Car reviews - Mazda - BT-50 - XTR dual-cab pick-up
Comfy seats, smartphone connectivity, cabin storage and space, grunty engine, value for money, off-road prowess, relaxed high-speed ride
Room for improvement
Skittish in the wet, steering is hard work, thirsty engine, cabin noise, poorly located USB port
Mazda’s BT-50 soldiers on with Mitsubishi-baiting value and major multimedia upgrade
25 Mar 2019
AN AUSTRALIA-ONLY cosmetic lift and the introduction of sharper driveaway pricing did not save the Mazda BT-50 from a sales slide in 2018.
It is clear that Mazda got the raw end of the co-development deal with Ford, which is going great guns with the Ranger that shares a chassis, engine and factory with the BT-50.
While Ford has powered ahead with technology, styling, cabin and drivetrain upgrades, Mazda’s less lavish development budget has forced the BT-50 to lag behind not only its Ranger cousin, but numerous newer competitors on numerous measures.
Mazda Australia has tried to butch up the BT-50’s polarising effete aesthetics with a locally designed and fitted new bumper for this update, which also became the brand’s first vehicle to include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity.
Commercially, we’d put money on this being too little too late. But after a week with the BT-50 we reckon it’s still worth a look.
Price and equipment
Mazda asks $48,990 driveaway for a BT-50 XTR as a 4x4 dual-cab pick-up with an automatic transmission, a premium of $6000 over the entry-level XT version with an identical body and drivetrain layout. The flagship GT costs $3000 more than an XTR.
It is possible to opt for a six-speed manual for $2000 less and choosing the 4x2 drivetrain saves a further $8000.
Standard kit in the XTR includes an 8.0-inch touchscreen multimedia system featuring sat-nav with off-road mapping, Bluetooth and smartphone mirroring via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus access to DAB+ digital radio and the reversing camera. Also included are dual-zone climate control, automatic wipers and an auto-dimming rearview mirror, with the former instead of the XT’s single-zone air-con.
A leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear selector help lift the XTR’s interior over the base XT, while it is externally identified via side steps, 17-inch alloy wheels and chrome on the grille and door handles. As with the entry-level XT, there are power windows, cruise control, a trip computer, a, multiple airbags and a range of safety systems – including trailer sway control and hill-descent control.
Flagship GT variants have eight-way power-adjustable power front seats, black leather upholstery, polished alloys (still 17s) power-folding mirrors with integrated turn indicators, rear privacy glass, a chrome sports bar, a tub liner, remote tailgate locking and a 12V smart auxiliary socket that can charge items with the car turned off but shut off when the battery gets low.
Besides a choice of six exterior colours, Mazda serves up an extensive range of practical dealer-fit upgrades such as headlight protectors, seat covers, wind deflectors, a snorkel a dual battery kit that enables owners to run electrical equipment such as camping fridges in the field without draining the BT-50’s engine starter battery.
There is a lot of business as usual in the latest BT-50 cabin, but the new 8.0-inch touchscreen in its gloss black and chrome-rimmed bezel is prominent, to say the least. And the fact this is the first Mazda to feature Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is arguably the biggest news.
Aesthetically this is the best-integrated BT-50 multimedia system yet, with crisp graphics and a modern-looking user interface. The addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto will be welcomed by many, especially as the menu system – and particularly programming the sat-nav – on this Alpine-developed unit is not as intuitive as the bright, chunky graphics suggest.
When installing such a high-quality screen, Mazda missed a trick by not upgrading the reversing camera as well, because the big display now shows how grainy the image from the little lens back there really is. That said, the angle and breadth of the image still provides a good view of obstacles.
But it’s a shame Mazda has located the sole USB port in a cowling atop the dashboard that results in trailing wires when a phone is connected. And the antennae for the DAB+ digital radio and GPS are crudely stuck to the windscreen, which feels more than a bit aftermarket.
The dashboard design is all flowing shapes and inoffensive textures with large featureless expanses of plastic, but with the exception of a few sharp edges dotted about it all feels pretty well put together. There’s no digital speedo and the trip computer is rudimentary.
We found the seats to be among the most comfortable we’ve experienced in the segment and the cabin is genuinely roomy, unlike a Navara or HiLux for example. There’s no Isofix for child seat fitment and Mazda does not install the top tether points at the factory, although threaded bolts in the bulkhead make them easy to fit.
Storage up front is decent with a big glovebox and another small one by the driver’s knee massive dual-tiered bin beneath the (unpadded) centre armrest, a tray in front of the gear selector, a sunglasses holder in the ceiling and the aforementioned cowl with USB port and phone shelf. There are two well-sized centre console cupholders, but the door bins are a bit oddly shaped.
Rear passengers get a fold-down centre armrest with integrated cupholders, and there is a single map pocket plus a pair of small door bins.
Like the Ranger, the BT-50 has a high-sided tray that makes it difficult to load objects from the kerb.
Wind and engine noise levels are pretty high, as is tyre roar at higher speeds – more like a constant whirr – from the 17-inch Dunlops. At part-throttle, the turbo sounds like a distant emergency vehicle siren, which can be a bit disconcerting.
Engine and transmission
The venerable Ford-sourced 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo-diesel lives on under the BT-50 bonnet, churning out 147kW of power and 470Nm of torque.
It’s an enjoyable engine to use and we enjoyed its character immensely. There is plenty of go regardless of driving scenario, power delivery is flexible and it’s a bit of a beast for off-road work.
