Mazda BT-50 review, specifications & buyer's guide

'Verified' means the Mazda BT-50 is one of Australia's best utes

'Verified' means the Mazda BT-50 is one of Australia's best utes

Need to know

The Mazda BT-50 ute is essentially the same vehicle as the Ford Ranger. (The pair share all major components and architecture) but Mazda has done its own styling ... and - despite attempts at cosmetic re-jigging - they've managed to give it a face only its mother could love.

A face which only a nice, shiny bulbar can fix: #facepalm

Madza is apparently aware of the error of its styling ways and they've done what they can to update its snout cosmetically for the 2016 model. However, these attempts at restorative aesthetics could only mitigate so much, and it's a safe bet most ute buyers will:

  1. Still prefer the look of the Ford Ranger
  2. Still find the styling a significant hurdle on the road to BT-50 ownership

Beyond that, the BT-50 is a fundamentally excellent ute, which ticks a great many boxes: It has a potent engine, a great transmission, heavy tow capacity, good safety credentials and plenty of luxury features if you don't mind spending the big bucks.

Mazda upgraded its commercial vehicle warranty in 2016 - 2 years with unlimited kilometres (instead of three years and 100,000km) is now what's on offer for the commercial range. However, if the vehicle has driven less than 100,000 kilometres at the end of the two years, the warranty automatically reverts to three years with a 100,000km cap.

LOVE

  • Strong tow capacity - 3500kg
  • Five-star safety
  • Potent five-cylinder diesel delivers excellent performance and good economy
  • Beats Hilux on objective criteria
  • Mazda does better customer support than Ford

HATE

  • It's been clubbed repeatedly with the ugly stick (what were they thinking?) and the mid-life makeover hasn't helped much
  • Reversing camera not standard across the range
  • Towing at maximum capacity dramatically reduces payload carrying ability

RANGE

Ute ranges are complex. In BT-50 there are three body styles:

Mazda BT-50 range (left to right): Single cab, dual cab and Freestyle cab

Mazda BT-50 range (left to right): Single cab, dual cab and Freestyle cab

Inside this range there are:

Two engines:

  • 2.2 four-cylinder diesel
  • 3.2 five-cylinder diesel

Two transmissions:

  • Six-speed manual
  • Six-speed conventional automatic

Two drivelines:

  • 4x2 Hi-Rider or standard height (rear drive)
  • 4x4 Part-time 4WD with low range

Three specification grades:

  • XT (16-inch steel wheels, halogen headlamps, power windows/mirrors, cloth trim, cruise control, 4-speaker audio on 4x2, Bluetooth for phone and music streaming)
  • XTR (17-inch alloy wheels, front fog lamps, chrome mirrors and door handles, climate air conditioning, leather wheel and shifter knob, 6-speaker audio, GPS, reversing camera on dual-cab)
  • GT (Power mirrors with heating for de-misting and indicator relay lamps built in, privacy glass, black leather trim and 8-way power adjustment for driver seat)

SINGLE CAB BT-50

  • Single cab BT-50s are only available in XT spec level, with cab-chassis only, and the options are:
  • 4x2 (standard height - 2.2 manual only)
  • 4x2 Hi-Rider (2.2 manual or auto)
  • 4x4 (3.2 manual or auto)

FREESTYLE CAB BT-50

  • 4x2 XT Hi-Rider cab-chassis with 3.2 (manual or auto)
  • 4x4 XT cab-chassis with 3.2 (manual or auto)
  • 4x4 XTR ute with 3.2 (manual or auto)

DUAL-CAB BT-50

  • 4x2 XT Hi-Rider cab-chassis with 3.2 (manual only)
  • 4x2 XT Hi-Rider ute with 3.2 (manual or auto)
  • 4x2 XTR Hi-Rider ute with 3.2 (manual or auto)
     
  • 4x4 XT cab-chassis with 3.2 (manual only)
  • 4x4 XT ute with 3.2 (manual or auto)
  • 4x4 XTR ute with 3.2 (manual or auto)
  • 4x4 GT ute with 3.2 (manual or auto)

See also:

PRICE RANGE

$26,990 for the base-model 4x2 single cab-chassis XT manual
to
$58,891 for the dual-cab GT auto ute

(Rec. drive-away price in NSW - obviously I'd get you a sharper price than this, and in my experience, the Mazda range discounts quite aggressively. Enquire here >>)

