Car reviews - Mazda - BT-50 - XTR 4x4 Dual Cab
Styling, decent unladen ride and handling, smooth transmission, light steering, subtle driver aids, second-row room
Room for improvement
Value, clunky infotainment system, highway terrain tyres, no on-the-move access to driver aids
Mazda’s new D-Max-based BT-50 goes after HiLux and Ranger with a vengeance
21 Apr 2021
MAZDA jumped ship when it came to developing its new BT-50 4x4 pick-up truck, opting out of its partnership with Ford in favour of a new one with Japanese compatriot Isuzu Ute and the results speak for themselves; nothing on the new model is the same as before.
Whereas the old BT-50 was essentially a reskinned Ford Ranger, the new one is based on the latest-generation Isuzu D-Max with an all-new platform, engine, transmission, interior and 4x4 system – everything is different apart from the name.
The XTR is the mid-range offering in the new BT-50 line-up, costing $54,710 plus on-road costs in manual form and $57,210 when specced with an automatic.
We spent some time in the latter option to see how this new-generation stacks up against the current crop of off-road utes.
Save for the fancy new Kodo front end, it isn’t hard to spot the family resemblance between the BT-50 and its D-Max twin – the front wings, overall cab shape, tub and proportions are all identical.
To our eye at least, the BT-50’s unique front end lends itself to a more mature look than the comparatively lairy D-Max, almost as if Mazda is targeting a slightly different audience to Isuzu.
Styling is of course subjective and we think both utes are handsome in their own right; the BT-50 in a smart and sophisticated way and the D-Max in a rough and ready way.
It’s a similar story inside the cabin too where we find essentially the same interior but with a few small differences, most of which point to the BT-50 trying to be a little more upmarket.
Examples include masking the D-Max’s hard plastic, tradie-friendly dash with softer-touch leather trim, omitting the practical dash-top storage compartment (LS-U and X-Terrain) and replacing the simple but effective pop-out cupholders with bigger air-conditioning vents.
The rest of the interior is pretty well identical to that of the D-Max in being logically laid out and ergonomic to use.
As a mid-range offering, the XTR’s standard equipment list certainly isn’t bad for the segment – 18-inch alloy wheels, black cloth seat upholstery, power windows, power-folding exterior mirrors, self-levelling LED headlights, LED fog lamps, side steps, LED daytime running lights, dual-zone climate control, 9.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, Bluetooth, DAB+ digital radio, satellite navigation, reversing camera, cruise control (adaptive on automatics), leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear knob, auto-dimming rearview mirror, rear centre armrest and keyless entry – however we couldn’t help but feel short-changed by the lack of power adjustment for the driver’s seat.
The seats themselves are comfortable and reasonably supportive for a pick-up truck while the tilt-and-reach adjustable steering column allows for the vast majority of drivers to get comfortable behind the wheel.
As one would expect for a 4x4 ute, the driving position is tall and commanding with good all-round visibility while head and legroom in the second row is also commendable.
If we have one major complaint with the cabin though, it’s the lack of any shortcut buttons to get into the driver assist settings.
Unlike other utes which have a dedicated button on the steering wheel or dash, the BT-50’s lane keep assist controls can only be accessed via a sub-menu in the driver’s display which itself can only be accessed when the vehicle is stationary, meaning on-the-fly activation/deactivation is impossible.
The display and menu themselves also feel a little last-generation compared to some of the other systems out there in not being as crisp to look at or operate, with similar criticisms aimed at the infotainment system which while intuitive enough to operate, lacks the polish of Ford’s Sync3 system or that of the Toyota HiLux.
There is nothing wrong with the driving experience however which well and truly takes the fight to the segment leaders.
Under the bonnet of all BT-50s is a turbocharged 3.0-litre four-cylinder diesel engine developing 140kW/450Nm which, despite being down around 10kW/50Nm on some competitors, never feels wanting for performance and goes about its business in a calm and fuss-free manner, pulling strongly from low in the rev range.
It isn’t necessarily the quietest or smoothest mill on the market, but it’s perfectly fine for this type of vehicle and comes with a proven track record of reliability.
Paired to the lazy powerplant is a slick-shifting six-speed automatic which is almost impossible to catch napping both around town and on the open road, however it does have a propensity to change down unnecessarily when accelerating up from one speed zone to another, even under the slightest amount of throttle.
Even so, we recorded a combined fuel consumption figure of 8.3 litres per 100km during our time with the car which included an entire morning of light off-roading in the hills and plenty of runs to and from the shops as WA’s snap five-day lockdown loomed.
For reference, Mazda quotes a combined figure of between 7.7-8.0L/100km across the entire BT-50 range.
Noise, vibration and harshness levels were all good for the segment with the road and wind noise suppression being particularly commendable for what is ultimately a work ute.
Speaking of work, ride comfort has always been the Achilles heel for load-lugging workhorses and their upmarket derivatives; something of a necessary evil in order to achieve the industry standard 1000kg payload capacity.
The BT-50 is no exception here with an ultimately jiggly unladen ride but it’s by no means lacklustre compared to its rivals – the hard-riding Toyota HiLux springs to mind here in particular.
Much like the ride, the steering also strikes a nice middle ground between useable and utilitarian, offering plenty of lock at slow speeds and just enough feel at higher speeds to know what the front wheels are doing.
Thanks to its electronic-power assistance, the weight remains light in all environments, especially around town where plenty of wheel work can be needed to squeeze in and out of parking bays and the likes.
Unlike some other high-riding utes, the handling of the BT-50 won’t scare you half to death if you misjudge your corner speed.
Steering turn-in is good for a vehicle of this kind while the body control is surprisingly polished, so much so we think it actually outperforms a lot of large SUVs in the bends, especially the ute-based ones.
With 240mm of ground clearance, approach, rampover and departure angles of 30.4, 23.8 and 24.2 degrees respectively as well as a low-range transfer case and a wading depth of 800mm, it should come as no surprise to find the BT-50 is capable off-road.
We took the BT-50 along the same stretch of rutted-out powerline track that we took a HiLux SR5+ along late last year and while far from the most technical stretch of trail out there, it was enough to gauge the BT-50’s key strengths and weaknesses.
Compared to the HiLux, the Mazda seems to be lacking ever so slightly on suspension travel – though it beats the Toyota for ground clearance – and can be found reaching for the ground a little sooner, opening the door for wasteful wheelspin.
Some of that wheelspin however can be attributed to the Bridgestone Dueller H/T tyres fitted as standard – coincidently the same ones fitted to the HiLux – which are arguably the car’s biggest weakness off-road as they break traction quite easily, even in the dry.
As a general rule of thumb, we would love to see more manufacturers spec meatier A/T tyres to their off-roaders as standard or even as no-cost option so those intending to go bush regularly can do so right out of the box with less hang-ups when things get dirty.
Overall though we’re thoroughly impressed with the new BT-50.
It has great on-road manners for a ute, a comfortable cabin and plenty of off-road capability with only a few minor shortcomings, none of which should be deal breakers.
If it was our money, we’d spend the extra $2780 and step up to the flagship GT automatic over the XTR and enjoy the extra creature comforts with all of the same capabilities.
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