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Car reviews - Mazda - BT-50 - range

Our Opinion

We like
Solid, reliable pick-up with a dash of individuality
Room for improvement
Ride hasn’t kept up with that of key competitors

Mazda logo25 Sep 2015

By TIM ROBSON

AS MORE and more Aussie families eschew the traditional sedan in favour of something with a bit more size, or hanker after something with a bit of driveway presence, the 4x4 dual-cab ute has come into its own as a viable alternative.

At its heart, though, the 4x4 ute isn’t exactly the perfect beast for the cut n’ thrust of the school run or the work commute. Sheer size, relaxed steering, awkward ergonomics and chuggy diesels can take the shine off the ownership process.

The main protagonists in the local marketplace have all responded to the change in buying habits in different ways. Nissan, for example, has significantly softened the ride of its new Navara, while Mitsubishi has bet the farm on a quieter, smoother, cleaner diesel engine for its Triton.

Toyota, meanwhile, will throw everything at the all-new HiLux that launches this week, including a more refined diesel, new transmissions and improved noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels.

Ford, too, has invested a lot of time and effort into the Ranger – a vehicle that is a blood relative of the BT-50. Electric steering, enhanced electronics and revised transmissions were rolled out across the line earlier in 2015.

Which makes Mazda’s decision to do next to nothing to its four-year-old BT-50 a little out of step with its main rivals for the hearts and minds of Aussie ute buyers…Aside from a minor rearrangement of the grille, new surrounds for the headlights, new alloys and a new tint and surrounds for the tail-lights, the exterior of the BT-50 – lambasted in some quarters of the media when it launched four years ago – remains unchanged.

Likewise, the interior remains largely as is, aside from the fitment of a new, larger and more featured infotainment screen.

There have been slight price rises across the range, but the key take-out is that the brand’s top-spec dual cab 4x4 ute, the GT at $53,790 (plus on-road costs) is some $4000 cheaper than the brand new, similarly-equipped Toyota HiLux XR5+ and more than $6000 less expensive than the top-spec Ranger.

Mitsubishi’s 2.4-litre Exceed 4x4 dual-cab comes in at $47,490, while the 2.3-litre Navara NP300 ST-X is $51,900. Both prices are before on-road costs.

Powered by a 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo diesel that grunts out 147kW and 470Nm, the BT-50 matches the Ranger and trumps the HiLux by 17kW and 20Nm. Fuel economy-wise, the GT matches the Ranger at 9.2 litres per 100 kilometres, while the HiLux claims 9.0L/100km (all figures are for auto variants).

The GT now gets a reversing camera as standard, while its new navigation system can be optioned with HEMA topographical maps that are preferred by off-roaders.

It’s a familiar experience driving the BT-50 on the road too familiar, perhaps. While both the Navara and the Triton have taken large steps down the road of ride comfort, the BT-50 hasn’t followed suit.

Without any cargo in the rear tray, the stiffly sprung rear end of the BT-50 translates into a bobbly ride for its occupants. A suite of electronic chassis controls keeps everything in line, but stiffly-sprung utes and wet roads can make for poor bedfellows.

The 3.2-litre diesel engine is tractable and strong, but has been left behind by the new four-potters from Mitsubishi and Toyota in terms of refinement.

Similarly, while refinements to the six-speed manual’s shift action have paid dividends, the auto can hunt and peck for a ratio on the odd occasion.

The front seats are broad and comfortable, but there is only height adjustment for the steering wheel. The new infotainment screen in clever and highly featured, but tiny icons on the screen make for the occasional miss-press.

Offered the chance to go offroad, the BT-50 is handy device in the loose, with hill descent control and low-range 4WD just a button and a dial away. Again, the stiff spring set does it no favours for ride, but 100kg or so of payload in the rear would settle things down markedly.

So it’s steady as she goes for the BT-50. It now has a pronounced price advantage over the Ranger – though with an arguably lesser mechanical specification – and to paraphrase the old saying, it wasn’t really broken.

The competition has moved on quite significantly, though, and Mazda will to be confident that its old warhorse can continue to take it to the new bucks.

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