The skinny: We approve of the bolder, less-polarising styling of the updated Mazda BT-50; the handsome new alloy wheels also help.
While available in 4x4 and 4x2 configurations, the BT-50 4x2 dual-cab offers practicality, seating for five, and reasonable on-road comfort and performance for buyers who don’t need four-wheel-drive, but do want a hard-working ute.
The performance and economy from the 3.2 litre turbo-diesel – an engine also shared with the Ford Ranger - is exceptional.
What we don’t like is the intrusive diesel rasp at lower revs, the lack of steering wheel reach-adjustment, and the missing reverse camera - it’s available, but an option on this model.
Vehicle Style: Rear-wheel-drive dual-cab ute
Price: $38,545 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 147kW/470Nm 3.2 5cyl turbo diesel | 6sp sports automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 8.9 l/100km | tested: 8.8 l/100km
When Mazda launched its new-look BT-50 range in 2011, its dramatic styling polarised people into “love it” or “hate it” camps.
But it wasn’t short of friends; Mazda dealers have sold 48,000 of the outgoing model in the four years since its launch.
The refreshed BT-50 line-up comes with no less than 23 single-cab, freestyle-cab and dual-cab variants to choose from (in both 4x2 and 4x4).
Pricing covers a huge dollar spread – from $25,570 for the entry-level 2.2 litre manual single-cab/chassis, to $53,790 for a range-topping 3.2 litre dual-cab 4x4 GT automatic.
We've chosen the mid-pack $38,545 3.2 litre six-speed automatic dual-cab XT 4x2 for this review.
Quality: The XT’s interior is utilitarian to the core – vinyl mats (that we like), a hard lid to the centre-console armrest (that we don’t like) and the usual hard plastic that typifies the ‘work-truck’ end of the light commercial sector.
Except for the hard-to-reach button to activate the trip computer, driver ergonomics are pretty good, as is the durable cloth trim to the seats.
Comfort: The front seats are reasonable with adequate (if a little soft for the thighs) bolstering on the seat base and the back.
There is air-conditioning, a small screen (but no sat-nav in this model) for audio and connectivity display, two grab handles for each front seat and one on each side of the rear bench seat.
While there is padding on the front-door arm rests, the rear door armrests don’t have it and nor, as mentioned, does the front centre armrest. A bit stingy.
A debit is the lack of reach-adjustment to the steering (only the new Mitsubishi Triton and the soon-to-arrive Toyota HiLux offer both reach and rake adjustment). Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t dial in a perfect driving position.
Equipment: For a variant that’s pretty low in the BT-50 pecking order, the standard-feature inventory ain’t half bad.
Included, as standard, are power windows and mirrors, air-conditioning, cruise control, trip computer, six-speaker AM/FM/single-CD (MP3 compatible) audio system, steering-wheel-mounted controls, lockable glovebox and lockable tailgate.
Storage: As well as the good-sized glove box, other storage cubby holes include four useable door pockets, two front cup-holders and two for the rear-set passengers housed in the drop-down centre armrest, a roof-mounted sunglasses holder, a deep bin beneath the front centre-armrest, an open tray beneath the centre stack and another atop the stack.
Towing capacity matches the 4x4 3.2 litre variants, with 3.5 tonne braked trailer tow rating (ATM), 1261kg payload and 350kg towball download (note: GCM is 6.0 tonne, to be factored against a kerb weight of 1939kg).
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: With a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission, you have the choice of leaving things in drive (and letting the auto do the thinking) or flicking the shifter into manual mode and taking control of the gear changes.
It is a smooth-shifting box and well-matched to the torquey diesel. I also like the way downshifts are selected by pushing the stick forward, and upshifts, backwards. To me, the most logical way.
Although no rocket off the line, there is ample underfoot for effortless overtaking.
Visibility all-round is good, but I have to say that for this 1.85cm reviewer (with the driver’s seat well back), the exterior mirror was annoyingly unable to extend far enough outwards to get a clear rearward view.
Refinement: Turbo-diesel utes are not renowned for refinement. But they’re getting a lot better.
In the case of the BT-50, its engine sounds a bit raspy down low but cruising along the highway, this disappears completely. At 100km/h, overall cabin noise from the engine, road surface and wind is impressively low.
