Mazda’s BT-50 has never been the quiet achiever it hoped, basking in the shadow of Ford, as Stuart Martin reports.
Living life as the Mazda BT-50 must be something akin to being the 5th Beatle or Keith Moon’s replacement with The Who (it was Kenney Jones from Small Faces, in case you didn’t know). None are bad performers but success in sales terms hasn’t been what it was for the lead act, Ford’s Ranger.
Mazda is apparently joining forces with Isuzu for new product in the future, but for now we’re still seeing the mechanical twin of the Ranger in Mazda showrooms – this is no bad thing.
The facelift wrought on the model in late 2015 softened the surprised look of the big Mazda, but it’s still less macho than most of its opposition, save for the still-weird Triton and some of the Indian and Chinese machinery.
The new look is easier to live with, but it’s a shame the styling hobbled the BT-50 as it has plenty about which to like.
We’re in the XTR, the penultimate model in the workhorse range, which in dual-cab form is $49,700 or for the auto we’re sampling it’s a $51,700 proposition, which puts it right in the mix for price.
An interior that is black-heavy in colour is starting to show its age a little, but there’s decent amount of space and in-cabin storage, including some under the flip-up rear bench.
Cloth trim (leather is saved for the top-spec GT) on seats is accompanied by touchscreen-controlled infotainment, with Bluetooth and USB inputs for the six-speaker sound system, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, power windows and mirrors and a trip computer.
The XTR sits on larger 17-inch alloy wheels and is also distinguished from its cheaper siblings by chrome finish on the door handles and exterior mirrors, as well as the chromed rear-bumper with an integrated step.
There are also front fog-lights, side steps, automatic headlights (but still halogen), rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone climate control, carpeted floors and an auto-dimming centre mirror.
On the safety front, the ANCAP five-star BT-50 gets dual front, front-side and curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes (front discs, but sadly it’s still rear drums helping to bring things to a halt), stability control (with roll and trailer sway control), hill-descent control and hill-start assistance and a rear diff lock.
Tilt-only steering doesn’t lend itself to the absolute best driving position, but the seat has a range of adjustment that helps to some extent; seat comfort is above average and helped by standard lumbar support adjustment.
At 191 cm I could just sit comfortably behind my own driving position, but three blokes my size in the rear seat would want to be good mates with above-average personal hygiene and comfortable in close quarters, as there’s only a 12-volt outlet and no rear vents.
The sat/nav isn’t the easiest system to use, nor is the infotainment system, arguing with smartphones that are plugged in using the hard-to-reach USB point buried in the glovebox.
The reversing camera is a good inclusion but its display is contained within the auto-dimming centre mirror – as a result, it is difficult to see and more often than not required shading from one hand to check the view, it needs to be shown on the infotainment screen and should be teamed with standard rear sensors at the least.
Rated to 1082 kg in payload terms, or 3.5 tonnes of braked trailer towing capacity, the 2105 kg BT-50 claims a GCM of 6000 kg, with a GVM of 3200 kg – the dual cab’s cargo area measures 1549 mm long, 1560 mm wide (although between wheel arches its 1139 mm), 513 mm deep with a load lip 841 mm from the ground, all of which Mazda says equates to 1214 litres.
The XTR’s tray comes standard with a bed floor liner, as well as half a dozen tie-down points (most make do with four) and a locking tailgate, but the test car also had the auxiliary battery accessory in the tray with outlets. While it is useful for extra power options, it perhaps could be better mounted in an underbody location to keep as much loadspace as possible.
The part-time 4WD system, rear diff lock and an unladen ground clearance of 237 mm (it drops to 205 mm under load) means the weekday workhorse is also more than capable of getting more than worksite mud in its wheel arches.
An approach angle of 28.2 degrees, departure angle at 26.4 and a ramp-over angle of 25 degrees all bode well for heavy-duty off-road work, as does a claimed wading depth of 800 mm.
The tub might not be long enough for a trail bike (find me a dual-cab that is) without involving a lowered tailgate, but the tub is a useful size. But it does have the towing capacity for taking tools or toys without serious concerns for cruising speed, thanks to the five-cylinder power plant that, despite its long service record, remains one of the better engines for outputs.
The power plant is still – despite qualifying for veteran status – producing class-competitive outputs of 147 kW at 3000 rpm and 470 Nm from 1750 to 2500 rpm from its 3.2 litres, which boasts double overhead cams, 20 valves, common-rail direct fuel injection and an intercooler.
Its six-speed automatic remains one of the smarter autos on offer in the LCV segment, with smarts to make good use of the meaty mid-range band of brute force.
The in-line, intercooled, turbocharged five-cylinder delivers with an off-beat thrum that’s not accompanied by a lot of intrusive noise, although there’s little doubt that it’s a diesel.
A six-speeder remains the optional automatic transmission, and while it doesn’t have any more ratios than it had when it was launched, clever electronic controls and a clever Sport mode make good use of the outputs without exorbitant fuel use.
The XTR claims 9.2 litres per 100 km for the auto on the ADR test combined cycle, but we finished with it drinking from its 80-litre tank at 11.2 litres per 100 km at a 37 km/h average speed.
Solid outputs we’ve already mentioned, but its road manners too are worthy of note – this is a wieldy beast to drive, with obedient and informative (for a ute) steering that is nicely-weighted, backed by handling that belies its main skillset.
Under the snout is an independent double-wishbone set-up with coil-over dampers and an anti-roll bar – of course, the leaf-sprung rear is primarily there to shoulder a load.
When being asked to carry only occupants, it’s a little jumpy on a corner with bumps interrupting, but a small load of less than 200 kg in the tray will settle it sufficiently for day-to-day ride comfort.
Warranty stands at a sub-par two-year/unlimited-kilometre cover – although Mazda will go to three years if you don’t reach 100,000 km in the first two years, but why it’s not “three years or 100,000 km (whichever occurs first)” is odd.
Service intervals remain a shortfall of the breed – services are due every 10,000 km, which is almost half what much of the segment demands, but capped prices range between $401 and $541, which is not the best but not the worst for the segment. That doesn’t apply to the vehicle overall – infotainment and aesthetic quibbles aside, the BT-50 has the muscles and brains to work as well as carry the brood in reasonable comfort.