Car reviews - Mazda - BT-50
Improved front-end styling, earnest diesel performance, quiet engine when cruising, ample variant choice, strong driveaway pricing
Room for improvement
Headlight styling still divisive, firm ride when unladen, bumper redesign for naught if bullbar is optioned, struggles for point of difference against rivals
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27 Apr 2018
THE one-tonne pick-up market is one of the most competitive segments and shows no sign of slowing down following increasing sales over the past decade in Australia.
Despite already having a mid-life update in 2015, Mazda has given the BT-50 pick-up its second refresh since launching in 2011, this time with some light styling changes and equipment upgrades.
Despite not being one of the bigger volume sellers in the class, Mazda is hoping the update can secure about 15,000 total annual sales for the BT-50, which would give it its best-ever sales figure, trumping the 14,504 recorded in 2016.
The update includes a new front bumper and grille and the inclusion of extra kit inside, while under the skin the same Ford Ranger-related underpinnings remain.
Is a light cosmetic update enough to spur the BT-50 beyond 15,000 yearly sales for the first time?
Mazda’s latest BT-50 update has been carried out in order to keep the ageing model fresh against its rivals, before the all-new, Isuzu D-Max-based version arrives sometime around the turn of the decade.
With ample choice in the segment, car-makers need to be able to offer a product that is equal parts capable, reliable and well-specified, and Mazda has focused on improving the latter with the BT-50 refresh.
Three model grades are offered on the BT-50 – XT, XTR and GT – and all feature generous standard specification when compared to rivals.
As part of the update, the BT-50 will become the first Mazda model to feature Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, projected onto an 8.0-inch Alpine head unit on XTR and GT, and as of now, a 7.0-inch unit in the XT.
Offering the technology on all variants is a boon for tradies who spend hours a day in their vehicle, with all variants from the entry-level 4x2 offering the tech as standard.
Another positive is the inclusion of a reversing camera on all variants, whether pick-up of cab-chassis body style. The camera can also be fitted on aftermarket trays.
While the new multimedia features are great additions, the Alpine head unit itself is sub-par in terms of usability and ergonomics, and feels out of place and a bit cheap.
Mazda’s MZD Connect system, featured on the rest of its models, is a quality infotainment system and would do well on the BT-50.
Otherwise, the BT-50’s interior is fairly standard when compared to rivals, but offers good noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels particularly when cruising, as the noise from the 3.2-litre turbo-diesel engine is masked well at low revs.
The wheelarches could do with better noise insulation as rocks and dirt flicked up by the wheels cause a sharp, ringing noise, but external noise is otherwise dealt with well.
Given the cost of the BT-50 range, which has now gone to driveaway pricing, equipment and comfort levels are generous across its three model grades.
However, we did not get any time behind the wheel of the entry-level XT model grade.
No mechanical changes have been made in the update, meaning all 4x4 versions are still powered by a 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo-diesel engine producing 147kW at 3000rpm and 470Nm between 1750-2500rpm. Entry-level 4x2 versions also use a 110kW/375Nm 2.2-litre four-cylinder oil-burner.
The same engines underpinning the mechanically related Ford Ranger, the BT-50’s five-cylinder mill generally offers strong performance with a solid punch of torque through a considerable chunk of the rev band, allowing for plentiful pulling power through the gears.
At the top of the rev band the engine tends to run out of puff, however smart gear shifts eliminate the need to get to that point.
Mazda offers either a six-speed automatic or manual transmission on the BT-50, however we only experienced the automatic.
The auto shifts smoothly on tarmac, dealing with the car’s torque well, however off road it is less instinctive, sometimes shifting when holding gears would be more appropriate, leading to jerky power delivery. Given the auto comes with a manual mode, this can be quickly dealt with.
The BT-50’s off-road capability is generally strong, but in high range, its traction control system can be intrusive on low-traction surfaces, such as the sandy hill climb on our drive route.
Otherwise the BT-50 is a capable vehicle, with generous ground clearance, low range gearing and a rear differential lock as standard on 4xx4 variants.
A problem often encountered with leaf-sprung pick-ups is a stiff and bouncy ride when unladen, and the BT-50 is no exception.
On rough surfaces such as rutted roads, the ride quality is particularly jarring, with bone-rattling vibrations that become particularly tiresome before long. The ride quality would settle far better with a load of a few hundred kilograms in the rear tray.
On-road ride comfort is much better, particularly at high speeds where road imperfections can be smoothed over. Handling is what you expect from a 4x4 one-tonne ute, with considerable bodyroll and a lack of dynamic capabilities.
While traction control is overzealous when off-roading, it works well on unsealed roads, with any over or understeer quickly and smartly corrected to keep the BT-50’s nose pointed forward.
Although the update is minor, the changes to the BT-50 range should be enough to tide it over until the Isuzu D-Max-based new-generation model arrives in a couple of years.
We would have liked to see more comprehensive changes to give the BT-50 a greater point of difference against its rivals, however the changes that have been made are mostly positive.
The new bumper and grille give it a tougher look as befitting a ute, and the inclusions of a reversing camera and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto across the range undoubtedly give the BT-50 greater universal appeal.
We still think its overall styling falls behind most of its rivals that favour a more boxy design, and the ride quality suffers when the tray is empty. Almost all utes suffer from this problem, however.
If incremental growth is what Mazda is chasing with the BT-50, then the update should help it do just that.
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