Mazda’s steady but underselling ute was ready to kick the can down the road until its next generational-leap in a couple of years’ time but Mazda Australia had other ideas. With the ute market as strong as it is here – the top two selling vehicles in the market being the Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger – the most obvious and perhaps easiest change the local arm could make was altering its face to a tougher look.
The old ‘smiling’ front didn’t strike a chord among the broad and chiselled ute market, so some local adaptions have been carved onto the front. While subtle, they’re noticeable, and there's even more meaningful changes inside.
Despite looking like a minor change this new BT-50 was two years in the making. It started when Mazda Australia took its blueprinted face to Japan for a market-exclusive makeover, and two years of foam cutting and moulding later, it has arrived.
The cars still come out of Thailand with the old face though and the bar is changed on local soil so it’s a costly exercise, but one that will matter to potential buyers.
Even during our week-long test we had two current BT-50 owners notice the difference instantly with positive feedback – but that alone isn’t really enough reason to rush out to the showroom floor.
Going beyond the facelift is a lightly updated interior and safety spec. Inside now houses an updated Alpine-supplied infotainment system that brings Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to a Mazda for the first time ever. It also integrates a reversing camera on all models including cab-chassis trucks with aftermarket trays.
The 4x4 XTR dual-cab on test gets 17-inch alloy wheels, sat nav, fabric cloth interior and dual-zone climate control but misses out on the top-spec GT’s leather trim. Pricing starts from $46,990 with a manual transmission or $48,990 with six-speed auto mated to the Ranger-shared 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo diesel engine and four-wheel drive.
- 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: 7.0-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, Apple Carplay and Android Auto, USB input, AM/FM radio, CD player, satellite navigation and four speakers
- Load Area Dimensions: 1549mm long, 1560mm wide, 513mm deep, 1139mm between wheel arches
Inside is a practical interior with thoughtful space for a few tradies or a herd of kids. The rear seats aren’t ISOfix though so owners with little tackers will need to fit aftermarket anchor points. It’s also pretty spacious in the back for a dual-cab ute and one of the better options for a family.
The fabric trim is tough and resistant to clogging with dirt and grime – perfect for its intended audience - and doesn't feel scratchy. The seats themselves are also comfortable for a few hours sitting. The driver’s seat can attain a good position via the manually-adjusted controls but the lack of steering wheel reach and limited tilt movement negate some driver ergonomics.
Connectivity has been improved with the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto that brings plenty of convenience by mirroring a mobile device onto the Alpine headunit. While not a fully-integrated OEM infotainment it has been blended in with the dash so it doesn’t look too out of place, and also has shortcut options for the dual-zone climate control like a proper factory display unit. Rounding out its performance is a good sound from the four-stereo speaker system – a bit of a rarity in mid-grade dual-cab utes that's mainly because of Alpine’s sound tweaking skills.
The negative inside is that there’s only one USB port in the cabin on the dash and despite a huge centre console bin with plenty of room inside. Compared to the four or more USB ports found in most new cars it only just scrapes in, though there are two 12v charging ports for attaching dongles. It's also not the prettiest interior design going around.
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
Mazda doesn’t tout its efforts on the Ford Ranger chassis often but it lent considerable expertise underneath Australia’s second-most popular ute early in its development, and it shares more than a few positive traits on and off the road.
The most obvious similarity is the same 3.2-litre five-pot turbo diesel that produces a mild 147kW of power with 470Nm of effortless torque. The extra cylinder on the engine provides a smooth delivery that’s relaxed whether driving on urban streets, overtaking on the highway or towing a heavy load.
It’s a little bit noisy higher in the rev range and some clatter cuts through the cabin when working the motor but the cabin is otherwise resolved to filter out most road noise. And the hushed interior makes it that bit calmer to drive, helping long kilometre journeys feel less tiresome.
Combine that with a 3500kg towing capacity and you’ve got a very adept utility that’s a good option for hauling and touring. It also sports a high 800mm wading depth and 232mm ground clearance for off-road work that compliment proper four-wheel drive low range and an electronic rear diff-lock.
For urban tradies, a real one-tonne ute payload of 1082kg will haul plenty of gear before fitting a trailer.
But some of its agricultural background is obvious on rutted and corrugated road where the hard rear suspension setup feels skiddish and jarring. On better surfaces is nails most of the comfort expected in new age utes yet is tough enough for hard work.
While its steering and compliance aren't as good as the best, it’s not far off and is a reasonable compromise.
ANCAP Rating: 5 Stars - The Mazda BT-50 scored 35.72 out of 37 possible points when tested in 2011 based on crash test data gathered for the structurally similar Ford Ranger.
Safety Features: Six airbags (dual front, front side, full length curtain), anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist, electronic stability and traction control with roll stability control and trailer sway control, front pretensioning seatbelts with load limiters, and reversing camera.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Mazda lists the BT-50 warranty period as two years/unlimited kilometres, however if 100,000km hasn’t been reached at the end of two years warranty coverage is extended to three years or 100,000km (whichever comes first).
Servicing: Service intervals are every 12 months or 10,000km (whichever occurs first) with capped price servicing covering the first five services with odd-numbered services priced from $399 and even-numbered services from $538 with separate replacement schedule and pricing for items including cabin filters, fuel filters, and brake fluid - contact your local dealer for full terms and conditions.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Ford Ranger shares the same underpinnings but further local development and updated EPAS steering make for a nicer driving experience, but it costs more.
The Isuzu D-Max has also recently been updated and brings a market-first three rather than five-span leaf sprung rear. It rides nicer because of it and doesn’t sacrifice payload capacity that’s under a true one-tonne capacity. It doesn’t feel as nice inside either though it is priced sharply.
Mitsubishi offers the best value deal for a dual-cab ute but it loses out on 400kg towing capacity, is minus a cog in the transmission and feels like it’s working a little harder to do the same thing.
The Holden Colorado has undergone some recent updates and is better than before, offering the same 3500kg towing capacity and similar levels of interior comfort and tech as the BT-50.
- Ford Ranger
- Isuzu D-Max
- Mitsubishi Triton
- Holden Colorado
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The latest Mazda BT-50 feels the same as before but it looks nicer than ever – even if it is just a minor nip and tuck! The added infotainment connectivity is a more noticeable change for daily driving and will help sway connected tradies. It’s also a part-time family bus and for going away or towing, it’s a worthy middleweight contender.
- Interested in buying Mazda BT-50? Visit our Mazda showroom for more information.