Will Mazda remain the underachiever in the ute market? – Words and image by Stuart Martin.
There’s something to be said about going it alone, and Mazda Australia’s efforts with the revamped BT-50 demonstrate the brand’s determination in Australia.
Packing the same amount of grunt as the Ranger, and arguably sitting on a better suspension tune, the BT didn’t go close to the Ford’s sales tallies, even considering Ford’s cut-throat fleet prices.
Enter the new, locally sculpted version – broader and blunter of snout with a new bumper and grille thanks to local work involving EGR Group – it carries the DNA of its forebears but wears it better.
We’re in the dual-cab GT 4×4 with optional automatic, which wears a price tag of $56,990.
The BT-50 flagship sits on 17-inch polished alloy wheels (with an equivalent spare), with tube side steps, a chrome sports bar in the rear tray, heated and power adjustable exterior mirrors of a good size, black leather trim, dual-zone climate control (but no rear vents), power adjustable (including height) driver’s seat, under-seat storage beneath the rear bench (with armrest), 12-volt outlets (three in the cabin and one in the tray), cruise control and carpet floor coverings.
The cabin is looking a little dark and dated, with plenty of black and grey plastic, but there’s decent room for front occupants in terms of the footwell and cabin headroom.
Oddment storage in the doors and centre console is better than average and includes a USB/HDMI equipped dash-top cubby, which seems an odd spot for the phone to sit securely – its surface and angle keep the phone in place but charging cords can hang out and annoy.
The rear bench is certainly cut for two rumps as the centre is high, giving lateral support for two outboard occupants but cutting headroom for a third passenger.
The 8.0-inch Alpine colour touchscreen six-speaker infotainment set-up of the outgoing model is retained and displays the satellite navigation with live traffic updates and off-road mapping as well as Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and the digital-radio system.
The features list isn’t too shabby for the asking price, but the veteran status is betrayed by the absence of keyless entry and ignition, tilt-only adjustment for the nice leather-wrapped helm, and the small red-lit centre trip computer display controlled by the stalks within the instrument binnacle. The touchscreen 3D satellite navigation unit looks like an aftermarket add-on, and, while it can split the screen for maps and audio, the system is not immediately easy to use.
In terms of safety gear, the dusk-sensing headlights are still only halogen, but it does have rain-sensing wipers, reversing camera, an auto-dimming centre mirror, traction, stability and trailer sway control, six airbags (including full-length side-curtain units) and anti-lock brakes, but working on front discs but, sadly, still rear drums.
There’s hill ascent and descent control, but, unfortunately, no standard parking sensors to team up with the standard reversing camera – a pack with front and rear parking sensors costs $927.73 from the accessory catalogue.
What has gone largely unchanged with few ramifications is the 3.2-litre turbodiesel five-cylinder. The cast-iron, 20-valve, intercooled, common-rail direct-injection engine uses a variable-nozzle turbocharger to develop 147 kW at 3000 rpm, with 470 Nm on offer between 1750 and 2500 rpm.
The engine noise is a little easier on the ear than some of the harsh four-cylinder thrum emitted by much of its opposition, but peak power is still accompanied by plenty of engine noise.
The 3.2-litre five-cylinder uses a little more fuel for the extra mambo on offer – the ADR claim is 10 litres per 100 km on the highway-biased combined cycle laboratory test, but our time in the GT resulted in 12.3 litres per 100 km when working hard and participating in the daily metropolitan grind.
Teamed with a six-speed auto with Sport mode and a lever-led manual change, there’s no shortage of in-gear acceleration on offer from the Mazda, although low traction situations mean care with the sharp throttle pedal if you wish to leave the electronic traction and stability control aids unawakened.
Around town, the double-wishbone front and leaf-sprung rear suspension returns a decent – if not outstanding – unladen ride quality, with good big-bump absorption and not unacceptable nervousness over the smaller ruts and holes.
Even a quarter of the listed payload is enough to settle it nicely, but the damping is well above par for the segment across the payload spectrum.
Steering effort and feel is among the best in the segment, and, given the decent body control provided by the underpinnings and the above-average grunt, the BT-50 can cover ground littered with hills and bends at an indecent rate when required.
Constant 4WD with an open centre differential would be a welcome addition to the features list on fast dirt, but the Mazda makes do with a dial-operated part-time 4WD system, as well as a rear diff lock for those who want to get way off the beaten track and up the hill at the end of it.
Ground clearance of 237 mm (dropping to 205 mm when laden) with underbody protection helps the BT-50 clamber over most obstacles, with an approach angle of 28.2 degrees, a departure angle of 26.4 and a ramp-over angle of 25.
Mazda also claims a maximum wading depth of 800 mm thanks to high-mounted components under the bonnet, but such depths would be dangerous to contemplate in anything other than slow-moving waterways.
Measuring 5365 mm long, the BT-50 sits on a 3220 mm wheelbase and is 1850 mm wide and 1821 mm tall, so it has a sizeable footprint. The tray is a useful size – given that it’s behind a dual-cab there’s always a trade-off, if you’ll pardon the pun. But one feature the BT-50 GT has that few of its competition delivers is a locking tailgate linked to the remote central locking.
A load height of 841 mm allows access to the lined (as standard) rear tray, which measures 1549 mm long (the Freestyle tray is 1847 mm), 1560 mm wide – dropping to 1139 mm between the wheel arches – and 513 mm deep, with six tie-down points, a light and a 12-volt outlet.
The BT-50 sits among the best in class, with a braked towing capacity of 3500 kg, an un-braked capacity of 750 kg, and a maximum ball download of 350 kg. The GCM is 6000 kg, with a kerb weight of 2161 kg, a GVM of 3200 kg and a subsequent payload of 1039 kg.
While the BT-50 has longer service intervals than the likes of Toyota at every 12 months or 15,000 km, prices range from $431or $502 and the warranty is only two-years/unlimited-kilometres (or up to three years and limited to 100,000 km if you don’t reach the milestone in the first two years), with roadside assistance an extra charge.
For all its shortcomings in terms of an ageing interior and brief warranty, the updated BT-50 is capable and comfortable and should be on any dual-cab ute shopping list.