Mazda’s passenger car grin has been transplanted across to its commercial ute brethren to standardize the corporate family look. I had the great fortune to get out of the latest Ford Ranger XLT and into the Mazda BT-50. The BT-50 is based on the Ranger so it’s no surprise that much of the switchgear is the same, you get the same 6-speed gearbox, and you’ll enjoy almost all the features that the Ford has (including its off-road capabilities).
For a full overview of the Ranger, head off here (opens in a new window), and carry on reading for the BT-50. If you’ve driven a previous BT-50, the new one is a large jump forwards. Unlike the Hilux, which usually only makes incremental improvements, the Ford Ranger platform has provided the new BT-50 with a solid base.
Most utes on the market look like a block with the corners chiseled off, so it’s refreshing to see that manufacturers like Mazda will have a go at producing something different. Fortunately it didn’t end up like the Ssangyong Actyon at the front, but the looks still push boundaries and may polarize people.
The exterior has good fit and finish, and the GSX model does look sharper than the GLX which sits beneath it in the range. Our test car had an aftermarket canopy and towbar fitted. The GSX model gains 17-inch alloys, chrome door handles and wing mirrors, side steps in aluminium finish, and front fog lamps.
Storage is excellent. The tub is deep (513mm), long (1549mm) and wide (1560mm).
The engine is a five-cylinder 3.2-litre turbodiesel and sounds great. It has that almost-V8 sound that a five cylinder engine is so good at, but isn’t intrusive, and is certainly more frugal. The overall sound is better than the Ranger, therefore it’s in the exhaust configuration. The Ranger sounds harsher.
Acceleration is adequate, but not stellar, which is surprising considering the 147kW and 470Nm. The BT-50 has all the torque you need to pull up to 3350kg on a braked trailer, and this really is class-leading, along with the Ranger. It’s also enough to let the BT-50 pull itself along uphill in first gear on nothing more than idle.
The interior is up to car spec – there’s no utilitarian and sparse trim, and it feels like you’re riding in a car (albeit a car on stilts). Features include Bluetooth phone connection (handy for you tradespeople who want to take calls on the road, and controllable from buttons on the steering wheel), leather-wrapped gearshift knob, MP3 compatibility with the 6-speaker audio system, front, side and curtain airbags for driver and passenger, trip computer with thermometer, and some good sized storage compartments. The seats are comfortable, and there is plenty of legroom in the back. The only thing missing (as in the Ranger) is telescopic adjustment of the steering wheel position.
But it’s the driving features that inspire confidence. As well as an electronic locking diff, with the ability to switch from 2WD to 4WD and 4WD low range on the fly, it has ABS backed up by Dynamic Stability Control, Load Adaptive Control, Hill Descent Control, Hill Launch Assist, Trailer Sway Assist, Traction Control and Roll Over Mitigation. It seems like it should be impossible to lose control of a BT-50 in everyday driving!
While the BT-50 is based on the Ranger, it doesn’t feel like a Ranger. It’s softer on the road – a bit more floaty in the front and not quite so settled. The front springs feel like they’re more softly sprung and this does make it a better cruiser on the motorway, but less precise in the corners. The gearbox feels smoother and less notchy, too.
Braking performance is excellent, with the predictable dip at the front due to the softer springs. It tracks straight and true, and doesn’t wander on smooth roads. Over crests and dips you may notice it wallowing slightly.
Adding to the cruiser feel is the lack of expected road and engine noise that usually accompanies a ute. It’s really quiet, with no intrusive tyre and wind noise.
In summary, the BT-50 is an excellent ute. It’s strong, easy to drive, it has passenger car comfort and it’s plenty of ute for the money. It’s a similar price to the XLT Ranger we tested, so whichever one you choose will more than likely be down to your preference of looks and on-road feel.
- Smooth on the road, with surprisingly little road noise or wind noise
- Rugged, and has huge towing capacity
- Feels like a car
- Fixed price servicing (only $200 inc GST per scheduled service for 3 years or 100,000kms) is an attractive option
- Ranger equivalent has better interior spec for same money
- Floaty at the front end
|Style||4WD Double Cab GSX|
|Tank capacity (Litres)||80|
|Fuel consumption – combined||8.9 litres per 100km|
|Emissions standard||EURO lV|
|Engine type||3.2L 5-cylinder I5 20-valve turbocharged, intercooled diesel|
|Maximum power (kW)||147kW @ 3,000rpm|
|Maximum torque (Nm)||470Nm @ 1,750rpm-2,500rpm|
|Throttle control||Electronic (drive-by-wire)|
|Number of seats||5|
|Overall height (mm)||1,821|
|Track – front/rear (mm)||1,560/1,560|
|Overall length (mm)||5,365|
|Overall width (mm)||1,850|
|Wheel base (mm)||3,220|
|Gross Vehicle Mass (kg)||3,200|
|Towing capacity – braked (kg)||3,350|
|Towing capacity – unbraked (kg)||750|
|Cargo room volume (VDA)||1,214 litres|
|Steering||Hydraulic power assist|
|Tyre size||265/65R17 AT22 112T|
|Rim size||17 inch|
|Brakes – front||Ventilated disc|
|Brakes – rear||Drum|
|Cabin Air Filter||Yes|
|Bluetooth® handsfree phone connectivity||Yes|
|Steering column – adjustable||Tilt adjustable|
|Auxiliary input||USB and 3.5mm AUX|
|Steering-wheel-mounted audio controls||Yes|
|Interior illumination||Dome lamp, map spot lamps|
|Leather wrapped shift knob||Yes (Manual only)|
|Leather wrapped steering wheel||Yes|
|Seat trim||Sport cloth|
|Mudflaps||Front and rear|
|Windscreen wipers – front||2-speed with variable intermittent function|
|Windows||Powered with one-touch driver control|
|Body kit||Aluminium side steps, chrome tailgate release, chrome door handles, chrome mirror covers|
|Fixed Price Servicing||3 years/100,000km (whichever occurs first)|
|On Road Assistance||3 year unlimited kilometre Mazda On Call Roadside Assistance|
|Warranty (years/km)||3 year/150,000km Mazda Genuine Factory Warranty|
Words and photos: Darren Cottingham