Check current pricing by model variant in your state on
this page of Mazda's website >>


SPECIFICATIONS

3.2 DIESEL
Power: 147 kW @ 3000 rpm
Torque 470 Nm @ 1750-2500 rpm
Power/weight: 69.4 W/kg
(GT dual-cab auto)
Fuel economy:
8.9 L/100km (4x2 manual)
9.7 L/100km (4x4 manual)
10.0 L/100km (4x4 auto)

2.2 DIESEL
Power: 110 kW @ 3700 rpm
Torque 375 Nm @ 1500-2500 rpm
Power/weight: 67.8 W/kg
(XT 4x2 manual)
Fuel economy: 
8.0 L/100km (4x2 manual)
8.6 L/100km (4x2 auto)

Transmission: 6 sp auto or 6 sp manual
Manufactured: Thailand
Length: 5365 mm
(dual cab)
Width: 1850 mm
Height: 1821 mm
Kerb weight: 2118 kg
(GT dual-cab auto)
Gross Vehicle Mass: 3200 kg
Gross Combination Mass: 6000kg
Maximum tow capacity: 3500 kg
Seating Capacity: Up to five

(depending on body configuration)

Warranty: 2 years / unlimited kilometres
(reverts to 3yrs/100,000km if under 100,000km at 2yo)

Servicing: 6 months or 10,000 km (whichever comes first)
Spare wheel: Full-sized


SAFETY

The Mazda BT-50 ute scored 35.72 out of a possible 37 points when crash tested by Euro NCAP in 2011

The Mazda BT-50 ute scored 35.72 out of a possible 37 points when crash tested by Euro NCAP in 2011

Five-star ANCAP safety rating. More info >>
Download the ANCAP Technical Report >>


Mazda BT-50 -Vs- Ford Ranger

Obviously on technical fundamentals the two utes are the same thing, and the Ranger looks better cosmetically - a lot better, in the flesh.

However, there is one major difference: Ford's customer 'care' is beyond merely terrible. The company has a strong track record of deserting its customers if there's a problem. This is a vital consideration for owners, and for this reason, I rate Ford a 'don't buy' until they clean up their customer care act in Australia.

BT-50 even scrubs up OK with some barwork up the (otherwise somewhat confronting) pointy end

BT-50 even scrubs up OK with some barwork up the (otherwise somewhat confronting) pointy end

MAZDA BT-50 IN DETAIL

The Mazda BT-50 is - overall - 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.

HARD OR SOFT?

The reality is, however, that unless you a) really want or need a ute, or b) really need the extreme off-road ability or heavy tow capacity, an SUV like a Kia Sorento >>, Hyundai Santa Fe >> or even a people mover like a Kia Carnival >> will suit you better, and be a better use of your funds. These comments are aimed at the growing number of people considering a $40,000+ ute for family transportation.

There are a few reasons for this:

  1. The off-road ability and towing capacity are a real plus if you are going to need them (or use them). If you're not, and you just like the tough look, you need to consider the nature of engineering compromise. In other words, you can't build in that off-road and towing performance without also hurting the refinement and performance on normal, good roads (like around town and on highways and other sealed rural roads - or even good unsealed roads). So, unless you're going to use it, those extra abilities are a liability for normal driving - the vehicle doesn't feel as smooth or grip the road as well.
  2. Part-time 4WD (in the BT-50) can't be used on high-traction surfaces like highways or around town. So the vehicle doesn't have the grip/stability advantages of a full-time or on-demand AWD system in a notionally 'softer' SUV. 
  3. The softer SUV has a better equipment suite for daily driving - at the upper end we're talking adaptive cruise control, auto tailgate, more seats, panorama sunroof, etc. As well as more advanced safety features like auto emergency braking, lane departure warning and blind spot alerts.
Five-cylinder 3.2-litre turbodiesel is the pick

Five-cylinder 3.2-litre turbodiesel is the pick

WHICH ENGINE?

The Mazda BT-50 range kicks off at about $26 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. The one you want is the crackingly strong 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbodiesel with 147 kilowatts and 470 Newton-metres. So, outstanding performance and decent fuel economy are a given across the rest of the range. Acceleration of the Mazda BT-50 with the 3.2 is very impressive, both off the mark, and while you’re overtaking. And the auto transmission integrates beautifully with the 3.2-litre diesel. It's a nice driveline.

