2008 Mazda BT-50 Review and Road Test
It's the hard worker, perfect for tackling any task
- 2009 Mazda BT-50 Freestyle Cab Chassis - $37,820
Options: ABS, EBD, Alloy Bull Bar and Alloy Tray Plus - Ladder rack, Tool Box and Water Tank - $3527
Engine, excellent gearbox, ride quality for leaf springs, space
More expensive than its badge-engineered sibling, the Ford Ranger
Ever had one of those days that nothing seemed to go right? "The best laid plans of mice and men..." or so said John Steinbeck. It seemed that every moment I took the camera out to take a photo of this week's press car, the rain we hadn't seen for ages suddenly appeared and drenched everything.
Forget doing a raindance - all I needed to do was undo the camera bag and the heavens opened. I felt like I could control the weather with just my hands. As nice a feeling as that is, it meant that I couldn't get the photos I needed.
So instead of concentrating on getting photos, I concentrated on driving the car, and getting to know it.
You see, while some of the CarAdvice staff had fun over the Christmas period with our Ute Challenge, some of the other staffers actually had to work, and write up the reviews on the cars we had.
Case in point - this Mazda BT-50 Freestyle cab. When Mazda called up to say that the car was ready, I must admit, I was expecting a dual-cab. Rocking up to the state office to collect the car, a black dual-cab sat out the front with New South Wales plates on it.
Great, I thought. Here's my car. It's a decent looking rig, too. Then the lady pulled up the roller door, and showed me the silver version you see here. So, it's the real work truck that we get. No matter, because it's not as bad as you might think.
With rubber mats, thin carpets, leaf springs and the bare essentials, you'd expect that there'd be a heap of agonising affliction coming along. It couldn't be further from the truth. The BT-50 is as comfortable a tradies truck as you'd like.
Sure, it's a bit Spartan inside, but at least the plastics have some semblance of quality. Comparing the current crop of four-wheel-drive work utilities, the BT-50's interior is right up there with the best.
All control surfaces feel well sorted, and not like they'd snap off. The only area of concern is the blank plate that sits below the stereo screen. A hole with a rubber mat would have been better.
Still, the seats are bolstered nicely, the padding is perfect, and the material is hard wearing. All things you'd need in a work utility. Plus, there's the king-cab-style temporary rear seats complete with cup-holders - those guys you're taking home from the pub, they're going to need somewhere to store the VBs, right?
But it's not the interior that makes the BT-50 a good car. It's what's underneath.
In a lesson to Toyota, Mitsubishi, Holden and Isuzu, Mazda's suspension competence makes the BT-50 shine like a day star. It soaks up road-defects, it handles pretty darn well, and it also provides decent feel through the steering.
Unlike competitive vehicles, there's no jolt from the leaf-sprung rear that catapults your load out of the tray and your passengers from their seats. There's a bump, but no continual wobble afterwards. Finally, someone has got it right. The funny thing is, too, that the road comfort doesn't mean your off-road ability has been sacrificed.
The BT-50 still comes with a low range, and even with the manual that was supplied for the test, the BT-50 will churn through hungry sand without trying to dig its way to the Earth's core. That said, there is a more noticeable gap between high and low ranges than competitive product.
It's either too tall in high range, or too short in low range. Not that it matters a great deal, but third-gear low-range starts just seemed a little too much. The engine also doesn't seem to have the low down grunt of Holden's Colorado, either, which would just about never bog down.
Mazda's diesel needs to be kept on the boil, not recovering from dipping below 1000-1200rpm like the Colorado would. That said it's a decently quiet unit when on the road cruising, and even under load, it's like any diesel work-horse, only muted a bit more.
The gearshift is solid and positive, and the clutch is a little on the heavy side, befitting its load-carrying credentials. Braking is assured, too, with good feel, especially off-road. The best thing about the Freestyle Cab is the fact that not only will it carry four people, but the tray is a decent size.
Fitted to the test car was a wooden tray, too. I reckon a hardwood tray is perfect, as you wouldn't ever worry about scratches. It's durable, takes a beating, and it evens looks good, too. Splinters, though? Not sure...
The other thing the Mazda does well, is tow Toyotas. The evening of our off-road expedition (and rain, and hardly any photo opportunities) we had a brand new HiLux come along. As the tide was getting higher when we came onto the beach, we opted for the high track along the top of the dunes.
Heading down the slope just before our entry point to the beach, the HiLux's 195mm-wide front right tyre didn't hold up well after hitting the edge of a dune, and subsequently came off the rim. A message came through on the CB.
"Uh, guys, I think I may have rolled the tyre of the rim." Looking in my rear view mirror, masses of sand were being churned up and spat out the side by the floppy rubber. The HiLux stopped, and we hooked up the snatch strap to the back of the Mazda.
Having just rained, the sand became even softer than usual (you'd think it would got the other way) and it was left to the BT-50's low range to do all the work. With the tyre pressures set to 18psi, the 235mm width hoops dug in a little, but eventually got up and going.
With the snatch strap attached, we hauled the 'Lux onto a flat, harder area where a tyre change could be performed. While it was a disappointing time for the HiLux driver, the Mazda leapt at the challenge and relished the opportunity. The fact that it pulled another four-wheel-drive out of soft sand when it was quite crippled is testament to its ability.
The BT-50 is excellent both on road and off, and as a work ute covers pretty much all the bases. It's got space, load area, quality and genuine cred in any conditions. Mazda's come up trumps, yet again.
CarAdvice Overall Rating: How does it Drive: How does it Look: How does it Go:
- Engine: 3.0-litre diesel
- Power: 115kw @ 3200rpm
- Torque: 380Nm @ 1800rpm
- Induction: Turbocharged, Common-rail, electronic direct injection
- Transmission: Five-speed manual
- Differential/Driven Wheels: All-wheel-drive, low-range transfer case
- Brakes: Vented discs (front) Drum brakes (rear)
- 0-100km/h: N/A
- 0-400m: N/A
- Fuel Consumption: 9.2 litres/100km
- Fuel Tank Capacity: 70 litres
- Fuel Type: Diesel
- ANCAP Rating: Three star
- Airbags: Driver and passenger
- Safety: ABS, EBD
- Spare Wheel: Full-size steel
- Tow Capacity: 750kgs (unbraked) 3000kgs (braked)
- Turning Circle: 12.6m
- Warranty: Three year/unlimited kilometres
- Weight: 1700kgs
- Wheels: 15 x 6.5-inch JJ