Utes have taken the Australian market by storm, with three of the top 10 selling vehicles
now dual-cab utilities.

Unfortunately for Mazda the BT-50 is not one of them, although in an embarrassing twist
the donor Isuzu D-Max is – and therein lies the problem.

Enter stage left the bigger, bolder and blacker BT-50 Thunder, a special edition designed
right here, with parts manufactured here and available to buy only here.

Thunder is geared with one object in mind, to attract attention — and hopefully dollars.

Based on the $56,990 GT model, Thunder is available with a six-speed manual or
automatic transmission, priced from $65,990 plus on-roads – an auto adds $3000.

That’s still 10 grand cheaper than Ford’s Ranger Raptor, but Raptor features a different
powertrain, wider track suspension and beefier rubber.

Think black.

It’s not the first time Mazda has released a ‘bolder” BT, but this is a much better, more
convincing effort.

Thunder opens its card with a prominent front-end treatment that includes a single hoop
steel bull bar that integrates a new bumper and Lightforce dual-row LED light bar.

There’s also black 18-inch alloys, black wide fender flares, black side steps, and black
exhaust extension, along with a premium sports bar and electric roller tonneau — both in
black too.

All-up Mazda says the additional kit adds more than $13,000 in value, but for just $9000
more than GT (since then Mazda has slotted the SP between them).

Thunder is available in Ice White, True Black Mica, Ingot Silver Metallic, Concrete Grey
Mica, Gun Blue Mica, Rock Grey Mica and Red Volcano Mica – all at no extra cost.

Standard kit includes leather, dual zone climate air, LED headlights and daytime runners,
auto lights and wipers, auto dimming rear view mirror, heated front seats, eight-way power
adjust driver’s seat, front and rear parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, automatic high
beam, traffic sign recognition and walk away automatic locking.

Infotainment comprises a 9.0-inch touchscreen and eight-speaker audio system with
satnav, Bluetooth streaming, AM/FM and DAB+ digital radio, Android Auto and Wireless
Apple CarPlay – plus single USB and 12V outlets.

One of the speakers is mounted in the roof headlining, while a 6 x 9 woofer delivers
powerful bass response. Two-way dome tweeters emit clear mid- to high-range sounds.
Dash-mounted and rear door ‘balanced dome’ tweeters use a voice coil and dome-shaped
diaphragm to create impressive depth.

Unlike other Mazdas, the infotainment screen is touch sensitive, with no central control
knob — but no physical volume control.

Thunder is powered by a 3.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine that generates 140kW
of power and 450Nm of torque — the latter between 1600 and 2600 rpm.

It replaces the previous 3.2-litre five-cylinder unit that was good for 147kW and 470Nm,
with torque available from 1750 revs.

The new power plant features an aluminium-alloy head and cast-iron engine block, chain-
driven double overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, drive-by-wire throttle control
and a Variable Geometry System turbocharger.

Two-wheel drive models all get a 6-speed auto, while the 4×4 version is available with a
choice of 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic.

The driver can change gears manually using the shifter in the auto, but the familiar
steering wheel-mounted change paddles are absent.

A five-star safety package includes eight airbags, reverse camera and Autonomous
Emergency Braking.

There’s also Attention Assist, Blind Spot Monitor, Emergency Lane Keeping Assist –
Overtaking, Emergency Stop Signal, Automatic High Beam, Hill Descent Control, Hill
Launch Assist, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Departure Prevention, Lane-keep Assist
System (automatic models), Locking Rear Differential (4×4 models), Rear Cross Traffic
Alert, Roll Over Protection, Secondary Collision Reduction, Speed Assist System, Traction
Control System and Turn Assist.

The drive experience is solid but generally slow and truck-like. Once it’s up and running,
Thunder feels relaxed and easy to drive, cruising effortlessly on the motorway while using
little fuel in the process.

Steering is light, fairly responsive and relatively accurate for a 4×4 ute, and does not
require constant attention – but don’t expect this thing to handle like a sedan.

Speed-sensitive, power-assisted rack and pinion steering is standard across the range,
with 3.84 turns to lock.

