 2H (two-wheel drive high range), 4H (four-wheel drive high range) and 4L (four-wheel drive low range) modes at the flick of a switch, however, the BT-50 has also in previous TMR tests proven as tough as a pile of bricks, and effortlessly capable in offroad driving.
It is also effortlessly capable and under-stressed when towing a load, has proven robust and not dogged by driveline or reliability issues (so much as we’re aware).
If you like them tough, the Mazda delivers. No question there.
ANCAP rating: 5-stars - this model scored 34.72 out of 37 possible points
Safety features: Dual front, side and curtain airbags, ABS and ESC, hill descent control, reverse-view camera, trailer sway control, and a host of dynamic safety features.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Ranger is the class leader, but it is expensive and debatable value.
By contrast the Triton is amazing value and has one of the better interiors, but doesn’t steer brilliantly (and its looks are a little adrift of the mark).
The Navara too has an appealing interior, a strong 2.3 litre diesel and a well-damped, balanced ride. It’s worth a close look, especially if the balance of the work leans to family duties.
The HiLux, meanwhile, is hugely improved and still the top-selling ute in the land (and likely to stay on top until the next ice-age or longer).
It’s a tad firmer on road than the Ranger, firmer even than the BT-50, but has killer resale value and a very good engine and transmission.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Even in its twilight years the Mazda BT-50 4x4 Dual Cab XTR remains a hugely competent four-wheel-drive four-seat utility.
It isn’t as family friendly as some rivals, nor is it as keenly priced as it could be, and it lacks the modern infotainment and connectivity technology we’d expect of a $50,000-plus model.
However, other than possibly being a bit tough to drive around town, the BT-50 does very little wrong. The impression that it has aged quickly is more that newer utes seem to have improved in longer strides than this working Mazda.
Nailing ‘big ticket’ items like payload, towing capacity, cabin space and tray volume, however, ensures the Mazda remains focused on getting the job done, despite lacking some polish and finesse.
And it looks better – you don’t have to hide this ‘face’ behind a bull-bar.
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