The Mazda BT-50 ute is a twin under the skin to the Ford Ranger. It's one of the most impressive utes available in the country today, if you consider the market on objective criteria. The Mazda BT-50 has a five-star ANCAP safety rating. The Mazda BT-50 ute also offers a choice of six-speed transmissions - both auto and manual. Some utes available today offer only a four-speed auto, and five-speed manuals are still common.
You also get a massive 3.5-tonne tow capacity with the Mazda BT-50. There's a potent 3.2-litre diesel engine delivering a peak of 470 Newton-metres. And more than a tonne of payload in total.
Ute Market in Australia
Only three utes in the market today come close to these specifications. You’d want all that, wouldn’t you? All that fundamental additional ute goodness? Especially if it costs you less than a Toyota Hilux, which perversely powers ahead of the field in sales, despite not keeping up any longer in terms of its specifications.
The Mazda BT-50 is a great ute. Safe. Capable. Comfortable. It’ll work hard, and play hard as well. You could use the Mazda BT-50 ute as a daily driver. If you’re part of that new ‘suit in a ute’ marketing demographic, a Mazda BT-50 ute would look okay next to the boss’s BMW. And if he gets you offside in your latest performance review, you could engage low range and park on top of of that BMW - a career-limiting but momentarily satisfying possibility.
Mazda BT-50 Styling
However, could someone explain who approved the design of the Mazda BT-50's front end? It was someone Japanese, obviously. In fact, that front end is my biggest problem with the BT-50. It's ugly. You don’t want to look, but you can’t tear your eyes away. Take one look at the Ranger, and you can see how much better the underlying engineering can look.
Above, left to right: Awful front-end styling is guaranteed to put many otherwise keen buyers off, possible cure in aluminium, ditto in steel, and Ford Ranger - a twin under the skin but much better looking
It’s pretty hard to bend your brain around the Mazda BT-50 range - at first glance it seems as if there are too many variables.
Mazda BT-50 Engine(s)
The Mazda BT-50 range kicks off at $25 grand for the runt of the litter, with an anorexic 2.2-litre diesel engine. That’s only of interest to fleet buyers on the tightest of budgets. It's not really worthy of consideration to anyone else. Every other model variant in the Mazda BT-50 range gets the crackingly strong 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbodiesel with 147 kilowatts and 470 Newton-metres. So, outstanding performance and great economy are a given across the rest of the range. Acceleration of the Mazda BT-50 is very impressive, both off the mark, and while you’re overtaking. And the auto transmission integrates beautifully with the 3.2-litre diesel.
Mazda BT-50 Body Styles
There are three Mazda BT-50 body styles: single cab, ‘freestyle cab’ - with a bit of extra space behind, and five-seat dual cab. Freestyle has extra seats in the back, too, with suicide doors, but these have been formally classified by the UN as a cruel and unusual punishment. In fact they were developed by the CIA at Gitmo - for extreme cases where the thrash metal music and waterboarding proved ineffective...
Above, left to right: Single cab, Freestyle cab and dual cab Mazda BT-50 body styles (click to enlarge)
Above: Freestyle cab with 'torture-spec' rear seats... (click to enlarge)
Mazda BT-50 Equipment Grades
All Mazda BT-50 body styles come in rear-wheel drive and four-wheel drive. There are three equipment specification levels as well - XT, XTR and GT - but not all equipment grades are available with all those cab configurations. And there’s two transmissions - six-speed manual and six-speed auto. There’s also a high-riding 2WD version of the Mazda BT-50 with extra ground clearance called, intuitively enough, the Mazda BT-50 4X2 XT Hi-Rider. There are also ute backs and cab-chassis options.
That’s 23 different permutations of BT-50. The Mazda BT-50 range tops out at the dual-cab 4WD GT auto costing early-to-mid $50s. So there’s a Mazda BT-50 ute for everyone, seemingly, but first you have to navigate the permutational Mazda model maze to find yours. Actually, Mazda’s website makes that pretty easy.
Mazda BT-50 Capability
All rounders don’t come much more capable than the Mazda BT-50. Here’s a ute - let’s take the range-topping dual-cab Mazda BT-50 4WD GT as an example - in which you can shove more than 1000kg of payload on board. That’s five meat-eating westerners all weighing 100 kilos, sitting in leather seats, with 500kg+ of payload in the back. And, okay the middle seat’s not that practical - but show me the middle seat that is, in any vehicle.
So, you can take clients to a building site in comparative luxury in a Mazda BT-50 dual-cab. At the weekend, you can hook up a three-and-a-half-tonne boat. And on holidays, you can stick the family on board, pack all their stuff and tow a boat, a van, camper trailer, horse float. Whatever. The Mazda BT-50 ute has the capacity to take more stuff than you need on any decent holiday - from a weekend away to becoming a certified, Australia-circumnavigating grey nomad.
You can also successfully poke your Mazda BT-50 4WD at very challenging off-road terrain. “Successfully” meaning you get where you wanted to go, and, importantly, later on, you come back.
There aren’t many vehicles as broadly capable as that. If you look at 4WD wagons that can tow 3.5 tonnes, you get things like the Jeep Grand Cherokee - the base model diesel of which is going to cost you $53 grand - that’s the base model (and it's the same price as the range-topping Mazda BT-50 4WD GT) - and you will have to ask yourself over and over about the Jeep’s reputation for poor reliability. The poverty pack Toyota LandCruiser 200 GX will tow 3.5 tonnes too - but that vehicle will cost you $78 grand.
That LandCruiser 200 from the cheap seats costs almost 50 per cent more, for the same tow capacity, and practically none of the fruit. It emphasises just how solid the value proposition is with vehicles like the Mazda BT-50 GT 4WD. It’s a lot of versatility for the money.
Mazda BT-50 Ride Quality & Maneuverability
Of course, utes tend to ride a bit harsher than wagons, especially unladen. The upshot of that harsh ride is: the Mazda BT-50 is a bit skittish on loose surfaces, unladen, and you can expect the stability control to work pretty hard unless you’re very conservative in those conditions. it’s also not that maneuverable in the city (or on a tight bush track), either. When you think about it, the Mazda BT-50 ute is longer than a BMW 7 Series limousine, so it can’t exactly change direction in a hurry.
The rear vision mirrors are big, but a reversing camera - sadly absent across the range - would be a big help. Especially for precision parking, and for driveway safety around children.
Mazda BT-50 Competitors
The only other utes that come close to the Mazda BT-50 are the Ford Ranger, which shares fundamental engineering (the platform and powertrain) and the Holden Colorado, which offers slightly more torque (500Nm versus 470Nm), but only with auto transmission (Manual Colorado is 440Nm). So manual Colorados offer less torque than the Mazda.
And Hilux? Let's talk about the purported king of utes. Toyota will sting you $3000 more for the works burger of Hiluxes - the SR5 - compared with the fully loaded Mazda BT-50 GT 4WD. The Toyota Hilux is also 1000 kilograms down on tow capacity, 200-odd kilos light on payload capacity, and is only a five-speed auto. That’s a fair bit less to pay more for.
Frankly, I don’t know why Hilux still carries the crown either - but it does, by a massive margin, outselling the Mazda BT-50 ute almost three-to-one when 2WD sales and 4WD sales are combined. Sales performance isn’t a reliable barometer of superiority - at least not in this case.
Clearly the market has moved forward and the Hilux - once clearly in front on specifications - is ageing. Doubtless a new Hilux is in research and development right now and will either meet or exceed the current crop of leading utes. But until that happens, it's a photo-finish for first, between the Holden Colorado, Ford Ranger and Mazda BT-50.