With a 76-litre tank, fuel consumption is rated at 8.0L/100km. We were getting 8.6L after
more than 1200km of mixed driving (not as good as the 7.8L we got out of the XTR).

The cabin is trimmed in brown leather and has dual zone climate air, with comfy heated
seats for front seat occupants and air vents for back seat passengers.

The wheel is reach and height adjustable, while the driver’s seat has eight-way power

Analogue instrument gauges flank a central info screen where speed can be displayed
digitally, and traffic sign recognition keeps the driver informed of the current speed limit.

So far so good.

The infotainment screen is actually a touchscreen (Mazda screens aren’t usually) but is
not particularly responsive.

Try to find DAB+ digital radio, listed as a feature. It’s there but you won’t find it under radio
frequency bands.

What’s more, even when you eventually do find it, the signal is liable to drop out frequently
(did I mention our phones frequently failed to reconnect).

Satellite navigation meanwhile has acquired a nanny who will not let you operate the unit
unless the car is stationary.

Thunder is a big vehicle at almost 5.3 metres in length and weighing 2213kg, but
surprisingly easy to manoeuvre, according to the missus (who likes it).

To assist in maneuvering it comes with front and rear park sensors plus a rear-view

Front suspension is independent via upper and lower wishbones with coil springs, gas-
filled telescopic dampers and a stabiliser bar.

Down the back you still get old-style leaf springs, but XS models get a softer setup in
keeping with their less work-oriented role.

Switching to four-wheel drive is achieved via a rotary knob located in the lower part of the
console, with high and low range available – as well as a locking rear differential in the

With 240mm of ground clearance and able to ford 800mm of water, it’s got what it takes for
medium off-road duties – but as always, it’s difficult to avoid denting the side steps.

All grades and body types are fitted with under-body protection to guard against accidental
damage off-road or in rural areas.

Thunder can carry a payload of 897kg and pull a 3500kg braked trailer.

The cargo box is 1571mm long, 1530mm wide and 490mm deep, with 1120mm between
the wheel arches and four tie-down points.

A tray liner is standard and Thunder comes with a power-operated roller shutter (which
decided to stop working at one stage).

There are two IsoFix and two top tether child seat anchor points.

Servicing intervals are 12 months or 15,000km and it comes with a five-year unlimited
kilometre warranty.

Price is the thing. $70K is a big ask for a ute. Still, it’s 10 grand less than Ford’s Raptor
which continues to breed like rabbits.

Has it got what it takes to woo buyers? Mazda is pleased with the product but only time will

Mazda BT-50 Thunder (auto) $68,990
Note: This price does not include government or dealer delivery charges. Contact your
local Mazda dealer for drive-away prices.

SPECIFICATIONS (Mazda BT-50 Thunder 3.0L Turbo 4-cylinder diesel 6sp automatic 4×4
Dual Cab Pickup)
Capacity: 3.0 litres
Configuration: Four cylinders in line
Maximum Power: 140 kW @ 3600 rpm
Maximum Torque: 450 Nm @ 1600-2600 rpm
Fuel Type: Diesel
Combined Fuel Cycle (ADR 81/02): 8.0 L/100km
CO2 Emissions: Euro 5
DRIVELINE: Six-speed automatic, 4×4
Length: 5280 mm
Wheelbase: 3125 mm
Width: 1870 mm
Height: 1785 mm
Turning Circle: 12.5 metres
Kerb Mass: 2213 kg
Fuel Tank Capacity: 76 litres
Front: Ventilated disc
Rear: Drum
Five years / unlimited kilometres

Looks: 8/10
Performance: 7.5/10
Safety: 8/10
Thirst: 7.5/10
Practicality: 7/10
Comfort: 7/10
Tech: 7.5/10
Value: 7.5/10
Overall: 7.5/10

About Chris Riley

Chris Riley has been a journalist for 40 years. He has spent half of his career as a writer, editor and production editor in newspapers, the rest of the time driving and writing about cars both in print and online. His love affair with cars began as a teenager with the purchase of an old VW Beetle, followed by another Beetle and a string of other cars on which he has wasted too much time and money. A self-confessed geek, he’s not afraid to ask the hard questions - at the risk of sounding silly.
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