After arriving on the scene back in 2006 Mazda’s entry to the ute segment, the BT-50, hasn’t always been an obvious choice for many prospective ute buyers. Sharing a multitude of parts with the Ford Ranger, the BT-50 stood co-accused of being old-fashioned and basic. With the golden-boys (Toyota Hilux, Nissan Navara ST-X and Holden Colorado) all posing down on centre stage, Mazda decided to breathe some life into the BT-50.
In 2008 the BT-50 received cosmetic upgrades in the form of a tidy new five-point grille, revised headlights and taillights, updated wheel design, new interior cloth trim and improved audio and air-con controls. How does it all come together? Well, very nicely.
Brawn has been injected into the exterior looks with the glaring new headlights, trademark chunky Mazda grille and a swollen bonnet line. The BT-50 looks a classic ute in shape and stance but with new colour coded guards and a modern wheel style that suits it well. The tested model had a wellside rear tray fitted with the optional sports lid. The special lid smoothed the BT-50’s profile but was fiddly to deal with and restricted rear-loading capacity. By comparison the tailgate is easy to open, solid and well connected. Aside from the tough-guy good looks, the BT-50 has good clearance, underbody protection, strong straight panels and a solid hardy feel.
Step inside and your quickly confronted with a good-looking interior and class-leading ergonomics. The front seats are wide and well bolstered, the cloth has a feeling of durability but this hasn’t come at the cost of comfort and appearance. The front seats sit flat and do well to minimise the typical ute feeling of sitting so close to the vehicle’s floor. Up front this is fine but get a tall rear seat passenger and they will be forced into a knees-high seating position that could prove uncomfortable on longer journeys. The dual-cab tested could fit three in the back, but with only a lap-belt in the middle and compromised legroom some of the BT-50s competitors can offer better rear comfort.
The dashboard layout and centre stack are very well designed making controls easy to use and good looking. The bright silver central control area appears bold but thought has gone into the ergonomics, and buttons and dials have a quality feel. This could be said about all the touch surfaces in the cabin. The driver’s ringed instrumentation is modern and easily read, and night-time cabin illumination is effective. Useful storage options are mixed into the design including a flat tray drawer that sits above the glove box, perfect for maps, pens or invoice books. The BT-50’s interior can match it with the best for functionality and looks. But it’s never really been all about dressing room good looks in the ute market: on-field performance is a truer measure of potential success.
A 3.0-litre 4-cylinder turbo diesel motor that uses common-rail direct injection powers the BT-50. Power is a useful 115kW and there is 380Nm of torque on hand. It accelerates well and completes the 0-100kmh dash in around 12 seconds. Not a sprinter by trade the BT-50 uses its gift of low down torque and a lack of turbo-lag to always feel brisk. The power plant can be lumpy and noisy when cold, but once warm becomes very quiet and smoothly predictable in its performance. The motor is well mated to a 5-speed automatic transmission, which uses the engine’s torque to keep the BT-50 in a responsive rev range.
Our tested model was 2WD leaving me unable to comment on the BT-50’s 4WD performance. The rear-driven model handled itself competently, and when faced with climbing a grassy bank pushed itself up neatly. On the tarmac the steering is sharp enough to point the ute into corners accurately and it sits flat with little understeer. Driving unladen the BT-50’s rear can skip around, but any traction loss can be controlled with the direct steering and throttle input. Unfortunately steering feedback is caught lacking, with little report on the surface beneath.
Ride quality is another area of concern, with independent front suspension and a live rear axle with leaf springs the BT-50 is currently consistent with most competitor utes. But suspension sophistication is improving, and the set-ups of Mitsubishi and Toyota are threatening to leave the Mazda BT-50 behind. The suspension does well to deaden impacts from road ruts and bumps, but can be floaty and does generate excessive vertical movement.
Overall, the BT-50 is a worthy player in the ute game. When compared to other true working utes the BT-50 is hard to touch for driver enjoyment. The cab is freshly styled and well appointed, the power train is strong, and the handling and throttle response on point. It’s just that little bit more fun than most utes and even with an ageing suspension set up it still has enough fresh moves to be a worthy test drive.
Click through to the next page for a full list of specifications.
Price: from $34,095, 4WD from $41,995
What we like:
- Interior styling
- Sharp handling
- Strong diesel engine
What we don’t like:
- Bumpy ride quality
- Rear passenger leg-room (double cab)
- Steering feedback
Words and photos, Adam Mamo
Mazda BT-50 2WD (2009) – Specifications
Type: 3.0 In-line 4-cylinder 16-valve DOHC, turbo, intercooled
Engine capacity cc: 2,953
Maximum power (EEC) kW: 115@3,200rpm
Maximum torque (EEC) Nm: 380@1,800rpm
Fuel tank capacity L: 70
Bore x Stroke mm: 96 x 102
Fuel Injection: Common-Rail Direct Injection
Compression Ratio: 18
Transmission type: 5-speed Manual or 5-stage Automatic
Type: Ball and Nut – Engine Revolution Sensing
Type: Front – Independent, double wishbone with torsion bar springs
Rear: Rigid, Leaf Springs
Type: Front – Ventilated Discs
Rear: Drums (leading/trailing with auto adjuster)
Dimensions & Weight
Overall length mm: 5,076 – 5,169
Overall width mm: 1,715 – 1,807
Overall height mm: 1,622 – 1,750
Wheelbase mm: 2,985
Ground Clearance – Laden mm: 181 – 207 (3)
Minimum Turning Radius, Curb-to-Curb m: 6.0
Cargo Box Length (at floor) – Double Cab (mm): 1,530
Cargo Box Width (at floor) mm: 1,456
Cargo Box Height (at floor)mm: 465
Towing Capacity (kg) – Braked: 3,000 (2,500 Automatic) – Unbraked: 750
Words and photos, Adam Mamo