Mazda\'s BT-50 XTR presents a strong offering in the dual-cab ute segment but is let down by its overly firm ride.
Like most of the popular ute brands sold in Australia, the Mazda BT-50 can be bought in a multitude of configurations with various body styles.
In all, Mazda offers up to 19 different choices - from the entry-level 2WD single-cab chassis with manual transmission, through to the range-topping dual cab GT 4X4 auto model.
At $50,890 (before on-road costs) the Mazda BT-50 XTR 4X4 with six-speed auto (as tested) holds the number two spot in the BT-50 hierarchy, behind the top-spec $53,140 BT-50 GT model.
From the outside, the BT-50 adopts Mazda’s familiar, but controversial corporate family face, which so distinctly differentiates it from all other contenders who have adopted more truck-like styling for the front. It’s been a bone of contention from day one that has continued to polarise opinions on the BT-50.
No such issues with the rest of the Mazda’s styling, though. The rear profile and side panels are as handsome as any rival in the segment.
However, under the skin the Mazda BT-50 is practically the same vehicle as the Ford Australia-developed Ranger, on which the BT-50 is based.
The Mazda, though, holds a significant price advantage over its similarly-speced Ford Ranger XLT Double-Cab twin, which commands a price of $53,390 for the manual.
Mind you, the Ranger is even more expensive than the top-selling Toyota Hilux 3.0 SR5 DoubleCab priced at $50,990 (before on-roads and auto), as well as the $53,990 Volkswagen Amarok 2.0 TDI420 Highline, with eight-speed automatic transmission.
The two share the same 3.2-litre diesel powerplant generating 147kW/470Nm, but for one slight variation. The Ford Ranger develops its maximum torque sightly earlier from 1500rpm (to the Mazda’s 1700rpm).
The end result is that the BT-50 suffers from slightly more turbo-lag than its Ford twin; most noticeable when heavy throttle is applied from standstill.
There is, however, locomotive-like hauling power available from this enormously willing diesel, with the Mazda BT-50 displaying effortless low-end tractability on the steepest of gradients.
The driving experience is helped by the close ratio, six-speed automatic transmission, which provides smooth and precise shifts along with excellent mid-range throttle response.
But, while it’s a strong, punchy, free-revving diesel, there’s no hiding its amplified, truck-like diesel clatter, no matter where you are on the rev range. It's massively fuel efficient though, with a claimed average combined fuel-consumption of just 9.2L/100km. But by the end of the week, with a diet of urban work only, we averaged 8.9L/km.
Switching from 2WD to 4WD in the BT-50 can be done on the run, at up to 120km/h, and is as simple as a quarter turn of the dial next to the shifter. We tested this system in torrential rain and gained considerably more traction on the greasy roads.
On paper, the BT-50’s independent double-wishbone suspension up front and live axle/leaf spring set up at the back should be fine, but the ride, over anything less than freeway-smooth roads, is far from comfortable. There’s not enough compliance in the damping, so the Mazda’s ride is firm and jiggly.
In stark contrast, the Ford Ranger displays none of those characteristics, instead, ironing out compressions and patchwork roads far more successfully than the Mazda.
It’s a shame, because the general on-road dynamics on board the BT-50 match those of the Ford Ranger - that is, it’s more SUV than truck in this regard.
Apart from the firm ride (not to be underestimated) the Mazda BT-50 drives well and handles even better. Turn-in is sharp and it corners relatively flat (at the expense of ride quality) and feels composed, despite its high-riding architecture and significant 2086kg kerb weight.
The BT-50 uses disc brakes up front and drums on the rear, but there’s no issue with stopping power whatsoever. The braking is solid and the pedal is nicely progressive.
It might be a purpose-built work truck for the mostly tradie-tribe, but the interior trims and finish in this edition of the BT-50 are more of a match for the passenger car segment.
There are soft-touch materials everywhere and metal-look accents are spread evenly throughout the cabin. The centre-stack is neat (although busy) and the ergonomics are car-like.
The smaller-diameter, leather-wrapped steering wheel is a treat, as are the standard cloth seats, which are properly bolstered and help provide a cosseted feeling behind the wheel of the Mazda BT-50.
The XTR-grade ute comes with a stack of features, too, that includes satellite-navigation with a five-inch colour screen, Bluetooth phone and music streaming, dual-zone climate control, fog lamps, 17-inch alloy wheels and a better than expected 6-speaker audio system are just some of the features on-board the BT-50.
Rear leg and headroom is surprisingly generous even for those over six-foot, in the old table. The rear doors also open wide for easy ingress and egress and there are standard fit side steps with an aluminium finish.
It’s got a ton of load space in the tub, too. At 511mm deep it’s chest high for this reviewer and 1549mm long and 1560mm wide. The Maximum braked towing capacity is a sizeable 3500kg and in-line with the best in class.
With more and more work trucks these days doubling-up as the weekend family chariot (especially the dual cab models) safety standards have been dramatically improved across the board.
The Mazda BT-50 gets a full suite of the latest active and passive safety kit including six airbags, dynamic stability control with traction control, antilock braking system with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist, trailer sway control (for extra stability when towing), load adaptive control (adjusts the stability control systems to maximise traction), hill launch assist and hill decent control for a full five-star crash test rating from ANCAP.
The Mazda BT-50 is a great all-round package, with keen pricing for a very strong offering. However, the one chink in the Mazda’s armour is the jittery ride over all but the smoothest of surfaces.