Car reviews - Mazda - BT-50
Off-road prowess, fuss-free driveline, accurate steering, NVH levels, optional suspension upgrade, frontal styling, second-row accommodation
Room for improvement
Clunky infotainment interface, overtaking performance of 1.9-litre engine, value against rivals, shortage of load bed amenities
We drive Mazda’s updated MY22 BT-50 1.9-litre XS, 3.0-litre SP and XTR variants
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11 Feb 2022
By MATT BROGAN
MAZDA recently updated its popular TF-series BT-50 line-up by adding an Isuzu-sourced 1.9-litre turbo-diesel engine to entry-grade XS variants and a well-equipped SP variant to the upper end of the range.
Additionally, the XTR dual-cab is now available in the cab-chassis body style for the first time.
The MY22 upgrades are modest, but worthwhile. The range now caters to a broader customer base than before, but still appeals to existing agricultural, fleet, trade, and recreational buyers.
Seventeen BT-50 variants are now available with two engine offerings, two transmissions, three body styles, two body configurations, and the choice of two- and four-wheel drive offered across six trim grades. The 1.9-litre mill is paired exclusively with a six-speed automatic transmission.
Prices begin at $33,650 (plus on-road costs) for the newly introduced 1.9-litre turbo-diesel XS single-cab chassis 4x2 and tops out with the 3.0-litre turbo-diesel Thunder dual-cab pick-up 4x4 at $70,990 (+ORCs), which rises $2000 on last year’s sticker price – see New Model article.
The newly added 1.9-litre four-cylinder unit features dual overhead camshafts (DOHC) and a variable geometry turbocharger (VGT) to produce 110kW at 3600rpm and 350Nm between 1800-2600rpm. Combined cycle fuel economy is rated at 6.7L/100km.
Maximum payload for XS variants (powered by the 1.9-litre turbo-diesel motor) is rated at 1380kg with maximum braked towing capacity listed at 3000kg.
The 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel offering remains unchanged. It also features DOHC and VGT to develop 140kW at 3600rpm and 450Nm between 1600-2600rpm. Combined cycle fuel consumption is listed at 7.7L/100km, while the braking towing capacity jumps to 3500kg.
Entry grade XS variants are now offered with the new 1.9-litre turbo-diesel engine and in 4x2 or 4x4 configuration.
Standard equipment includes 17-inch wheels, LED headlights, power windows and -folding wing mirrors, aircon, cloth trim, vinyl flooring, a 7.0-inch infotainment array with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Bluetooth connectivity, DAB+ digital radio, as well as a rear-seat USB outlet.
XS 4x4 derivatives additionally feature a locking rear differential.
Safety kit continues to include a reversing camera, eight airbags, adaptive cruise control (with Stop & Go functionality), AEB with turn assist, attention assist, auto high-beam, blind spot monitor, emergency lane keeping, hill start and descent control, lane-departure warning-prevention and -assist systems, rear cross-traffic alert, and rear parking sensors.
XT variants include all the convenience and safety features listed for XS variants, but in combination with the 3.0-litre turbo-diesel engine.
On the third-tier XTR (and, in addition to those features listed for the XS), we find 18-inch alloys, power-folding wing mirrors, LED front fog lights, auto-levelling LED head- and daytime running lights, side steps, carpeted flooring, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift knob, dual-zone climate control with rear-seat ventilation outlets, an electrochromatic rear-view mirror, keyless entry, native satellite navigation and a larger (9.0-inch) infotainment array.
GT variants feature chrome-capped wing mirrors with heating function, brown leather upholstery, eight-way electric driver’s seat adjustment, front seat heaters, remote engine start (auto only), and front parking sensors.
The newly introduced, and second-from-top SP derivative adds matte black 18-inch alloy wheels, a tub liner, roller tonneau cover, black and driftwood leather upholstery with synthetic suede highlights, gloss black grille, sail-plane sports bar, fender flares, plus colour-coded wing-mirror caps, door- and tailgate handles. The GT variant’s side steps and roof rails are finished in dark grey.
Finally, the top-shelf BT-50 Thunder receives 18-inch black alloy wheels, a black single-hoop bull bar, black alloy sports bar, black side steps, black fender flares, electric roller tonneau, Thunder decals, and a Lightforce 20-inch dual-row lightbar.
