MID-LIFE VEHICLE-UPDATES CAN BE EITHER SLIGHT OR SIZEABLE, AND THE 2016 MAZDA BT-50 DEFINITELY ERRS ON 'SLIGHT'.
The polarising front-end styling of the former model has been tweaked to be more appealing, but there are no major engine nor chassis changes. That said, given the BT-50 consistently places among the class leaders to drive, maybe Mazda is right to rest on its laurels.
Here we’re testing the entry-level 4x2 cab-chassis model, with diesel engine and automatic transmission, priced from under $30,000. It is actually rare in this class to find a diesel/auto combination with a price starting with a ‘2’ in front of it.
So is Mazda’s BT-50 XT 4X2 right in the sweet spot for tradies on a budget?
Vehicle Style: 4X2 Cab/Chassis Ute
Price: $28,815 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 110kW/375Nm 2.2 litre 4cyl turbo-diesel | six-speed automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 8.9 l/100km | tested: 11.2 l/100km
The 4x2 ‘pickup’ segment collectively sold 40,657 units last year, which is less than one-third of the volume of the more expensive 4x4 segment.
For its part, the BT-50 snared an 11.2 percent share of the two-wheel-drive ute class, versus only 6.5 percent of the 4x4 pie.
By contrast, the Ford Ranger, a near-twin to the BT-50, and built in the same Thailand factory, secures 14.2 percent of the 4x2 class and 15.5 percent among 4x4 rivals.
Mazda offers convincing value in 4x2 specification, though, with this XT Hi-Rider 4x2 cab chassis offering a 375Nm 2.2-litre turbo-diesel and six-speed automatic for $28,815 (plus orc). A Ranger in diesel/auto cab chassis specification starts from $33,090 (plus orc).
A HiLux SR cab-chassis is great value at $28,490 (plus orc), but it’s a 343Nm diesel/manual-only proposition with a 2.5-tonne towing capacity.
The 375Nm diesel/auto combo in the Mazda gives it a 3.5 tonne capacity. To get a diesel/auto and 3.0t towing in the Toyota you need to spend $38,990 (plus orc).
Nissan’s new Navara delivers 403Nm from its diesel and is priced from $25,990 (plus orc) – it can tow 3.5t, but it’s manual only. Only the Mitsubishi Triton steals the limelight from the BT-50, offering a 430Nm diesel with a five-speed automatic, though only 2.5t towing, from $27,990 (plus orc).
Best to start thinking about your needs, then, because the BT-50 XT 4x2 starts on the front foot by offering unrivalled towing capacity and auto availability for the price of the manual workhorses from the competition.
- Standard equipment: power windows and mirrors, keyless entry, multi-function trip computer, air-conditioning, cloth seat trim, cruise control
- Infotainment: Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB input, AM/FM radio, CD player and 6 speakers
- Options fitted (if applicable): reverse-view camera ($820)
As with most rivals, the interior of the BT-50 in base form is designed to be ready for the rough-and-tumble of tradie life.
The plastics are hard, but not scratchy and unpleasant. The styling of the centre dashboard is quite upmarket for a simple ute, proving that durability and quality can co-exist.
We would like to see the reverse-camera made standard, especially as a cab chassis can’t legally be sold without the tray attachment anyway, so it’s a perfect time for the dealer to integrate both.
The HiLux SR also proves that a touchscreen with apps connectivity can be standard in a sub-$30k ute.
The seats in the BT-50 are very comfortable, however the steering wheel adjusts only for height, not reach. A Triton, for example, moves the tiller column both ways.
While this Mazda boasts both a large glovebox and centre storage bin, you lose the latter in lieu of a third seat with the manual transmission model, which puts extra pressure on the available storage places (considering its door bins are tiny).
In fact, there are precious few ‘interior smarts’ to win over the tradie juggling tools in the back and with paperwork up front.
