Mazda BT-50 Dual Cab 4×4: 3.2-litre inline five-cylinder diesel with six-speed automatic transmission, 147kW/470Nm: $50,810 (Manufacturer’s List Price). Minimum and maximum pricing is based on Freestyle and Dual Cab chassis only. Single Cab pricing has not yet been released by Mazda.
You’re right. The front end of the new Mazda BT-50 utility doesn’t look anything like the Ford Ranger. Let’s get that well and truly straight.
The fact is though, that after sitting behind the wheel of the all-new BT-50 for over 250km on the tarmac and off road, Mazda has produced a high quality utility that will deliver more sales for the brand than any previous model.
On sale in Mazda showrooms in November, the BT-50 will be available in no less than nineteen different variants and that’s just with the Dual Cab chassis. Factor in the trim level, chassis and transmission type and there are literally dozens of BT-50 combinations to choose from.
The BT-50 might share the same platform as the Ford Ranger, but that’s where the similarities mostly end.
It’s clear BT-50 program manager Takasuke Kobayashi and his team set out from the very beginning of this project to do something different in the utility space when he said,
“I wanted to move into uncharted territory. I wanted to create a completely different kind of pick-up – one with the personality of a passenger car. So my team developed innovative, dynamic styling and equipment levels that match high-specification CD-segment cars. We re-engineered the technologies in the powertrain, steering system and frame to deliver the Zoom-Zoom driving pleasure that is Mazda’s greatest brand value.”
Mazda calls the new BT-50 “a genuine active lifestyle vehicle with SUV-like power and handling”.
There is no question that Kobayashi and his design team chose to move away from the blokey styling that most of the Mazda BT-50’s competitors share, and as far as SUV-like power and handling are concerned, you’d have to say Mazda has covered that off too.
Unfortunately we only got to drive the BT-50 with the larger 3.2 litre powertrain at the launch, but can attest its potency and general versatility across a wide range of driving conditions, including some off-road work.
With 147kW at 3000rpm and a stomping 470Nm from a low 1750rpm there was little need to ever change out of third gear when we hit some beautiful undulating landscape out of Canberra. There are huge reserves of pulling power from this inline five-cylinder powerplant and that includes fifth and sixth gear ratios.
There’s little if any turbo lag from this engine and the power is put to the ground via a smooth-shifting six-speed auto transmission, which feels more like what you would expect in a luxury car than a utility of such grand proportions.
Sitting on 90-100km/h in sixth with the auto box and there’s still enough torque to allow the driver to slow down for bends and then accelerate back up to the legal speed limit without having to shift to a lower gear ratio.
In auto guise the Mazda BT-50’s gear ratios are well spaced (if not long) for smooth driving with minimal shifts required up and down the ratio range, even across terrain with varied speed conditions. This kind of gearing also works well in reducing fuel consumption too, but more on that later.
Equally impressive is what Mazda has been able to achieve in the NVH (Noise, Vibration and Harshness) department with the BT-50 and this engine in particular. It’s quiet. I mean, it’s SUV-style quiet, even when you’re giving the drive-by-wire throttle a decent old prod.
You won’t pick this engine for a five-cylinder unit. It behaves more like a large six given how rapidly it responds to throttle input and the sheer ‘grunt’ on tap for mid-range acceleration. Overtaking on long straight country roads has never been easier.
While we didn’t focus on the BT-50’s fuel consumption due to there being both an off-road and on-road driving component as well as various driver change stops on the route, Mazda lists the combined consumption for the Dual Cab 4×4 with the 3.2-litre diesel as 9.2L/100km combined with an 80-litre tank.
CarAdvice will run a more detailed review of the BT-50 with real-life fuel consumption testing over an entire week at a later stage, but in the meantime we are comfortable with the published numbers after putting around 300km on the clock and registering a combined figure of 10.6L/100km.
The six-speed manual transmission in the same Dual Cab 4×4 chassis also proved to be a good drive. The shifts are rather spongy, but we do like the stubby little shifter and how it feels in your hand.
First gear is very short, however, and the shift to second requires some man-handling, but the rest of the gear ratios are much easier to engage. So short in fact is first gear that my colleague and I resorted to second gear take offs at the lights in and around the Canberra CBD.
As much as we enjoyed the manual Mazda BT-50 experience, for an extra $2000 I’d be going with the smooth-shifting six-speed auto, especially for those who will be travelling mostly urban kilometres with plenty of peak hour thrown into the mix.