Ride and handling: Other than the new Nissan Navara, the BT-50 and its competitors all have leaf springs at the rear. This can make them jittery on undulating secondary roads and they can bounce around a bit on rougher surfaces, especially when empty.
The Mazda’s ride however is mid-pack; not as settled as the Ford Ranger’s nor Volkswagen Amarok, but quite acceptable and, really, quite comfortable enough for a long road trip.
Handling too is pretty good; the BT-50’s rack-and-pinion steering system is both nicely-weighted and direct for a big ute and the 12.4 metre turning circle is pretty reasonable for around-town work.
Braking: Stopping power comes from 302mm ventilated discs at the front and drums at the rear. The pedal feels a bit wooden (compared to a passenger car), but the BT-50 can be hauled down quickly and securely from highway speeds.
ANCAP rating: 5-stars. This model scored 35.72 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: These include ABS brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, traction and stability control, emergency brake-assist, a brake-override system, load adaptive control, trailer-sway control, roll stability control and hill-launch assist.
There is also an emergency-stop signal.
Driver-and-passenger front airbags are fitted, along with side airbags and curtain airbags that extend as far as the rear seat. Also on the menu is a crushable brake pedal, shock-absorbing steering column and door structure and a honeycomb bonnet structure that minimises pedestrian injury.
A rear-vision camera is optionally available on this model, but it will cost you $820 fitted.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years unlimited kilometres but you can buy an extended warranty that adds another 12 months.
Service costs: Mazda has developed a service regime that for the BT-50 covers 16 services from the first 10,000 km to 160,000km.
Prices range from $395 to $535 plus the cost of items such as filters and brake-fluid replacement.
Mazda points out that if an owner travels on average 13,000km a year, they can service their ute every nine months, but if they clock up fewer than 8000km in the year, a once-a-year-service will suffice.
Base prices excluding maintenance items such as filters, oil and fluids range from $318 to $387.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
During 2015, brands such as Nissan and Mitsubishi released new versions of their ute ranges.
Nissan Navara NP300 ST dual-cab 4x2 automatic – $41,490: With a 2.3 litre diesel producing 140kW and 450Nm – the Nissan is bested by the BT-50 in both power and torque. The claimed combined fuel-consumption figure of 6.8 l/100km however trumps the Mazda’s 8.9 l/100km figure.
The Nissan also has a better ride thanks to its five-link rear-suspension/coil spring set-up. At 3500kg braked towing capability, it matches the BT-50’s figure.
Mitsubishi Triton GLX 4x2 dual-cab automatic – $35,990: Also running a much smaller turbo-diesel engine of 2.4 litres (than the BT-50’s 3.2 litre powerplant), the Triton’s 133kW and 430Nm is not surprisingly lower than the Mazda’s 147kW and 470Nm.
With its class-leading 11.8 metre turning circle, the Triton is more user-friendly around town but its 3100kg towing figure is 400kg down on the BT-50’s. At 7.5 l/100km, the Triton is also more frugal at the diesel pump.
Ford Ranger Double Cab 2.2 litre Hi-Rider automatic – $38,590: The 3.2 litre 4x2 version of the Ford Ranger is the more up-specced XLT model (a full $10k more at $48,690). To find a direct Ranger competitor on price, you’ll have to choose the smaller 2.2 litre diesel Ranger XL Hi-Rider model.
The BT-50 has the Ranger bested on price and on features, but the Ranger rides better and is quieter at lower speeds.
Note: All prices are Manufacturers’ List Price and do not include dealer-delivery and on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Following some concerted prodding from the Australian arm of the company, Mazda Japan has addressed the styling and connectivity issues that Australian buyers were complaining about.
While this is a mid-life refresher rather than a major upgrade, the result is a better BT-50.
The five-cylinder engine and six-speed transmission combination has been carried over, but, other than some down-low vibration and harshness (that could have done with some extra attention), this is one of the best drivetrains in the sector.
There’s no doubt that this hard-working, trusted ute will continue to be a major player in the local market.
This model, the BT-50 4x2 XT, is a nicely rounded product with a stout engine, an equally stout towing capability, and a good feature list.