In Australia’s lucrative dual-cab ute market the battle for sales supremacy has essentially become a two-horse race between Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger, which have monopolised their own sizeable chunks of the private, mining and fleet markets.
In terms of sales volumes, Mazda’s BT-50, having found favour with many private buyers, is generally around fourth or fifth overall. That position is not, however, a true reflection of the BT-50’s quality because it is a damn good ute – it’s almost up there with the best of them, in fact.
The next-generation BT-50, due here in 2019, may just push the model into the upper echelon but, in the meantime, is the current XTR worth your consideration? Read on.
Is there anything interesting about its design?
The BT-50 had a polarising front-end appearance when its first contemporary iteration lobbed on the scene more than five years ago, but that has since been tempered through several phases of tweaking to achieve a happy balance between the upswooping ‘smiling eyes’ headlights, grille and bumper.
The big Mazda now has a real tough-truck coolness and nice XTR touches, such as chrome door handles, wing mirrors, and rear bumper step, merely add to its substantial presence.
The interior is spacious and simple, bordering on plain, but it has a great easy-to-live-with functionality that can’t be denied.
How practical is the space inside?
Storage space from the front of the cabin to the back includes an overhead sunglass box, lockable and illuminated glovebox, bottle bulges in all doors, centre armrest console with dual compartments and two cupholders.
There are pockets on the back of the front seats for second-row passengers and they also get a fold-down centre arm-rest with cupholders.
All controls are easy to locate and use, and the new Alpine infotainment system allows for quick operation in all conditions; we had no strife with it and found it simple to use during testing.
There are other daily driving friendly necessities, such as a USB port up front and three 12V power outlets throughout the cabin.
The driver gets steering-wheel-mounted everything and the seat is manually adjustable for pretty much all directions.
The XTR is the second-top spec in this range but the fact its seats are cloth trim and its flooring is carpet actually work in its favour because hard-wearing fabrics and an interior well suited to a rough-and-ready lifestyle simply add to its appealing all-round ute-ness.
The tray is 1549mm long, 1560mm wide (both measurements across the floor), 1139mm between the wheel arches, and 513mm deep. Loading height (from tray floor to the ground is 841mm. The tray has six solid tie-down points.
The XTR has a maximum towing capacity of 3500kg (braked) and 750kg unbraked; a maximum tow-ball download of 350kg, a payload of 1082kg, a gross vehicle mass of 3200kg and a gross combined mass of 6000kg.
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?
There are four variants in the BT-50 dual-cab 4x4 range: XT cab chassis, XT, XTR and GT. Our tester was a six-speed auto XTR 4x4; a six-speed manual XTR is also available.
Our vehicle was $53,573.42; MLP was $52,490 and accessories included carpet floor mats ($126.44), and the tow-bar kit ($956.98).
Standard features on the XTR include an eight-inch colour touchscreen (the new Alpine infotainment system), sat nav, a six-speaker stereo system, Bluetooth connectivity, dual-zone climate control, leather steering wheel and gear shift knob and handbrake, reversing camera, second-row seats with fold-down, two-cup-holder armrest, one USB port up front and three 12V power outlets throughout the cabin, and 17-inch alloy wheels. There is no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?
The BT-50 has the well proven 3.2-litre turbo-diesel engine, producing 147kW at 3000rpm and 470Nm between 1750 and 2500rpm, and a six-speed automatic transmission. This combination works supremely well.
How much fuel does it consume?
The big ute has a claimed fuel consumption of 10.0L/100km (combined). Over 200km of mixed driving – a lot of it bitumen, with about 30km of dirt roads and 10km of four-wheel driving thrown in – it returned a figure of 12.2L/100km for us. It has an 80-litre fuel tank.
What's it like to drive?
It’s bloody great fun. Climb in on the side-steps (standard), use a passenger-assist grip if you have to, and get ready to go, because punching this boofy workhorse along highways and bush back roads can be as rambunctious an experience as you want it to be.
The BT-50 has a showroom kerb weight of about 2086kg, but throw on a few genuine accessories (such as a black steel bull bar and more) and that weight will drift ever upwards.
It is 5365mm long (with a 3220mm wheelbase), 1815mm high and 1850mm wide with a 12.4m turning circle. It’s not school-bus size by any means, but is still a big unit to manoeuvre and park in the real world for a driver unaccustomed to a ute’s bulk.
The 3.2-litre turbo-diesel is a willing engine that's eager to be pushed, and not so happy to be pent up in the city. At low speeds in banked-up traffic the BT-50’s autotends to hold onto lower gears for longer than necessary and it’s sometimes a jarring change-up when it finally submits to acceleration, which is one of the clear indications that this has not been engineered for stop-start city driving.
Get it out on the open highway and you can ‘let the mongrel off the leash’, as the bush saying goes. Sure, it’s no sports car but this Mazda’s combination of gutsy engine, smooth auto box (best at higher speeds), fine steering (not as laser-focused as the Ford Ranger’s, though), and assured on-road stance, make for an all-round enjoyable driving experience.
The BT-50 exhibits the usual ride expected of a ute that is stiffer at the leaf-spring back end to cope with industrial-sized loads. With no load, the rear did tend to bounce and skitter around, especially in the wet, which is no surprise in a ute. Fortunately, it's all kept under adequate control by the BT-50's traction tech.
This XTR was on 17-inch Dunlop Grandtrek AT22s and had a full-sized spare under the tray.
We did several emergency-braking scenarios – on bitumen and gravel – and the Mazda pulled up nicely thanks to its onboard tech and 302mm discs at the front, plus 270mm drum brakes at the rear.
In the bush, the BT-50 has no worries whatsoever. Switching from 2H to 4H to 4L is easy, using the three-mode dial near the auto shifter.
The XTR has 232mm ground clearance (unladen; 200mm with a load) and 28.2° approach angle, 26.4° (departure) and 25.0° (ramp break-over). We never grounded on anything* and drove up steep dirt hills, down loose gravel slopes and through deep ruts without any hassle. (*The XTR has decent underbody protection as standard, so even if you do thump into something your mechanicals are tucked up out of harm’s way and have a solid metal bodyguard to protect them.)
We tested about 500mm of the XTR’s claimed 800mm wading depth through sloppy mud holes and a few creek crossings. Once again, no worries there.
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?
The BT-50 has a five-star ANCAP rating, as a result of testing done in 2011. It has six airbags and two top-tether child restraint anchor points.
The XTR spec gets all the usual passive and active safety tech you’d expect in something that costs north of $50,000, as well as hill-descent control and hill-launch assist, roll-stability control, trailer-sway control and a locking rear diff.
So, all in all, a pretty sound armoury of safety gear, although our XTR tester does lose valuable points for not having front and rear parking sensors as standard. The sensors are, however, available as an $899.85 option, but only on XTR and GT models.
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?
The BT-50 is covered by a three-year/100,000km warranty. Base scheduled maintenance is due every 10,000 km, but no longer than 12 months, whichever comes first. Services cost $401, $541, $401, $541 and $401 (for service number five).
The XTR is a well-priced variant in an impressive BT-50 range. Nice to drive, on and off road, well appointed, and good-looking, the BT-50 surely deserves to be better represented in sales figures in the Australian market than it currently is. The XTR is not the best in this mob – we’d opt for the XT if we were tradies, or the GT if we had the dosh – but it is a solid and well-equipped introduction to an ever-popular ute line-up.
This article originally appeared on CarsGuide.