L-R: Single, dual and Freestyle cabs

L-R: Single, dual and Freestyle cabs

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... They're really cramped and - at best - suitable for brief, occasional use by people you detest. Think of them as a marginally padded cargo shelf with seatbelts.

Mazda BT-50 4WD will go further off road than most owners will ever demand of it. In other words - the limiting factor is likely to be the off-road ability of the driver in most cases

Mazda BT-50 4WD will go further off road than most owners will ever demand of it. In other words - the limiting factor is likely to be the off-road ability of the driver in most cases

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.

So, although $52,000 seems a lot to pay for a ute, in the context of performance and ability, it's actually pretty good value. 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.

Ride quality and refinement: Good for a ute ... meaning not nearly as good as a passenger wagon

Ride quality and refinement: Good for a ute ... meaning not nearly as good as a passenger wagon

ON THE MOVE

Of course, utes tend to ride a fair 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 manoeuverable 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 won’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.

COMPETITORS

Top 8 Utes by Sales in Australia, 2015

Hover over bar chart for exact sales numbers

So, basically you can see the action - in terms of sales - is all 4WD. 2WD utes are basically a sideshow - a bit of garnish on the side, running at about one-third or less (in some cases, a lot less) than those of their 4WD counterparts. This is a rare case of the price not determining the sales volume. Australia is in love with its 4WD utes. And this is where the big bucks are, so car companies love them too.

As you can see, Mazda is the number seven seller among the top eight (in 4WD) and the number three seller in 2WD. Let's see how the competition stacks up.

Toyota Hilux

Toyota Hilux

Toyota Hilux

Toyota Hilux is the market's darling - people love their Hiluxes - but objectively the Hilux is quite expensive, as well as something of an under-achiever. Like everything Toyota does, seemingly, the minimum requirements to stay ahead in sales have been achieved, and massive marketing - current marketing and the legacy of many years of successfully marketing the 'unbreakable' Hilux to Australia have paid off.

The Works Burger of Hiluxes is the SR5. It makes 12 per cent less peak power and four per cent less peak torque. Its tow capacity is 300kg less than the BT-50, and it needs to be serviced twice as often on a time basis.

More on the Toyota Hilux >>

Mitsubishi Triton

Mitsubishi Triton

Mitsubishi Triton

Fundamentally a good ute - very good. I recommend Triton as an alternative to the Ranger. Good value, decent performance, 400kg less on the towing capacity, but five years on the warranty is a real plus, and the 12-month/15,000km service interval is 5000 more than BT-50 - a handy advantage for high-mileage drivers. More on the Triton >>

Nissan Navara

Nissan Navara

Nissan Navara

This is an interesting ute - mainly because it's also the fundamentals of the upcoming Mercedes-Benz pickup - which will be its twin under the skin. This explains the hi-tech features like the multi-link rear end and the small capacity but grunty engine. Unfortunately, Nissan has had a bad reliability run to date (although this Navara seems OK) and it is also poor at customer support (although not as poor as Ford or Holden). The tricky rear suspension gives the Navara the best unladen ride quality, but also the poorest laden ride among the utes. More on the Nissan Navara >>

Ford Ranger

Ford Ranger

Ford Ranger

Mechanically identical, but more expensive (Ranger Wildtrak is significantly more expensive than BT-50 GT) and my official recommendation on Ford is 'don't buy' - owing to that company's atrociously poor customer support record. See how Ford deserted up to 70,000 recent customers >>

Holden Colorado

Holden Colorado

Holden Colorado

Recently upgraded, the Colorado is a great ute on paper, but like Ford, Holden is very poor at customer support and has lost increasing relevance with the Australian buyer incrementally over the past decade. The 500Nm engine is nice to have, but realistically, as a risk-management exercise, Holden is another 'don't buy' proposition until they clean up their customer service act. See more on how Holden lost the plot >>

Isuzu D-MAX

Isuzu D-MAX

Isuzu D-MAX

This Isuzu D-MAX has its followers, but it's really an outdated joke at this point. All newer 4WD utes out-point it on performance, and it's impossible to recommend as a result. Find out more about the significant Isuzu D-MAX power & performance deficit >>

Volkswagen Amarok

Volkswagen Amarok

Amarok

The Volkswagen is the coolest looking ute available. Like all Volkswagens, it looks great and drives really well. Unfortunately, however, Volkswagen has a terrible reliability track record, and it is even worse than Holden or Ford at customer support. So, again, as a risk-management exercise, Volkswagen is simply a 'don't buy'.

