When the current generation Mazda BT-50 first debuted in 2011 it stirred controversy for its softer styling, abandoning the boxy looks over every BT-50 and Bravo that came before it for something more like the then-current smiley-faced Mazda3.
An update in 2016 did little to fix the situation, but despite little more than a new grille and reworked headlights the current BT-50 manages to look less polarising. Inside, there's new tech by way of a touchscreen infotainment system including off-road navigation that also helps keep things fresh.
Under the skin, the BT-50 shares its underpinnings with the Ford Ranger. However where the Ranger got a thorough mid-life refresh including revised fuel system, turbocharger, and suspension, the Mazda did not, sticking with its pre-update specification.
Vehicle Style: 4x4 dual cab ute
Price: $51,700 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 147kW/470Nm 3.2 litre 5cyl turbo diesel | 6sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 10.0 l/100km | Tested: 10.4 l/100km
Australian new car sales are proving that large cars aren’t out of fashion at all, but that Aussies are instead moving away from sedans and wagons into SUVs and dual cab utes en masse.
That’s good news for the automakers that already have a suitable vehicle in their range. But the new family car battle ground competition in the segment is fiercer than ever, with buyers not just looking for the cheapest or toughest ute any more but balancing comfort, reliability, features, and price.
That’s where the Mazda BT-50 XTR holds strong appeal as it’s specified better than the basic XT and offers one of the strongest engines in its segment.
- Standard Equipment: Cloth seat trim, height adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support, dual-zone climate control, carpet flooring, leather-clad steering wheel and gear selector, trip computer, auto headlights, 17-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 7.8-inch touchscreen, satellite navigation including off-road maps, CD player, AM/FM radio, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, six-speaker audio
- Accessories Fitted: Boss Sports Pack (hard tonneau cover, alloy bullbar, Lightforce driving lights, polished sports bar, 17-inch 5-spoke alloy wheels) $9622
- Load Area Dimensions: 1549mm long, 1560mm wide, 513mm deep, 1139mm between wheel arches
Mazda keeps the BT-50 range a little more simple than the multi-variant Ford Ranger, or Holden Colorado ranges, with just three choices: worker-spec XT, mid-grade XTR (tested here) or the luxed-up GT.
That sees the XTR come with cloth seat trim, full floor carpeting, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and dual-zone climate control making it a little more bearable than your average rough-and-tumble ute.
Mazda also includes a 7.8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with satellite navigation, including Hema off-road maps but the head-unit installed looks more like something from the aftermarket and the screen easily washes out in summer sunshine making it hard to use.
The BT-50’s system isn’t the same as that used in Mazda’s passenger car range which tends to rank highly for ease of use.
Compared to the Holden Colorado LT and Ford Ranger XLS, both of which are within cooee on price, the BT-50 also misses out on rear park sensors but it does have a rear view camera (although where Holden and Ford display their image in the centre screen, Mazda uses a tiny display in the rear view mirror).
Mazda also installs auto wipers and dual-zone climate control where the others don’t. Butr the Mazda feels a little off the pace in terms of interior fit, finish and quality feeling more like the cheaper Mitsubishi Triton inside.
Interior space is hardly a problem though, with broad dimensions for both front and rear seats and enough room across the rear bench to pile in three adults in a seat that is neither too hard nor too upright and hides a pair of handy storage bins beneath it.
The added tough-guy appeal of the Boss Sports accessory kit deserves a mention too, with the alloy bull bar, rear sports bar, alloy wheels, driving lights and hard cargo lid coming as part of a dress-up package (or individually if you’d prefer) for a not unsubstantial $9622 fitted. That’s a decent fistfull of change, though still competitive alongside individual aftermarket accessories and covered by Mazda’s warranty
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 147kW/470Nm 3.2 litre in-line five-cylinder turbo diesel
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic, dual-range four wheel drive
- Suspension: Double wishbone front, rigid rear axle with leaf springs
- Brakes: 302mm ventilated front discs, 295mm rear drums
- Steering: Hydraulic power steering, 124m turning circle
- Towing Capacity: 3500kg braked, 750kg unbraked
Despite a very close relationship in terms of engine, transmission, and chassis hardware with the Ford Ranger, the BT-50 differs in some key areas though crucially not in engine output where the BT-50 delivers the same 147kW and 470Nm from its 3.2 litre five-cylinder engine.
Up until the recent arrival of the V6-powered Volkswagen Amarok that made it the largest engine in its class, though the 2.8 litre four-cylinder Holden Colorado matches it for power while adding an extra 30Nm on top.
Somewhat crucially for a vehicle that could see long hours spent behind the wheel the BT-50 is surprisingly decent in terms of refinement. Particularly at idle and cruising speeds, when there’s little shake-through from the engine to the cabin.
There’s still a few occasions where the engine can get raucous - loaded up with a decent payload and punted about at part throttle, likely to be a work ute’s staple, seems to generate the worst of it - but then the five-cylinder engine is more polite than most of its four-cylinder competitors, even putting its own four-cylinder versions (available in 4x2 variants) to shame.
Hooked up to a six-speed automatic, the BT-50 XTR adds $2000 over the available six-speed manual, and becomes a much easier and smoother vehicle to drive as a result, though from time to time the gearbox would throw in a rough gear change during our testing period.
With load carrying in mind, and a payload of 1095kg, ride in the BT-50 XTR is expectedly firm when unladen. Add some ballast to the tray, be it in the form of tools, landscape materials, or dirt bikes and the BT-50 rides out bumps and dips free bucking and shuddering.
A mild trip off road revealed more than enough torque for light-duty bush bashing and low range selection that’s as quick and easy as turning a knob in the centre console. For more rugged going a dash-mounted switch can engage the standard rear diff lock too.
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
Mitsubishi plays a tough pricing game that’s almost impossible to beat with the top of the range Triton Exceed undercutting low to mid grade variants of almost every other ute. However a five-speed auto, lower engine outputs and 3100kg towing limit explain the lower price.
The Ford Ranger shares its basic underpinnings with the BT-50 and Ford’s extensive localisation program and ongoing improvements make the Ranger a more advanced pickup, although that can come at a price, with XLS variants arriving relatively bare and XLT grade utes jumping up to next-level pricing.
An update in 2016 addressed many of the Colorado’s weaknesses with everything from refinement, to handling, to build quality overhauled. A higher quality interior and smart infotainment are new, but the powerful diesel and 3500kg towing capacity remain.
If family comfort takes precedence over workhorse toughness the Nissan Navara (the only ute with rear coil springs in its class) might be just the thing. Still able to take on a work site or weekend in the bush, but with an extra layer of car-like comfort.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The 4x4 market is a tough nut to crack in Australia and at the conclusion of 2016 the BT-50 4x4 range sold only a third of the volumes of the best-selling HiLux and runner-up Ranger, and was also beaten by Triton, Navara, Colorado and even the Isuzu D-Max in the sales race.
But that figure doesn’t reflect any fundamental failing of the ute itself. It needs a few touches to bring it up to modern standards like a proper reversing camera for safety’s sake but at its core the BT-50 is a good 4x4 and a decent fit for Aussie families.
The controversial styling could be enough to keep potential buyers at bay, but drive a hard bargain with your local dealer on the Boss Sports accessory pack and the BT-50 starts to make better financial sense for a ute that’s just as good as its competitive set.
MORE: Mazda News and Reviews
VISIT THE SHOWROOM: Mazda BT-50 - Prices, Features, and Specifications