Mazda BT-50 4WD Double Cab Limited 2012 Review

We tested Mazda’s new BT-50 a few weeks ago, but in its lesser GSX guise. This week we’ve had the luxury Limited version which adds leather and reversing sensors.

It was interesting to have a second bite at the Mazda as often your perceptions change over time. I’m not a huge fan of utes – I don’t even own a pair of wellies – but the Mazda feels so car-like that you start to appreciate the benefits of having that extra height in traffic, among other things. It’s a big beast (200mm longer than the previous model) – not really designed for manoeuverability – but with the reversing sensors it’s way more palatable in the city. And that’s where this ute probably will live. Tradespeople aren’t going to worry about leather interiors; this is going to be bought by someone who wants to tow a boat or horse float (it’ll tow 3350kg on a braked trailer), while all their nautical or equestrian accessories can be accommodated in the tray.

For this new BT-50 Mazda has taken the corporate nose and grafted it onto a commercial vehicle. Porsche attempted this, putting the 911 nose onto the Cayenne (which has been beaten with the ugly stick). Mitsubishi has done it putting the Lancer Evo X nose onto the Outlander (which looks purposeful with its chiseled handsomeness). Has the corporate Mazda face transplant worked for the BT-50? Kind of. From some angles it does look a bit awkward, but it’s also striking. Awkwardness is a trait of many a car design from the wrong angle – Peugeots and Renaults are notorious for this. I like the BT-50 better the second time round though. It’s growing on me.

Inside you get the same luxuries as a car – dual-zone climate control, automatic headlights, rain sensing wipers, Bluetooth phone integration, cruise control and so on. The driving position is nice and high allowing you to survey the landscape and the top of other cars.

But where it gives you an advantage over cars is that you can turn on the 4WD or even 4WD low range, lock the diff and start getting it dirty. Put it through the mud and you can expect the 5-cylinder turbocharged diesel to use its prodigious torque to pull you out. In fact, there’s so much torque (470Nm) that wheelspin is inevitable in 2WD mode even in the dry, but it is deftly reined in by the traction control. The engine produces 147kW and that’s put to the mud via a 6-speed automatic with a sequential shift option.

The 3.2-litre, 5-cylinder engine produces a nice, sub-V8-style burble. The BT-50 is predictably noisy during acceleration, but it’s definitely quieter than some utes when it’s cruising at motorway speeds.

The handling is very comfortable for a ute. It’s wallowy in the corners, as to be expected, and it feels a bit vague at the front at speed, but it’s no worse than the vast majority of the competition. The BT-50, which is based on the new Ford Ranger, has a revised suspension, but still sits on leaf springs at the rear. It’s surprising how refined Mazda has made it given the suspension set-up.

This ute has a double cab and you can easily fit yourself and four sizeable passengers in. Being a ute, there’s absolutely no hidden storage available apart from a tiny space behind the rear seats where the tool kit sits – a bit frustrating if you have to park it in the city.

Safety features abound. It’s like a bouncy castle inside if all the airbags go off, plus you get the usual combination of emergency brake assist (EBA), electronic brake force distribution (EBD), dynamic stability control (DSC), electronic stability program (ESP), traction control system (TCS) and anti-lock brakes (ABS). This profusion of acronyms means that in an emergency you’ll only have partial control while the circuits take over the task of applying maximum brake force and keeping you heading where you want to go. I have tried systems like this on a race track and they are much better than even well-above-average drivers. In addition, there’s a hill descent mode to help you down steep slopes, hill launch which stops you rolling back when you start on steep hills (why people need this in an automatic is beyond me), trailer sway assist and load adaptive control.

There’s also Mazda’s fixed price servicing option, and a monstrous 3-year/150,000km warranty.

Competition in this segment has taken a large leap forward with the launch of the Ford Ranger (review here). As the BT-50 is based on the Ranger it has benefited from that leap. However, just because two cars have similar underpinnings doesn’t mean they’re the same. While the Ranger is the current benchmark the BT-50 can be every bit as good for your purposes, but it will be down to your preference of looks, ride style, price and brand loyalty, particularly as if you want the top level Ford it’s a few grand more expensive but comes with extra toys like a reversing camera and heated seats. As they’re both solid and capable utes, that could be a difficult decision for you!

Pros

  • Feels almost like a car
  • Fixed price servicing option
  • Smooth and quiet when cruising
  • Large towing capacity

Cons

  • A few minor details let it down – trip computer controls should be on the steering wheel, for example

Price: $61,895

Vehicle Highlights
Price $61,895+ ORC
Style 4WD Double Cab Limited
Fuel
Tank capacity (Litres) 80
Recommended fuel Diesel
Fuel consumption - combined 9.2 litres per 100km
Emissions standard EURO lV
Engine
Engine type 3.2L 5-cylinder I5 20-valve turbocharged, intercooled diesel
Capacity (cc) 3,198
Compression ratio 15.5:1
Maximum power (kW) 147kW @ 3,000rpm
Maximum torque (Nm) 470Nm @ 1,750rpm-2,500rpm
Throttle control Electronic (drive-by-wire)
Transmission 6-speed Automatic
Drive 4-wheel drive
Dimensions
Number of seats 5
Doors 4
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
Chassis
Steering Hydraulic power assist
Tyre size 265/65R17 AT22 112T
Rim size 17 inch
Wheel Type Alloy
Brakes – front Ventilated disc
Brakes – rear Drum
Comfort
Air conditioning Dual-zone automatic climate control
Cabin Air Filter Yes
Bluetooth® handsfree phone connectivity Yes
Steering column – adjustable Tilt adjustable
Cruise Control Yes
Stereo
CD player MP3-capable
Auxiliary input USB and 3.5mm AUX
Speakers 6
Bluetooth® audio Yes
Steering-wheel-mounted audio controls Yes
Interior
Cup holders Yes
Interior illumination Dome lamp, map spot lamps
Leather wrapped steering wheel Yes
Seat trim Leather
Exterior
Mudflaps Front and rear
Windscreen wipers – front Rain-sensing wipers
Door handles Chrome
Mirrors Powered
Aerial Roof-mounted
Headlamps Halogen with automatic on/off function
Windows Powered with one-touch driver control
Fog-lamps Front
Body kit Aluminium side steps, chrome tailgate release, chrome door handles, chrome mirrors, chrome grille garnish, integrated side makers
mazda commercialcare
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

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