For almost 30 years Ford and Mazda buddied up, building one-tonne utes, but now with the latest BT-50, the manufacturers have gone separate ways, the latter palling up with fellow Japanese auto maker Isuzu and its new D-Max one-tonner for 2021.

With it come gains in safety, reduced fuel consumption and reliability but setbacks occur in the drive department – 140kW / 450 Nm, compared to Ranger’s 149 kW / 470 Nm – and fewer design features.

In a range of 17 manual or automatic models, the new BT-50 carries on the tradition of the dual-cab pickup with eight variants in three equipment grades – XT, XTR and GT.

Pickup prices start at $45,490 for the XT Dual Cab 4×2, rising to $53,260 for the XT Dual Cab 4×4 (auto, the test vehicle), $57,210 the XTR Dual Cab 4×4 (auto) and on to $59,990 the range-topping GT Dual Cab (auto), all plus ORCs.

Plain and simple is the best way to describe the new BT-50 from the outside, no go-faster visuals here. Mazda says its goal was to fuse Kodo design – a blend of pure movement and attention to detail – with truck-like robustness.

The pickup presents its modern-day design credentials with a characteristic four-slat radiator grille flanked by slimline LED headlamps set into prominent front guards. A robust road presence is supported by a bold bumper below and 17-inch alloy wheels.

Solid crease lines flow in an unbroken fashion from the grille to the windscreen, adding a feeling of (Kodo) movement to the truck. This is repeated at the rear with a practical gate sitting between large tail-lights which wrap around the tub sides giving the vehicle a sense of width.

Black cloth seat trim is joined by improved floor carpeting manufactured by moulding the bottom and insulation layers to ensure a close fit with the floor space.

The Dual Cab doors have wide openings and indents in the lower trim and B-pillars, giving ample space for occupant toes and knees. Getting in and out of the back seats is given a lift by B-pillar-mounted grips which help support occupants.

A 60 / 40 folding rear seat base gives access to under-seat storage. A second glovebox above the main dash storage space has been added for the first time on BT-50.

The XT includes a 7-inch full-colour infotainment touchscreen that supplies access to Apple CarPlay (wireless or via USB) and Android Auto (USB) and Bluetooth hands-free telephone and audio with DAB+ digital radio.

A reversing camera image is displayed on screen, while rear-seat occupants have a USB charging point.

The generation BT-50 features a new 3-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine delivers 140 kW power peak at 3600 rpm and a 450 Nm peak torque, from 1600 rpm to 2600 rpm.

The new engine’s improved torque spread is matched by a choice of more efficient six-speed automatic or manual transmissions.

The BT-50 gained the top five-star safety rating from the latest stringent standards of the Australasian New Car Assessment Program designed for 2020 and beyond.

Standard features across the range include blind spot monitor, autonomous emergency braking, automatic high beam, dynamic stability control, emergency lane keeping, lane departure warning and prevention, lane-keep assist, rear cross-traffic alert, roll-over protection and traction control.

On top of this are eight airbags – driver, front passenger, side, curtain, driver’s knee and driver’s far side. Seatbelt reminders are fitted to ensure occupants are strapped in.

The driver is well serviced by a tilt-and-reach adjustable steering wheel. The seats are adjustable for rake, slide, height and lumbar support. Movable head rests add further comfort.

Passenger comfort extends to cabin noise (or lack of it) with improvements to cabin insulation from engine and road noise.

Pulling relatively smoothly, the engine is not a class leader but leaves the Ranger 3.2-litre five-cylinder unit in the shade on fuel consumption.

A claimed 8 litres per 100 kilometres combined urban / highway fuel consumption (Ranger 8.9) was well supported by test-car figures of 9.6 litres per 100 kilometres around town and 6.1 litres per 100 kilometres on the open road.

From memory, the Mazda BT-50 did not get off to a good start when it first appeared Down Under. The six-speed manual transmission on offer was clunky and most uncomfortable to operate. The auto version had no such hiccups and this has continued through to the 2021 model.

Suspension and steering are straight out of the one-tonner playbook. The suspension picks up even minor blemishes in the bitumen, while the latter is on the light side, an advantage in off-road tough going but tricky in smoother stuff.

The BT-50 is a truck, after all, so on-road ride and handling improve markedly with a load up the back.

A switchable on / off locking rear differential plays a welcome part off road.

A 4.2-inch colour LCD multi-information display is situated between the instrument cluster’s two main gauges, allowing drivers to monitor key systems without the need to take their eyes off the road for too long.

I do miss the old multi-function Command Control on the centre console, dropped in favour of the dash-mounted touchscreen. Satellite navigation is a sad omission in the XT.

Having not yet driven the latest D-Max, XT comparisons can only be related to the “Rangered” BT-50 and they are mixed, with less power to call on and blander looks. Safety features save the day with unmatched advantage over the opposition.

4×2 High Rider
XT Dual Cab Chassis $44,090
XT Dual Cab Pickup $45,490
XTR Dual Cab Pickup $49,470

XT Dual Cab Cab Chassis (man) $49,360
XT Dual Cab Cab Chassis (auto) $51,860
XT Dual Cab Pickup (man) $50,760
XT Dual Cab Pickup (auto) $53,260
XTR Dual Cab Pickup (man) $54,710
XTR Dual Cab Pickup (auto) $57,210
GT Dual Cab Pickup (man) $56,990
GT Dual Cab Pickup (auto) $59,990
Note: These prices do not include government or dealer delivery charges. Contact your local Mazda dealer for drive-away prices.

SPECIFICATIONS (Mazda BT-50 XT 3.0L Turbo 4-cylinder diesel 6sp automatic 4×4 Dual Cab Pickup)

Capacity: 2.999 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: 2010 kg
Fuel Tank Capacity: 76 litres

Front: Ventilated disc
Rear: Drum

Five years / unlimited kilometres

About Derek Ogden

On graduating with an honours degree in applied science in London, Derek Ogden worked for the BBC in local radio and several British newspapers as a production journalist and writer. Derek moved to Australia in 1975 and worked as a sub-editor with The Courier Mail and Sunday Mail in Brisbane, moving to the Gold Coast Bulletin in 1980 where he continued as a production journalist. He was the paper's motoring editor for more than 20 years, taking the weekly section from a few pages at the back of the book to a full-colour liftout of up to 36 pages. He left the publication in 2009.
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