See how Volkswagen betrayed the world >>

Criticisms

Reversing cameras save children's lives - but Mazda has taken the (very poor) decision not to fit one to the base-model

Reversing cameras save children's lives - but Mazda has taken the (very poor) decision not to fit one to the base-model

Reversing Camera

One of the real bugbears of ute ownership - especially if it's the family transport, in whole or part - is the relative lack of advanced safety features.

The fact is, being run over in the driveway at home is the second most common cause of accidental death in children (after drowning in the backyard swimming pool). And, here, reversing cameras can play an important role in reducing the burden of this trauma on families. (Obviously a reversing camera is not a total solution - other human safeguards are also required.)

Unfortunately, Mazda Australia has taken the decision not to make a reversing camera standard across the BT-50 range. According to the official brochure, a reversing camera is not available on single-cab BT-50 or Freestyle cab BT-50 XT. You don't get it in a dual-cab XT, either. Reversing cameras are only standard on XTR and GT, according to the brochure.

This effectively makes base-model ute buyers second-class citizens on safety, and represents, in my view, a poor product planning decision by Mazda - especially given the minimal cost of fitting a reversing camera on the production line.

Like many utes, towing near the BT-50's limit reduces the vehicle's payload capacity. Remember that heavy towing is a serious business.

Like many utes, towing near the BT-50's limit reduces the vehicle's payload capacity. Remember that heavy towing is a serious business.

Towing Capacity

I know what you're thinking, right? You're thinking: But 3.5 tonnes is a monumental tow capacity. And it is. Unfortunately, however, it's not always 3.5 tonnes. Here's an example:

Say you spend the big bucks on a BT-50 GT auto - best part of $60k if you pay the full freight. You've got a boat that weighs 3.5 tonnes, all up, loaded, including the trailer. The BT-50 can tow it - just. (Note that I did not just say that this is a good idea.) So, here's how this plays out:

The kerb weight of the BT-50 GT auto is 2118kg the loaded boat + trailer is 3500kg. Add them together: 5618kg. The Gross Combination Mass of the BT-to GT is 6000kg. Therefore, loaded in this condition, you can put a total of 382kg in the ute - because 5618 + 382 = 6000.

(Gross Combination Mass, or GCM, is the total weight of the ute, its payload, and whatever you're towing. And kerb weight is the vehile with all the liquids including a full tank of fuel, but no passengers or cargo. Just to confuse this issue even more, in the EU it includes 75kg worth of allowance for the driver - but in other markets it does not.)

Let's say you and three friends - call it 80kg x 4 = 320kg - are going out on the boat. You all jump in the BT-50 with the boat hitched up. You are just 62kg away from being overloaded - so you'd better be pretty careful about what you carry in the tray. And bear in mind things like bullbars, winches and other accessories count as payload.

It's very easy to overload a vehicle like the BT-50 (and other utes) when towing at the maximum capacity - and you therefore must do your sums rigorously if that's what you intend to do. Do not assume that the payload referenced in the brochure ("Don't be afraid to give it heaps - it takes on payloads of up to 1389kg") applies if you are towing at the maximum capacity - it does not. Actually the GT's maximum payload is 1082kg anyway.

Just don't hitch up the 3500kg boat, trailer or caravan, and pile a total of 1082kg onto the seats and the tray, and think you're OK. You won't be.

In fairness, BT-50 is not the only ute that has this 'zero sum game' situation in play concerning the relationship between towing, payload and GCM.

A solid combination of decent engineering, good consumer fundamentals and strong customer support makes the BT-50 one of the top ute choices in Australia today.

A solid combination of decent engineering, good consumer fundamentals and strong customer support makes the BT-50 one of the top ute choices in Australia today.

Conclusion

If you care about value, robustness and customer support, you really have to put two utes at the top of the list: The Mazda BT-50 and the Mitsubishi Triton. There are reasons to buy something else, perhaps. (If you want the best riding ute, unladen, you'd have a hard look at the Navara, and if you want to fit in at the 4WD club, or any Outback pub, the Hilux looks good.) 

If you just want a good ute with decent support and a value proposition that doesn't leave you feeling violated, the BT-50 and the Triton are definitely the two to road test.

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