Car reviews - Mazda - BT-50 - XTR 4x4 Dual Cab
Spacious and well-finished cabin, engine performance, direct steering at speed, competent handling, off-road ability
Room for improvement
Engine lacks refinement, cabin lacks features, dated infotainment system, heavy steering at low speeds, stiff ride quality
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29 Apr 2016
Price and equipment
UTE buyers in Australia favour 4x4 dual-cab over the 4x2 single-cab/cab chassis configurations by three-to-one and then some. In the case of the Mazda BT-50 it is closer to an even split, however.
As tested, the BT-50 XTR 4x4 dual-cab costs $51,700 plus on-road costs with a six-speed automatic transmission. Not only is it $3890 cheaper than the equivalent Ranger XLT 4x4 dual-cab that is near-identically specified, but the flagship $53,700 BT-50 GT 4x4 dual-cab with leather trim still undercuts the middle-tier Ford.
Other rivals are more affordable or better equipped than either Mazda or Ford ute, however.
For over $50,000 the BT-50 XTR 4x4 only gets manually adjustable cloth seats and a basic satellite navigation system, and it even lacks auto on/off headlights. Dual-zone climate control integration and a leather-wrapped steering wheel do only a little to lift an otherwise basic cabin.
The cheaper $47,490 Mitsubishi Triton Exceed gets full leather trim with front heating and electric driver’s seat adjustment, while the marginally more expensive $54,490 Nissan Navara ST-X adds an electric sunroof and rear parking sensors over the BT-50 GT to go with its standard leather/electric driver’s seat. Both rivals get keyless auto-entry with push-button start lacking in either BT-50 XTR or GT, and 18-inch rather than 17-inch alloy wheels standard here.
For the price the Mazda offers only average value in the segment.
The BT-50 is a sizeable dual-cab ute, stretching 5365mm from its newly designed grille to its smoked tail-lights and alloy rear bar. The cabin is among the roomiest in the class for five occupants, with comfortable seating for a family all-round.
The front seats are broad and the rear bench is nicely tilted upwards from the base to aid thigh support particularly for longer-legged passengers. A single downside is where the Ranger and Navara now offer rear airvents, the BT-50 does not.
The Mazda’s infotainment system is an aftermarket-installed unit, with dated graphics and below-average usability. It ‘lags’ in operation and misses features such as a digital radio that is standard in Triton Exceed.
Beyond a large glovebox and centre console bin, there are bottle holders in each door and a fold-down armrest for rear passengers.
As with all dual-cab utes, accommodating rear passengers means forgoing some tray length. The BT-50 is available in Freestyle Cab specification, which provides two small rear doors and narrow rear seats for occasional use only.
Where this dual-cab version provides a tray length of 1549mm, the Freestyle Cab stretches 298mm further. It also asks $2025 less in equivalent XTR specification, so it is definitely best to think about how often rear seats will be utilised versus the tray size required.
Engine and transmission
As with the Ranger, the BT-50 packs a big, burly five-cylinder turbo-diesel engine under its bonnet. The 3.2-litre unit produces 147kW of power at 3000rpm and 470Nm of torque from 1750rpm to 2500rpm.
It can be gruff at idle but becomes smoother at speed. Performance is strong, however it can work up a thirst, with claimed combined cycle fuel consumption of 9.2 litres per 100 kilometres blowing out to 14.2L/100km around town and only dipping below 10L/100km following a freeway run.
The six-speed automatic, a $2000 option over the standard six-speed manual, seems tuned as though it expects the engine to work harder than it needs to, often grabbing a lower gear when a taller one would do. It can also be less than fluent with downshifts.
Perhaps it is tuned that way to expect big loads, in which case the engine would need to work harder. The 3.5-tonne towing capacity of the BT-50 equals the Ranger, Navara and middle-tier HiLux SR models and it eclipses the Triton’s 3.1t capacity.
With a payload of 1097kg, however, the Mazda is up there with the heavy-hitting haulers in the class.
Overall the BT-50 does a fine job of moving occupants, tray objects and items perched on its towball.
Ride and handling
Mazda has tuned the BT-50 for a sportier feel than the softer Ranger. The upside is a greater feeling of agility when navigating city streets, or going from worksite to worksite. The downside is jittery, lumpy ride quality that never settles until a large load comes on board.
The standard hydraulically assisted power steering is dreadfully heavy at low speeds around town. In keeping with its dynamic priorities, however, the steering is also direct and connected at speed.
The BT-50 comes with two-wheel-drive high-range (2H), four-wheel-drive high-range (4H) and four-wheel-drive low-range (4L) modes plus a lockable switchable differential for really gnarly off-roading. The 65-aspect 17-inch tyres are also more suitable to bush bashing than some rivals with larger wheel packages.
All the torque from the engine can overwhelm the rear tyres in 2H, particularly in the wet, but switching to 4H expands the turning circle around town and causes the BT-50 to crab – or etch slightly sideways when full steering lock is utilised.
In some respects the Mazda is starting to feel old and unrefined. Equally, however, it is still very capable and one of the most rewarding utes to drive, a rare commodity in a functionally focused class.
Safety and servicing
The BT-50 gets a smart and secure electronic stability control (ESC) system in addition to standard hill descent control and dual front, front-side and full-length curtain airbags. It gets a rearview camera but lacks the parking sensors, autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and blind-spot monitor systems available in Ranger. It has a five-star ANCAP crash safety rating.
Mazda demands annual or 10,000km servicing, where some rivals require annual or 15,000km checks. Over three years the BT-50 will cost $1327 to service, which is about average for the class. However if 40,000km comes up first a further $686 will be required, which makes it less competitive if high mileage is on the cards.
The Mazda BT-50 feels its age more than the Ranger, but it is better value. In this XTR 4x4 dual-cab specification, however, it is not better value than newer contenders such as the Triton Exceed and Navara ST-X.
Quite simply, its equipment level does not justify a $50,000-plus purchase price in an increasingly competitive segment, particularly given its sorely dated infotainment system. Around town in particular the heavy steering and unsettled ride quality makes it less appealing to drive than on the open road, where it comes alive.
If a solid deal can be done, though, the combination of perky performance, a roomy cabin and fine dynamics means the BT-50 hits the big tickets items well and remains a worthy contender in a competitive class.
Ford Ranger XLT from $55,680 plus on-road costs
Expensive, but a more rounded, refined drive than BT-50.
Toyota HiLux SR from $48,490 plus on-road costs
Sales king of the segment drives well, also lacks kit.
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