If there was one thing the solid and capable but unsuccessful BT-50 had going against it was its attempted car-like looks. Too soft and out of place against a hoard of tough utes, Mazda’s previous update didn’t do a lot to change that.
But take a look at this 2018 model and there are subtle but prudent changes upfront – prudent if you ask the large percentage of buyers that have been overlooking this well-rounded ute for Ford Ranger and Toyota Hilux alternatives.
Gone are some of the softer lines and SUV-like appearance for a more tough-truck look and boxier jawline. While not a comprehensive design change, its subtilties are noticeable and important.
Vehicle Style: Utility
Engine/trans: 147kW/470Nm 3.2 litre 5cyl turbo-diesel | 6sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 7.6-9.2 l/100km
Now in its seventh year since introduction, the second-generation ute is hoping to pick up sales since sliding over the past 12 months. It’s been a hard slog for a ute co-developed on the same underpinnings as the far more successful Ford Ranger, but the latest program initiated by Mazda’s local arm in defiance of the mainly untouched global update brings a tougher looking ute with better appeal than before.
Parked side-by-side in the middle of South Australia’s Gawler Ranges, where we’re putting this update through its paces, the squared-off face and enlarged fog lamps on a tougher looking front bar are more striking. Fitting within almost the exact dimensions of the existing bumper the local engineering and design team has done well to transform what they had to work with.
Along with the new bar that’s produced by Queensland-based OEM and aftermarket supplier EGR, the grille has been re-designed with slated chrome or black fins depending on grade, but the bulging headlights and matching taillights couldn’t be changed.
However, the range adds extra kit including better safety, with the addition of a 7.0-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and a reversing camera as standard on every model. That makes the BT-50 the only ute in Australia to come with a reversing camera on every variant, and compatible on cab chassis models with most aftermarket trays.
Top-spec GT models also gain a chrome sports bar with integrated brake light, central locking including the tailgate, and a heavy-duty tub liner with 12v port and led light for illumination in the dark.
The dual-cab range on test starts from $35,990 driveaway for the entry-model XT in 4x2 configuration and goes up to $51,990 drive-away for the 4x4 GT which adds leather interior trim, electric-adjustable seats, dual-zone climate control and chrome grille along with the latest sports bar and tub liner additions.
- 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
Inside, the BT-50 looks familiar except for base models that gain a new infotainment system. The addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto will bolster appeal to tradies and work use where the ease of connectivity and services such as Siri and Google Assistant are better integrated.
While the infotainment system is aftermarket and looks as much with an array of buttons along the bottom that aren’t consistent with the rest of the interior, Alpine’s HiFi cleverness helps with pre-set equalisation settings that boosts fidelity of the standard four-speaker sound system.
Mazda says it’s mulling over if CarPlay will be made available for older models but there are no plans yet to retrofit the technology.
Unfortunately, there’s only one USB port mounted annoyingly above the headunit, though a non-slip tray helps keep the phone from bouncing off. An additional charging port or two in the big centre console storage bin would be handy for the inevitable addition of kids or tradies needing a battery boost – though two 12v ports are there.
Elsewhere the design is simple but practical. Fabric cloth seats in XT and XTR grades are comfortable and resistant to clogging with dirt, while the GT adds leather trim that isn’t slippery but has a nicer feel than entry models.
Space is also well proportioned upfront and there’s plenty of breathing room between the front pews while the rear bench has enough legroom for carting a couple of adults or kids, though three-across would feel a bit too comfy despite being one of the most spacious cabs in its segment.
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 says it hasn’t added any extra sound dampening in this update but over coarse chip bitumen, gravel and rutted rocks the cabin seemed quieter than before. There’s plenty of clatter from the smooth 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo diesel though when higher in the revs.
Developing 147kW at 3000rpm and 470Nm from 1750-2500rpm the BT-50 affords a 3500kg braked towing capacity in both 4x2 and 4x4 variants that tops most rivals, while the latter also gains an electronic rear diff lock which helped ease our way over a corridor of sand dunes protecting the Gawler Ranges.
Faced with a mix of varied surfaces to drive on the BT-50 was easy to manoeuvre but low tyre pressures set for our off-road adventure disguised some of the harder bumps and a tendency to jump over corrugations when unladen. But the trade-off is a proper one-tonne ute payload of 1082kg that pips most of the competition, and on urban roads the BT-50 has an easy car-like drivability even if its turning-circle is less than ideal.
The hydraulic steering is also direct and accurate with a good weight when travelling fast but not so heavy that slow-speed movements are a pain.
While we didn’t get to test it, the latest update carries over the same boat-like 800mm wading depth and 237mm ground clearance, rounding out versatile off-road performance off the shelf.
In a sign of confidence and giving some savings to owners, Mazda has increased service intervals by 5000km to every 15,000km or 12 months, whichever comes first, saving customers that on average clock over 25,000km a year almost $2000 over five years.
ANCAP rating: 5-stars - this model scored 34.72 out of 37 possible points
Safety features: Dual front, side and curtain airbags, ABS and ESC, hill descent control, reverse-view camera, trailer sway control, and a host of dynamic safety features.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Where the BT-50 mirrors many of the popular Ranger’s characteristics it misses out on some of the latest raft of safety features (thought the addition of a reversing camera on cab chassis models is commendable), offering basic aids such as electronic stability control and ABS that were ANCAP five star at the begging of the decade but not now.
It’s a similar fate suffered by most utes in the segment that are transitioning from hard-core work horse to a blend of expectations for work, family and play. For the BT-50, its on and off-road abilities are already well catered for, and the new face with better in-car connectivity should provide less reason to look away.
- Interested in buying Mazda BT-50? Visit our Mazda showroom for more information.