By ute standards, the BT-50 is one of the better-looking models in the new-vehicle market. And while it’s Kodo-inspired front-end styling undeniably adheres to Mazda’s design language, it’s also obvious that the rest of the vehicle is indisputably Isuzu… not that it’s a bad thing.
There’s a feeling of solidity to the BT-50 that’s reassuring. It might look like a show pony, but this ute is all workhorse, with generous payload- and braked-towing capacities, a solidly-made – yet surprisingly comfortable – cabin, as well as a fuss-free driveline that makes hours on the road (or off it) pass by almost as easily as it would in a family SUV.
And I guess that’s the whole idea. Driving a ute no longer means being subjected to a clattery diesel soundtrack, a teeth-chattering ride quality and seating comfort akin to a night on the rack. The modern ute’s cabin – of which the BT-50's is a great example – is the antithesis of the “tradie ute” interior we knew and, um, loved… and a thoroughly pleasant place to occupy on journeys.
The MY22 update of the BT-50 is minor, but there are some valuable changes – such as the introduction of the 1.9-litre XS entry model, for example.
Like the remainder of the Mazda ute range, this Isuzu-sourced variant is quiet, easy to drive and altogether pleasant. And while it might feel a little sparsely equipped when viewed against the generous specification of higher-spec BT-50 variants, it genuinely wants for very little.
That’s not to say that the XS is perfect. The 1.9-litre mill is noticeably more vocal than the 3.0 and, obviously, needs to be worked harder to deliver acceleration that could even be construed as perky. But it’s not the “chalk and cheese” performance gap you might expect; save for its highway overtaking ability, the 1.9 is a rather capable and no-nonsense choice for buyers on a budget.
But if you can stretch to it (perhaps you might be able to… after spending that night on the rack), the higher-grade BT-50s are worth the additional outlay. Sure, they’re not as affordable as some larger-engine offerings on the market, but then there’s that considerable plus point of solidity and durability that’s worth keeping back of mind – especially when you’re out back of Bourke.
We sampled the new SP variant through a challenging off-road circuit north-west of Melbourne, but the dusty, shaly and rugged course did not seem to challenge to model’s well-geared driveline and helpful driver aids.
With 240mm of ground clearance and generous approach, break-over and departure angles (30.4, 23.8 and 24.2 degrees respectively), the BT-50 thumbed its nose at every challenge, while the accurate steering and decent articulation made crawling through creek beds and over rocks a relatively straightforward task.
Sure, a little bit of extra wheel travel wouldn’t go astray and, if I was spending my own money, I’d opt for some better (read: all-terrain) rubber. It’s a rather expensive option (about $6700), but I’d also fit the ARB-sourced optional suspension because it transforms this ute into a liveable, SUV-like handler that maintains its mongrel, have-a crack-at-anything edge off-road.
That isn’t to say there aren’t design deficits elsewhere. The BT-50’s infotainment interface is fiddly to the point of distraction and, with many features locked out whilst in motion, can prove challenging to the uninitiated. Ford, Toyota and Mazda touchscreen systems are far more intuitive and simpler to navigate than the Isuzu-based system found in the BT-50, and without the inclusion of Apple CarPlay, the system would almost be a deal-breaker for me personally.
It's also a little disappointing to find such a limited number of load bed amenity items and tie-down points at the back. For a vehicle that’s designed to work, the lack of standard step-up points, anchorages, headboard and cap rails is a considerable oversight – especially when you consider what rivals such as Ford’s next-gen Ranger either offer (or will offer) as standard.
On balance, the BT-50 is a pretty decent ute. It is exceptionally quiet on the open road and handles the rough stuff better than most.
Furthermore, despite offering less power and torque than some in its class, the BT-50 never feels “wanting” for grunt and returned a fuel consumption figure (we managed 8.7 litres per 100km) one could happily live with – even when you’re pushing on a little down your favourite dirt tack.
Let’s just hope the modest changes Mazda that has made to its popular ute are enough to keep it with the rest of the pack when Ford’s all-new Ranger arrives, eh?
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