On that subject, the BT-50 is unusual in that the diff lock can be engaged in both rear-drive and high-range four-wheel-drive modes. Many competitors only allow diff-lock use when in low-range. Switching between these modes was also impressively simple.
The six-speed auto rarely put a foot wrong during our time with the BT-50 and the hearty powerplant was more than capable of overcoming the odd occasion where it held onto a higher gear for longer than we anticipated.
On the official combined cycle, the automatic BT-50 4x4 consumes 10.0 litres per 100km (manual: 9.7L/100km), which is fairly consistent with the low-mid 10s we got during our week-long test. It’s becoming less common for dual-cabs to crack double-digit fuel use these days, and the Mazda is now at the thirstier end of the segment spectrum.
Ride and handling
We doubt anyone will cross-shop the BT-50 against the Ranger, and it is unfair to make a comparison when the development resources poured into the Ford have enabled it to progress in leaps and bounds while Mazda had to make do with incremental updates.
It’s a similar story with the Holden Colorado and Isuzu D-Max, so we can see why Mazda and Isuzu have paired off to establish something closer resembling a partnership of equals to develop their next generation of one-tonners.
But when the current-generation Ranger and BT-50 first emerged they were pretty similar and set a pretty high bar in terms of light-commercial ride and dynamics.
For this reason, the Mazda is still a pretty comfy thing to drive – if not the best – round town and settles into a planted stride at higher speeds, feeling at home on motorways or high-speed sweeping bends. But the obstructively meaty and often vague steering constantly remind the driver that this is an ageing design.
Also, we found the limited wet-weather grip and traction from its noisy Dunlop Grandtrek tyres required us to drive ever-so gingerly in these conditions in order to avoid some fairly skittish, wayward behaviour. It was a similar story under hard braking.
The Nissan Navara we drove in similar conditions absolutely wiped the floor with the Mazda in this regard, while the Mitsubishi Triton has the option of flicking its Super Select dial into all-wheel-drive mode for a bit more low-grip control.
It’s better once the tyres hit dirt and the BT-50 is an accomplished off-roader. The tougher the better, really, as it felt a bit skittish on dirt and gravel tracks at higher speeds when unladen. It’s no worse than rivals with similar characteristics, all of which improve with some load onboard.
Safety and servicing
ANCAP tested the BT-50 in 2011, when it earned a maximum five-star rating and all variants scored 35.72 points out of 37. Every BT-50 comes with front and curtain airbags, as well as ABS, stability control, roll stability control and trailer sway control.
Dual-cabs provide curtain airbags rear occupants, too, along with features such as a reversing camera. There is a locking rear differential on 4x4 versions, which is beneficial off-road.
All Mazdas now have a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, although roadside assistance costs extra.
Mazda suggests that the BT-50 should be serviced every 15,000km or 12 months; basic servicing consists primarily of an inspection and an oil and filter change. The basic servicing cost alternates from $432 to $503 on a yearly basis, as every other year requires a more comprehensive inspection.
Be prepared to intermittently spend more, though. For example, Mazda states the brake fluid needs changing every two years for $65 and the cabin filter costs $61 to replace when the service department deems it has become clogged.
By many measures the BT-50 is off the pace in an extremely competitive segment. We’re sure this is why Mazda has decided to aggressively address the value-packed Mitsubishi Triton with lower, driveaway pricing to go with the BT-50’s already solid equipment list.
Whether the looks are improved is up to you, although to us the front bumper looked a bit close to the ground on a number of occasions while we were off-roading the BT-50. Many people mask their Mazda with a big bullbar, anyway.
The new multimedia system is a useful improvement, not least because of the seamless smartphone integration it offers. If only it was possible to connect the phone somewhere more practical within the cabin.
As our week with the BT-50 wore on, it did grow on us, and our lasting memory of this vehicle was the sheer comfort of its seats, which helped overcome a little round-town ride harshness. So few dual-cab utes get this right.
For people who do a lot of country miles, this seat comfort combined with the effortless engine and absorbent high-speed ride could make the BT-50 all the ute you need – especially as its Ford-based mechanicals have been around a long time and everyone in the bush now knows how to maintain and repair them.
Just be careful in the wet.
Mitsubishi Triton GLS (from $46,990 plus on-road costs)
With sharp driveaway pricing and a five-year warranty, Mazda is clearly now gunning for Mitsubishi’s value-packed, spacious, safe, comfortable and pleasant to drive Triton.
Isuzu D-Max LS-U (from $50,900 plus on-road costs)
A nicer interior and revised suspension have retained the plucky D-Max’s relevance while retaining all the charm of this spacious, honest-to-goodness workhorse. Isuzu regularly offers cracking discounts, which means timing is everything when considering a D-Max.
Nissan Navara ST (from $49,690 plus on-road costs)
The majority of Navara buyers go for the second-from-top ST, which has a decent amount of standard kit and, courtesy of Series III updates, rides and handles exceptionally well come rain, sun or harsh terrain. But the cabin is impractical for family buyers.
Toyota Hilux SR (from $48,640 plus on-road costs)
Feels pretty basic inside compared with rivals, and its stripped-out interior could be from a different vehicle to the more expensive Hilux SR5. Off-road credibility is assured, but the HiLux is less impressive on-road or when from a passenger’s point of view.
Ford Ranger XLS (from $51,390 plus on-road costs)
Like Toyota, Ford is not shy when it comes to charging top dollar for its successful dual-cab. By many measures the Ranger is better than the related BT-50 it shares so much with under the skin, but you pay for this in ubiquity and inferior value-for-money.
Model release date: 1 April 2018
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