Mazda BT-50 review & buyer's guide

 

An ugly duckling? Maybe, but solid fundamentals: reliability, strong powertrain, rugged all-terrain, towing and workhorse performance mean BT-50 remains on my recommended list if you're a rational ute buyer

 
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The Mazda BT-50 ute is essentially a clone of the Ford Ranger, minus the tough looks. (The pair share major components and architecture.) They're even made in the same factory in Thailand.

But as an ownership proposition, BT-50 murders Ranger. Here's why

This leads to two main differences:

  1. There's a fundamental difference between Mazda and Ford: Ford is a complete corporate disgrace in Australia, with a track record of leaving customers who need support out in the cold. Full details >>. (Suffice to say the ACCC recently handed Ford a $10 million pull-through >> in Federal Court for unconscionable conduct. Do you really want to do business with a company like that?)

    Mazda is not like that - Mazda's customer support is decent. Not the best in the market, but decent. (Mazda is also a bigger seller overall than Ford - but not in utes. Ranger outsells BT-50 comfortably.) If you do have a problem with a Mazda, chances are they'll sort it.
     
  2. Mazda does its own styling, and it's always relatively terrible. (Earlier BT-50 styling iterations were appallingly ugly. What were they thinking?) The kindest I can be about this latest crack at getting the styling right (this facelift was launched in April 2018) is that it's successful. And by 'successful' I mean: This is the least ugly BT-50 in about seven years. The vehicle's snout actually looks OK, at last.
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LOVE

  • Strong performance in the context of a workhorse, for towing or in terms of all-terrain performance (4X4s)
  • Good reliability
  • High tow capacity - 3500kg** (See 'Hate')
  • Five-star safety rating >>
  • Great value - especially XTR & GT
  • Potent five-cylinder diesel delivers excellent performance and OK economy
  • Mazda does better customer support than Ford, Holden, Volkswagen and even Toyota (on the 2.8 diesel in Hilux, at least)
  • It's less ugly than the previous two styling iterations
  • Warranty and service interval increases recently are a real plus

HATE

  • Styling still lets the team down
  • Ranger, Colorado, Hilux and Amarok all look better
  • GT is definitely not as 'Tonka Tough' looking as competitors' range-topping utes
  • Old-tech 4x4 system not a patch on Triton's Super Select II system that allows 4x4 to be used on high traction surfaces
  • Although touted as an alternative to conventional family transport, utes really are a step backwards in refinement, safety and value (this goes for all utes)
  • For 4X4 adventuring and camping it's either hard or expensive to secure your gear when you leave the vehicle behind. (Wagons are generally more practical)

Buying with your head -Vs- ...

Red-blooded Aussie Blokes will never admit this, but they're atrociously fashion-conscious when it comes to utes. 

Aussie blokes buying utes put women to shame on handbags and shoes. Totally.

Just admit it.

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Riddle me any other explanation why your average Aussie ute-buying boofhead will queue up to purchase a Hilux until the cows come home, in spite of the sky-high DPF failure rate >> (which Toyota won't admit)...

Ditto Rangers, Colorados and Amaroks, with Ford, Holden and Volkswagen seemingly in a sprint for Gold in the Customer Disservice Olympics. You'd have to be clinically nuts to buy one of them, in the face of overwhelming evidence about how hard you're rolling the dice there.

And yet, they do.

And you know what? I never get complaints from owners about BT-50s. My inbox overflows with complaints from owners painted into a corner here and there, as a matter of course - just not in relation to BT-50s.

So, styling aside, if you want to buy with your head, as opposed to using your reproductive organs for this demanding task, the BT-50 worth a look.

The BT-50 is a fundamentally excellent ute, which ticks a great many boxes: It has a potent engine, solid driveline, heavy tow capacity, good safety credentials and plenty of luxury features if you don't mind spending the big bucks. And it's a lot better value than a fully loaded Ranger, Colorado, Amarok or Hilux.


Warranty & Service interval upgrade

Mazda upgraded its warranty on August 1, 2018 to five years and unlimited kilometres across the range.

(The warranty on Mazda commercial vehicles was previously just two years with unlimited kilometres, and if the vehicle had driven less than 100,000 kilometres at the end of the two years, the warranty reverted to three years with a 100,000km cap.)

This is a lot less convoluted, and in line with the direction other brands are headed.

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With this April revision to the BT-50, service interval grew from 12 months or 10,000km to 12 months or 15,000km. (Servicing is on the basis of whichever occurs first - the time or the distance.)

This doesn't make a huge difference to the bottom line if you're a textbook Ausstats average Aussie driver doing about 15,000km annually - Mazda says you'll save about $850 over five years in that case. But if you're working your BT-50 harder than that - say 25,000km annually, according to Mazda you'll save $1920 over the first five years. (Both figures based on standard service items only.)

If you are one of those high-mileage drivers there's also a substantial benefit in convenience there - you just won't be darkening the dealer's door as often, and your vehicle won't be off the road getting serviced as often - another plus for the bottom line if you need the vehicle for work.


