2012 Mazda BT-50 Freestyle Cab-Chassis XT Diesel Hi-Rider Review Photo:
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What's Hot
Solid workhorse that can cart four occupants with 1950mm tray length.
What's Not
Clunky manual-only transmission, looks are still polarising.
The only extended cab 4x2 light-commercial available with full-fruit diesel.
Malcolm Flynn | Oct, 16 2012 | 8 Comments


Vehicle Style: 4x2 Extended cab-chassis utility
Price: $32,670 (plus $2532 genuine high-spec tray) (plus on-roads)
Fuel Economy claimed: 8.4l/100km | tested: 8.8l/100km



There’s been quite a buzz surrounding the 2012 Mazda BT-50 and its Ford Ranger platform cousin, thanks to their local development and all-new mechanical package.

On paper, each has more than enough to tackle the segment favourite Toyota HiLux head-on.

However, the BT-50 range’s 9007 sales (to September 30) this year trail the HiLux (31,064), Nissan Navara (19,173), Mitsubishi Triton (14,314), and even Ranger (12,176).

This is a segment skewed by long-term fleet contracts and Thai flood-influenced supply issues.

Tested here in Freestyle Cab Chassis XT Hi Rider guise, the BT-50 is one of only two 4x2 ‘extended’ cab chassis utilities currently on the Australian market.

Ford’s more sedately-styled Ranger offers the other option, but its 4x2 Super Cab Chassis is only available with the smaller 110kW/375Nm 2.2 litre turbodiesel and six-speed automatic transmission.

The BT-50 however, comes with the full-fruit 147kW/470Nm 3.2 litre five cylinder turbodiesel and sole choice of six-speed manual transmission. It also pips the Ranger’s list price coming in $570 less.

So, very compelling if you don’t mind rowing your own gears.

The Freestyle cabin offers a ‘best of both worlds’ option compared with single cab and dual cab alternatives, with a 1950mm (genuine Mazda) tray and occasional rear-seating for two.



Quality: Interior fit and finish matches the high standard of contemporary Japanese passenger vehicles, producing no creaks or rattles on test.

Materials are harder to the touch than the current passenger car norm, but this is likely to prove handy at resisting the rigours of commercial use.

Comfort: XT trim BT-50s make do with a vinyl floor lining for ease of cleaning and wear and tear resistance, but this only presents a comfort issue to those travelling barefoot.

Cloth front seats offer firm but comfortable cushioning, with durable-feeling upholstery. The biggest compromise to driver comfort is rake-only steering adjustment - a clear cost cutting measure considering the BT-50’s all-new chassis.

The Freestyle cab’s rear seat accommodation is purely occasional, consisting of flat-surfaced foam pads with the backrest set at 90 degrees to the base.

In practice, these seats are as comfortable as they look, with a knees-up position and a church-pew level of orthopedic consideration. Significantly, the BT-50’s curtain airbags cover the full cabin length to protect rear passengers.

Equipment: Even in basic XT trim, the BT-50 comes with plenty of mod-cons including air conditioning, power windows and mirrors, Bluetooth telephony and audio streaming, USB/aux connectivity, cruise control, and trip computer.

Storage: The Freestyle cabin has generously-sized centre and dash consoles, along with bottle holders in each door, and a hidden storage bin under the right rear seat cushion.

If you have no rear passengers, the area behind the front seats provides cavernous, secure, and dry storage for tools during the week, or camping gear or two mountain bikes on the weekend.

Either way, access is made easy via the rear-hinged back doors.

Our Freestyle cab XT was fitted with the $2532 genuine Mazda ‘high spec’ aluminium drop-side tray, which offers a useful 1950mm of tray length.

This tray length is 600mm shorter than the genuine dropside tray of the $3930 cheaper single cab, and 300mm longer than the $2000 more expensive dual cab BT-50 equivalents.

All genuine Mazda BT-50 dropside trays are 1842mm wide, but the High Spec unit comes with a tubular header board and ladder rack, nylon hinges and dropside catches, plus integrated tool box, 23 litre water tank and sunscreen dispenser.