There’s no real storage space behind the front seats, to the point where only the back of the passenger seat gets a map holder. Nor are there little nooks, crannies and holders that you see in some rivals.
This XT version starts with keen pricing, but there are no packages available for buyers who may want a few extras such as a leather-wrapped steering wheel, touchscreen with sat-nav, climate control or even just auto on/off headlights (the latter standard even on base Navara).
For those features in 4x2 diesel/auto specification, you need to spend a minimum $43,630 (plus orc) on the five-seat dual-cab XTR that also gets a bigger 3.2-litre engine.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine output and configuration: 110kW/375Nm 2.2 4cyl turbo-diesel
- Transmission type and driveline configuration: six-speed automatic, RWD
- 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
Mazda’s 2.2-litre, with 110kW of power and 375Nm of torque, is far from king of the turbo-diesel hill these days. In the space of 12 months, the 2.4-litre has Triton lobbed with an impressive 133kW/430Nm, as has the 2.3-litre Navara with 120kW/403Nm.
It makes life tough for the BT-50 when you can get the Mitsubishi with an auto for $28k and, if you’re happy to use three pedals, the Nissan for $26k. The latter even matches the Mazda’s 3.5-tonne towing capacity.
There is ample power in the 2.2 litre to ‘get the job done’ out on the highway. It is not as stout as the 3.2 litre (naturally), but, until you load it up, it feels reasonably brisk underfoot. And even with a load, it can keep things moving without huffing and puffing.
This workhorse-spec XT 4x2 also gets a high 1380kg payload and the genuine tray is easy to open and load into. It even gets a handy, lockable side storage box, which goes some way to alleviating the lack of storage inside.
Standard are chubby 70-aspect 16-inch tyres and they help take the edge of the firm suspension typical of the company with a ‘zoom-zoom’ mantra.
Ride comfort is quite good, but not outstanding, although the general jiggliness unladen settles when loaded.
The steering in the BT-50 is an absolute highlight. Although the weighting is a tad heavy around town, it’s beautifully linear and precise, helping this sizeble ute (5.12-metres long, 1.85m wide) shrink around its driver and feel smaller than it is.
No complaints with the disciplined handling, either – this remains one of the best utes to drive.
Even unladen the XT 4x2 weighs 1667kg, which occasionally magnifies the fact that the 2.2 lacks the torque of the 3.2 litre version. The Triton’s 2.4 litre diesel also feels more potent – the BT-50 can feel like it’s ‘panting’ – gathering its breath for a moment – when applying throttle quickly.
The six-speed automatic – mapped to provide the best fuel efficiency figures – can be occasionally indecisive, quickly slurring to taller gears only to then hunt back through the ratio range again. Probably for this reason, the diesel slurped 2.3 litres (per 100 kilometres) more than the official claim.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 34.72 out of 37 possible points
Safety features: Dual front and curtain airbags, ABS and ESC
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
With one generational switch, the Triton and Navara have advanced in leaps and bounds on the BT-50 to drive. If towing capacity isn’t crucial, we’d potentially save $825 and bank on the Mitsubishi with its five-year warranty – versus the Mazda’s three years.
If choosing a manual we’d consider the $26k Navara RX 4x2 or the well-equipped HiLux SR 4x2. The Ranger, meanwhile, looks expensive these days.
- Ford Ranger
- Mitsubishi Triton
- Nissan Navara
- Toyota HiLux
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
For 2016 the Mazda BT-50 still feels fit, if not as fresh as it did a few years back. This particular XT 4x2 specification nails the ‘workhorse’ brief with a huge towing capacity and automatic, all for under $30k.
It’s those strengths that earn it the four-star rating in a segment that values the ability to handle a big job, and ease of driveability.
However, if there were a bit more torque from the engine, a little more compliance from the suspension and a tad more focus on modern infotainment options, it would be a home run for this Mazda – but these are all relatively minor gripes.
With the BT-50 you’re buying an affordable ute that drives well and has the numbers to back it all up.
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