    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)

    General Specs

    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: 6000 kg
    Maximum tow capacity: 3500 kg
    Seating Capacity: Up to five

    (depending on body configuration)

    Warranty: 5 years / unlimited kilometres
    Servicing: 12 months or 15,000 km (whichever comes first)
    Spare wheel: Temporary

    Download the official 75-page Mazda BT-50 press kit PDF >> 

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    Range & configuration

    Ute ranges are complex. Inside the BT-50 range there are:

    Two engines:

    • 2.2 four-cylinder diesel - it's only available in the absolute poverty pack XT single cab 4X2 (in manual or auto)
    • 3.2 five-cylinder diesel. (Here's a video on the mad physics of five-cylinder engines >>)
       
    • Click to enlarge the detail (right)

    Two transmissions:

    • Six-speed manual
    • Six-speed conventional automatic

    Two drivelines:

    • 4x2 Hi-Rider or standard height (rear drive). Note: 4x2 = 4 wheels, with 2 connected to the powertrain.
      (The Hi-Rider gives you the ground clearance of 4x4 with the driveline of 4x2.)
    • 4x4 Part-time 4WD with low range. Note: 4x4 = 4 wheels, with 4 connected to the powertrain

    Three cabs:

    • Single cab
    • 'Freestyle' cab - this one is the hybrid between single and dual cab, with the two Marquis de Sade seats in the back for people you hate (or short trips). It's the one with the small 'suicide' rear doors pictured above in the 'Warranty & service' section.
    • Dual cab

    Three specification grades:

    • XT (4x2 & 4x4)
    • XTR (4x2 & 4x4)
    • GT (4x4 only)
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    Model range permutations and limitations

    Obviously, with this many variables in play, the complexity of the range would spiral out of control quickly if all permutations were available a la carte. There are an incredible 23 different variations on offer as things stand (10 4x2s and 13 4x4s) - so there's probably no excuse for not finding one that suits you, or near enough.

    Owing to the complexity issue, you simply cannot mix and match configurations at will (not unless you want to pay $100k for your ute...) - so, sorry to dash your hopes, but that BT-50 GT manual 4x2 single cab-chassis Hi-Rider: it's permanently off the menu.

    Click see below for the 23 off-the rack BT-50 combinations you can buy, in both 4x2 and 4x4:

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    What's new for 2018?

    So - the styling is refreshed. They did what they could, without changing the sheetmetal (which is generally too expensive for a facelift). There's also the bigger warranty and extended service interval, noted above.

    Two of the biggest upgrades are a reversing camera and improved phone integration. Previously only the upper grades copped a reversing camera, making people who bought lower grade BT-50s second class citizens on safety. That's no longer the case, and high time too. (Accidental run-overs in the driveway at home is the second most common cause of accidental death for children, after drowning in a backyard swimming pool. Pretty sobering fact.) So that's good.

    Apple Car Play and Android Auto are also standard now - finally. Mazda has apparently dropped its addiction to its third-rate MZD Connect system, finally acknowledging that its customers are all in a pre-existing relationship with either Apple or Google, and they're better at phone integration than a carmaker could ever be - so that's a plus.

    Alpine infotainment, power windows, power mirrors, air conditioning, and a host of safety features are standard.

    GT models now get polished alloy wheels, a chrome sports bar, a tub liner, remote tailgate locking, 12-volt power outlet in the tray, and a light in the tub.


    MAZDA BT-50 IN DETAIL

    The Mazda BT-50 is - overall - a great ute. Safe. Capable. Comfortable. Well equipped. Good value. It’ll work hard, and play hard as well.

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    You could use the Mazda BT-50 ute as a daily driver even if you're not using it for work. If you’re part of that ‘suit in a ute’ demographic, a 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 it - a career-limiting but momentarily satisfying possibility.


    Hard or soft?

    The reality is, however, that unless you really want or need a ute, or 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.

    The following 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. There's a lot more bang for your buck with an SUV.

    Which engine?

    The Mazda BT-50 range kicks off at about $27 grand (not including on-road costs, which vary from state to state) 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.

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    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. Towing performance is beyond adequate.

    It's a nice driveline.


    Breadth of 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.

    2018 Mazda BT-50 04.jpg

    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 $50-something 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.

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    The poverty pack Toyota LandCruiser 200 GX will tow 3.5 tonnes too - but that vehicle will cost you almost $80 grand.

    So, although just over $50,000 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.

    If you need those hardcore abilities, it’s a lot of versatility for the money.


    On the move in a BT-50

    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.

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    The rear vision mirrors are big, and the reversing camera - now standard, thankfully - is a big help in tight parking spaces as well as in challenging off-road conditions. 

    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.


    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.

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    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, and 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 just 382kg in the ute - because 5618 + 382 = 6000. And 6000kg is an absolute limit for the all-up weight of the ute plus what it's towing.)

    (Gross Combination Mass, or GCM, is the total weight of the ute, its payload, and whatever you're towing. And kerb weight is the vehicle 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.)

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    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.

    2018 Mazda BT-50 14.jpg

    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. More detail on towing a trailer in Australia >>


    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're buying a ute the way a woman buys a handbag, that is...) 

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    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.

    More on BT-50 at Mazda Australia >>

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