It’s a fairly advanced gearbox using what Mazda calls Active Adaptive Shift (AAS), which as the name suggests, adapts the shift patterns to driving style. Drivers also have the option of using the Sequential Shift Control (SSC), especially in the kind of hilly terrain that we experienced on the launch route. It’s a relatively quick shifting auto, especially on the downshifts and an excellent marriage with the 3.2-litre diesel.
For a large utility weighing in at just over 2050kg, the Mazda BT-50 has plenty of poise when travelling at speed on bendy roads. The test vehicles were all fitted with the larger 17-inch wheels and the tyres were 265/65 series ‘All Terrain’. Grip levels were excellent and the suspension was relatively pliant on all surfaces, including the off-road sections.
Naturally, there’s a live rear axle with leaf springs at the rear to handle the 3350kg towing capacity, while the front end gets independent double wishbone with coil over dampers and anti-roll bar. The combination produces a reasonably pliant ride, even over the rough stuff. It’s not quite car-like but overall it’s a more comfortable ride than many will expect from such a robust utility.
Mazda has got the steering just right in the BT-50 too and that’s a direct result of moving from a ‘ball-and-nut’ set-up to a rack and pinion system (some would say about time) as well as a quicker steering-gear ratio that in the case of the BT-50 offers quick response and plenty of weight in the steering for more feel through the wheel.
Despite the extra length of the new Mazda BT-50 (that’s 220mm for the 4WD variants and 235mm for the 2WD variants) our Dual Cab 4×4 was decidedly agile through what was a rather tight off-road course.
Brake disc size has also increased from 14 to 16 inches, although the industry still makes do with drums on the rear. That said, brake pedal response on the BT-50 is responsive and linear.
Off road, the BT-50 4×4 is an adept performer. With so much low-down torque, the steep and slippery hill climbs were all too easy. So too is switching from 2H to 4H. You can do that on the fly by simply twisting a dial to the right of the shifter, which is what we did when we went from tarmac to dusty dirt road.
To engage 4L the driver simply needs to stop and engage neutral, then turn the dial, it’s that simple. If you need the BT-50 to climb to rock steps or another steep bank, you can also lock up the rear diff electronically, and that works a treat. Not once did the vehicle stumble through what might have been a challenging course for other vehicles in this segment. It was all too easy in the Mazda.
Mazda’s Kobayashi was going for a car-like experience with the BT-50, and together with the cabin’s exceptional NVH is a stylish and well laid out centre stack and console. You certainly don’t feel like you’re in a tradesman’s work vehicle, and that’s exactly what Mazda was aiming for.
The driver’s instrument panel is more like what you would expect in an SUV than a utility, and the sports steering wheel carries remote switches for Bluetooth phone, audio and cruise control – standard features across the BT-50 range, along with an exhaustive list of creature comforts. The fabric seats are easy on the back and exceptionally comfortable, and there’s a tonne of storage spaces throughout the cockpit.
As ‘car-like’ as the interior is, Mazda has chosen not to go with a soft-touch dash. In fact, I’m yet to drive a Mazda that has such. It’s high time that a manufacturer of such quality vehicles started to focus some attention on the touch and feel of plastics and materials used inside the cabin of its cars. Styling aside, it’s one of the few criticisms that can be levelled at Mazda’s BT-50.
Given that Mazda is aiming the new BT-50 at a wider buying group including those with outdoor lifestyle activities and some of those folks with families in tow, standard fitment across all three trim grades is a full suite of active and passive safety kit including Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) with ABS, EBD and traction control. Add to that features such as Brake Override System (BOS), Load Adaptive Control (LAC), Trailer Sway Control, Roll Stability Control, Hill Launch Assist and Hill Decent Control and it’s pretty much all accounted for.
Mazda has also strengthened the body shell of the latest BT-50. Ultra-high-tensile steel has been used for the rocker panels. In addition, the body shell of the new model Mazda BT-50 has around 20 per cent more torsional rigidity than the current model.
Several of the launch vehicles were fitted with one of two new accessory kits; called the Boss Sports kit (a unique airbag-compatible alloy bull bar, Lightforce Genesis Driving Lights, 17-inch alloys and stainless side steps and a lockable hard tonneau cover).
The other kit is called Boss Adventure and the only real difference between the two is a steel bull bar and a soft tonneau cover. Prices for these two kits have not yet been signed off by Mazda Australia.
It’s not perfect, there’s that styling issue that will be a problem for some, but in the BT-50, Mazda has produced what should be a ‘tough as nails’ utility that is more car-like than most of its competitors in both driveability and comfort.