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Local suspension tune gives BT-50 more bounce

Raptor-rivalling suspension upgrade a sell-out success with BT-50 ute buyers

11 Feb 2022

SINCE the launch of its TF-series BT-50 in 2020, Mazda Australia has offered its own bespoke and locally tuned suspension option developed in conjunction with ARB and Old Man Emu. 


The option pack, which comprises 51mm bypass dampers, revised springs and oversized rubber bushings, endow the BT-50 with adjustable rebound and compression that can be tailored to a driver’s preference and various vehicle applications, while remaining compatible with electronic stability control and emergency braking systems.


Following our drive of the revised MY22 Mazda BT-50 this week, GoAuto took the opportunity to discuss the, um, ups and downs of the ARB BP51 Heavy Duty suspension upgrade package with Mazda Australia senior engineering manager, Wayne Watson, who outlined what the optional package offered over and above the model’s standard suspension setup.


“The standard suspension setup on the BT-50 is tremendous. It must cater for a wide range of payload and towing situations, from zero weight to a tonne in the back, and up to 3500kg on the tow bar, and it does that really well,” Mr Watson said.


“But for specific situations, where customers are carrying a set weight most of the time, we offer two suspension packages that are focused on optimal operation within a specific weight range.


“We offer a 0-300kg and a 300-600kg setup. Now, that doesn’t mean it changes the vehicle’s payload and towing ratings or anything like that, because they’re adjustable, of course. 


“But it narrows down what we refer to as the suspension’s “ideal working window” and allows customers to tune their suspension to the exact position that works best for them, and we think that’s something that’s incredibly worthwhile,” he added.


Mr Watson explained that certain trade and recreational buyers of four-wheel-drive derivatives expressed interest in an optional suspension pack from the get-go. They requested set weight ranges for arrangements where a consistent weight was being carried on the BT-50 on a regular basis – and often into challenging terrain.


He said the package was also proving popular with customers who regularly tow a trailer, boat or caravan, particularly over longer distances where position-sensitive damping and increased end-zone control provided the additional ride comfort and stability dual-cab ute buyers want.


“We were lucky to get the BT-50 really early in the piece, which allowed us to offer the heavy-duty suspension package from launch,” Mr Watson detailed.


“We did about 30,000km of on-road testing during three months over a wide variety of roads and with different loads on board, as well as objective lab-based testing with ARB and Bosch to ensure the overall package offered the feel, performance, and longevity targets we were trying to achieve.


“We wanted to make sure the suspension had a calm and refined feel when the vehicle was unladen, and that it remained predictable and composed when loaded up, and I have to say, we’re really very happy with the end result,” he enthused.


The optional bypass dampers available for the BT-50 are manufactured close to the vehicle’s production site in Thailand on German-made CNC machines. 


Mr Watson said the quality of the product was “second to none” and that the construction and durability of the damper body, valving and fittings was “more than capable” of withstanding virtually anything that demanding Australian operating conditions could demand of it.


“Part of the brief was to make the car as comfortable as possible for buyers with children in the back seat, but as tough as possible for off-road and trade work – and that’s a big spectrum to address. But it’s completely possible with the right design and tuning. In fact, there’s even more tuning available from this suspension than meets the eye,” Mr Watson told GoAuto.


“We give recommended settings, of course, but we’re also able to work with a customer to customise the setup for their specific needs. We can stiffen up the back a little more if they’re towing, for example, and add a little more rebound in the front to reduce pitching. 


“Similarly, if they’re spending a lot of time on the dirt, we can tune the front-end to make the car turn in harder, or you can just make it a lot more comfortable or more drivable, depending on exactly what it is you want to do,” he explained.


The similarities between the BT-50’s heavy-duty suspension and those offered in the Ford Ranger Raptor and now-defunct HSV Colorado SportsCat weren’t lost on Mazda’s senior engineer. 


Mr Watson said the pair had provided some of the inspiration for the optional package, but that the BT-50’s extensive driver assistance and safety systems did place some constraints on what was possible.


“While that is kind of where we wanted to go, we didn’t change the wheel track or anything of that nature, so I guess you could say it’s not as wide-reaching in that respect,” he said.


“But it is extremely capable. I’m something of an off-road enthusiast and I took the opportunity to look at a lot of different suspension providers – including Fox, RockShox and Showa – and while many had impressive off-road racing systems, they weren’t suitable for our application. 


“It would have also been a lot more work and taken a lot more time (from a calibration point of view) if we took that route. We needed to ensure that the safety systems in the BT-50 worked exactly as they did in their factory tune, and with some of those lifted kits that simply wasn’t possible. 


“So, while it’s not an ‘extreme system’, we have still stretched its capabilities as much as we can and kept within the limits of an ‘OE system’,” he said.


The ARB-sourced package upgrades not only the dampers, but all of the BT-50’s suspension componentry to ensure the outcome suits customer expectations and complies with internal and external safety regulations.


“We’ve changed the coil springs at the front, the leaf springs and their greaseable shackle at the rear, the dampers, the bushings, which are now of a Delrin type, so there’s a lot there that has the ability to affect vehicle stability control and emergency braking systems,” Mr Watson continued. 


“We worked with Bosch and another agency to ensure 100 per cent compliance with DSC and ABS systems and, of course, to ensure it’s still ADR compliant. 


“We also put enough lift in the kit that it offered a point of difference, but not so much that it affected things such as the automatic headlight levelling, AEB, adaptive cruise control or other systems. Everything works exactly as it should from the factory,” he affirmed.


Despite the exxy list price of the optional suspension package, Mr Watson said customers were “queueing up” to fit the system to their new utes. 


He said personalisation and customisation of four-wheel-drive utes had become a particularly strong part of the BT-50 business case. The heavy-duty suspension package, optional protection and amenity accessories, and even the top-shelf BT-50 Thunder all prime examples. 


“We have had a much bigger response than we expected. We ran out of stock for a while and had to order more just to keep up with demand,” Mr Watson told GoAuto, adding that the interest in the localised suspension tune had “sparked ideas” for other models in Mazda’s line-up.


“While we recognise that the BT-50 is a very different vehicle to a lot of the other cars in our range, the idea of doing something like that elsewhere is pretty interesting – I mean, I’d love to do it, and I think we would if we were able to,” he grinned.


The Mazda BT-50 suspension upgrade package is available from $6710 fully fitted.


Visit GoAuto again soon for our local launch review of the updated MY22 Mazda BT-50 range.

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11th of January 2022

Mazda BT-50

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