For ute watchers, Mazda’s BT-50 has more in common with the Isuzu D-Max than it does the Ford Ranger these days.
After they parted ways, Mazda did a deal with Isuzu while Volkswagen went looking for something to turn into the next Amarok.
For its part Mazda reportedly had little input into the design process and as a result BT-50 is simply a re-skinned version of D-Max, although that’s probably a little harsh.
To put this in perspective, Isuzu has enjoyed meteoric success with the latest D-Max, which has stormed the top sellers list, providing a solid launching pad for Mazda — the real question is whether it has done enough?
The new BT-50 looks more refined and car-like — a bit like the last Falcon in fact.
From the rear however the look is generic ute, with vertical tail lights replacing the stylised triangular of the previous model.
The ‘ruggedly stylish’ XTR 4×2 with an auto is $49,470, XTR 4×4 with a manual is $54,710 and the 4×4 auto is $57,210 — all prices before on-road costs.
Standard kit includes 17-inch alloys, cloth trim and manual air, carpeted floors, power windows, power adjust mirrors, LED headlights, auto lights and wipers, rear parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, automatic high beam and traffic sign recognition and walk away automatic locking.
The XTR adds 18-inch alloys, side steps, power fold mirrors, advanced keyless entry and push-button start, LED fog lights, LED headlights with auto levelling, LED daytime running lights, dual-zone climate air with rear vents, leather wrapped steering wheel and gear knob, auto-dimming rear view mirror and centre armrest for the rear seat.
The cabin is trimmed in cloth with dual zone climate air conditioning, rear air vents for back seat passengers and a splash of leather for the wheel and transmission lever.
Style-wise the main difference between BT-50 and the D-Max is the centre console which has higher sides in the Mazda to prevent items from falling out.
The wheel is reach and height adjustable, while the seats have manual adjustment for rake, slide, height and lumbar support.
The screen, unlike other Mazdas, is touch sensitive, with no central control knob (but no volume control knob either).
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.
The infotainment system comprises a 7.0-inch touchscreen and two-speaker audio with Bluetooth streaming, AM/FM and DAB+ digital radio, Android Auto and Wireless Apple CarPlay — plus single USB and 12V outlets.
In the XTR this is upped to a 9.0-inch touchscreen with eight speakers and satellite navigation.
A new speaker is mounted in the headlining, while a 6×9-inch woofer delivers powerful bass response and 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.
ENGINES / TRANSMISSIONS
The BT-50 is powered by a turbo-diesel 3.0-litre, four-cylinder engine that generates 140kW of power and 450Nm of torque, the latter between 1600 and 2600 rpm.
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 six-speed auto, while the 4×4 version is offered with a choice of six-speed manual or automatic.
You can change gears manually using the shifter with the auto, but steering wheel mounted change paddles are not provided.
An extensive, 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 slow, heavy and truck-like overall. Depending on what you’re looking for, this may not be as bad as it sounds.
On a more positive note, it’s a relaxed, easy vehicle to drive that cruises effortlessly and uses hardly any fuel for a vehicle this size. You’ve gotta like that.
New BT-50 weighs up to 50kg less than the previous Ford-based models.
With a 76-litre tank, we were getting 7.8 litres per hundred kilometres over more than 500 kilometres of testing in various conditions.
Front suspension is independent via upper and lower wishbones with coil springs, gas-filled telescopic dampers and a stabiliser bar.
For the rear a semi-elliptic leaf with alloy-steel spring leaves and gas-filled telescopic dampers ensure maximum reliability and car-like ride and handling qualities.
Speed-sensitive, power-assisted rack and pinion steering is standard across the range, with 3.84 turns to lock
The switch to 4×4 is 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 with the auto.
This model has excellent t ground clearance of 240mm and can handle an impressive 800mm of water, but we worry about the side steps which are almost guaranteed to be dented off road.
All grades and body types are fitted with under-body protection to guard against damage off-road or in rural areas.
The XTR can carry a 1090kg payload 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.
Our test vehicle had a tray liner, but the liner is optional.
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.
BT-50 ticks all the right boxes. It’s a fine ute and certainly fit for purpose.
But still looks too refined and car-like. Too much like a Falcon in fact and look what happened to it.
Ranger on the other has delivered incredible sales results largely on the back of its blunt, chiseled macho styling and carefully crafted ‘tough as nails’ image.
Plenty of black trim helps too. That’s, demonstrably, is what buyers want and that’s what Mazda needs to provide — it’s not rocket science guys.
AT A GLANCE
XTR Dual Cab Pickup (auto) $57,210
Note: This price does not include government or dealer delivery charges. Contact your local Mazda dealer for drive-away prices.
SPECIFICATIONS (Mazda BT-50 XTR 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
DIMENSIONS, WEIGHT AND CAPACITIES:
Length: 5280 mm
Wheelbase: 3125 mm
Width: 1870 mm
Height: 1785 mm
Turning Circle: 12.5 metres
Kerb Mass: 2030 kg
Fuel Tank Capacity: 76 litres
Front: Ventilated disc
Five years / unlimited kilometres