Driveability: The BT-50’s 147kW/470Nm five-cylinder 3.2 litre turbodiesel goes well beyond simply keeping up with traffic. Even when laden with a cubic metre of topsoil (nudging its 1430kg payload), the Freestyle cab provided confident progress..

Stop-start situations were made much easier by the invisible helping hand of the standard Hill Launch Assist, which prevented rollback at traffic lights - even with the topsoil aboard.

Despite this load, the BT-50 charged up motorway inclines in sixth, and there was always plenty left in the kitty for overtaking.

The days of settling for a slow work ute are now well behind us, and we’re confident of the BT-50’s ability to tow its rated 3350kg.

Several hundred kilometres of our testing was covered with this load aboard, making our overall 8.8l/100km tested consumption figure quite remarkable.

The only less-than-impressive element of the Freestyle cab’s driveline is its six-speed manual.

The six ratios and short throw are commendable, but its notchy action takes some getting used to. This will likely settle with a few more kilometres under its belt than our circa 1000km old tester, so its no deal breaker.

Refinement: The BT-50 doesn’t quite match the passenger wagon-aping Volkswagen’s Amarok, but it comfortably exceeds all other direct competitors.

Plenty of turbo whistle and diesel clatter mark the BT-50’s commercial vehicle focus, but we could think of far worse options to spend a working day aboard.

Suspension: Struts up front and leaf-sprung rear match the spec of all other key rivals, but the BT-50 makes a good fist of blending outstanding load-carrying ability with a ride that leaves your fillings intact.

Braking: Braking is via 302mm discs on the front and drums on the rear, and they do a great job of predictably reigning in the Freestyle cab, even when loaded within sight of its 3200kg GVM.



ANCAP rating: Five stars

Safety features: The BT-50 Freestyle Cab comes equipped with stability control, traction control, ABS, emergency brake assist, electronic brake-force distribution and roll stability control, Trailer Sway Control, Hill Launch Assist, and dual front, side and curtain airbags.

Despite the Freestyle Cab’s occasional rear seating, both seats are fitted with lap-sash seatbelts and child-seat anchorage points.



Warranty: Mazda offers a two-year, unlimited kilometre warranty on BT-50 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.



Ford Ranger 4x2 XL Super Cab Chassis Hi-Rider ($33,240) - BT-50’s platform and mechanical sibling is the only other 4x2 ‘extended cab’ ute currently available.

Only available with smaller 2.2 litre turbodiesel and auto transmission. Maintains 3350kg tow rating, but outputs drop to 110kW/375Nm. (see Ranger reviews)

Toyota HiLux 4x4 SR Extra-Cab Chassis ($38,490) - Top-selling HiLux is only available with Extra-Cab chassis in 4x4. Like BT-50, manual only, but outclassed in terms of safety, interior design, and drive experience.

Its 126kW/343Nm 3.0 litre turbodiesel drivetrain is also less-capable with just 2250kg tow rating and 850kg payload. (see HiLux reviews)

Holden Colorado 4x4 LX Space Cab Chassis ($40,490) - Also only available with Space Cab chassis in 4x4. Auto optional, and comes close to BT-50/Ranger for interior design, but drive experience more truck-like.

The 132kW/440Nm 2.8 litre turbodiesel helps category-leading 3500kg tow rating, but payload trails BT-50 at 1052kg. (see Colorado reviews)

Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.



Capability, quality, refinement and safety levels that have won the BT-50/Ranger twins much praise since their launch last year, and the BT-50 Freestyle cab chassis XT Hi Rider is equally deserving.

If you need a 4x2 extended cab chassis utility and prefer shifting your own gears, the BT-50 is currently the only option, but it is a good one.

At more than $500 less than the only other 4x2 option available, Ford’s Ranger, we reckon the BT-50’s bigger engine wins over the Ranger’s automatic transmission.

Mazda admits that Freestyle cab models make up just 12 percent of BT-50 sales, so we’re not talking about a volume seller here, but its flexibility is a real plus - at work or play.

We can forgive the clunky gearchange and Mazda ‘Nagare’ styling, because as a ute, the BT-50 4x2 Freestyle Cab does a bloody good job.



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