The 2016 Mazda BT-50 may not look as dramatically different as some buyers may have hoped, but there’s no denying it appears a more macho thing on the whole.
The updated Mazda BT-50 ute – which consists of three body styles: single-cab, Freestyle-cab (extra-cab), and dual-cab – encompasses 23 variants, and pricing for the range hasn’t changed much, starting from $25,570 plus on-road costs for the base model XT and topping out at $53,790 plus costs for the flagship GT.
As such, the BT-50 remains one of the more competitively priced vehicles in this market segment, going toe-to-toe with the likes of the Isuzu D-Max and Holden Colorado, and generally undercutting the Volkswagen Amarok, and the BT-50’s kindred model, the Ford Ranger, to an extent.
Historically the BT-50 has fared better in two-wheel-drive specification than in four-wheel-drive, at least in terms of sales share. So far in 2015, 4x2 BT-50 models have accounted for 3474 sales (or 12.9 per cent market share), where the 4x4 variants take just 6.8 per cent of market share (though with a higher number of sales: 6014 YTD).
Some of the sales slowness comes down to the fact the BT-50 has never been perceived as being as butch as its workhorse truck competitors.
“We got rejections from small fleet and business buyers - more than we needed. It didn’t really turn off the private buyers,” said Martin Benders, Mazda Australia managing director.
“The changes we’ve made have sort of taken that out of the equation. The new design won’t detract from the private buyers, but it should appeal to the fleet and business buyers, and that’s where we think we’ve got the growth opportunity.
“You can do it with a passenger car, but with a ute you just don’t need to be as polarising, I don’t think,” he said.
Aside from changes to the cosmetics, there have been new standard equipment items for all spec levels – and, given the importance of the 4x2 models, we decided to spend some time in the entry-level XT 4x2 single-cab-chassis model, which is something of a tradies’ special.
The entry-level XT is powered by a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine, with 110kW of power and 375Nm of torque (for those playing along at home, the updated Ford Ranger scored a more powerful version of this engine, with 118kW/385Nm). Our test vehicle was the automatic version, which has a starting price of $28,815 plus on-road costs.
The diesel four-cylinder engine is – as you may expect – a workmanlike thing, with a nature that is slightly rough around the edges.
It is definitely grunty enough, and the torque sweet spot is from 1500-2500rpm. Thankfully there’s not too much engine lag down low in the rev range, but as revs rise it goes get quite loud in the cabin, as XT models miss out on the engine cover that helps dissolve some of the noise that filters in to the cabin.
The six-speed auto behaves itself quite well, swapping between cogs relatively smoothly and picking the right gear on nearly all occasions. There were one or two times up steeper hills where a quicker downshift would have been nice, but it’s not annoying in any way.
The ride, on the other hand, can be frustrating. Let’s just be clear – we drove a single-cab tray-back with a payload of 1533 kilograms (which is massive!) – so some terseness to the ride is expected, especially since our ute had only a 30kg bag in the tray.
That jostling ride accounted for, the BT-50 XT feels ready for rough-and-tumble work. The auto model gets the Hi-Rider body style, which sits an extra 30mm higher when unladen and 65mm taller when laden, and it also betters the manual 2WD’s payload by 205kg.
The interior of the XT model – which in Hi-Rider guise has two bucket seats, rather than a three-seat bench – now includes driver’s seat height adjustment, a new cloth trim and new interior highlights that are finished in gunmetal grey, rather than shiny silver. There’s now a lockable glovebox, too.
XT models retain the small dash-top screen with a multitude of buttons underneath, rather than adopting a touchscreen media system as is fitted to the XTR and GT models.
The BT-50 XTR dual-cab 4x4 automatic was another vehicle we spent time in. It’s the mid-range offering in the range and, like the other variants, it accounts for a fair share of private sales, according to the brand.
This model – along with 20 others in the 23-strong range – is powered by the powered-up 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo diesel engine.
With an unchanged 147kW of power and 470Nm of torque, this is an engine that doesn’t feel troubled – particularly with two passengers and no load on board.
There’s no shortage of pulling power, though it should be noted that some rivals have smaller capacity four-cylinder engines with more torque. Still, it never feels stressed, offering easy driving and quick response to sudden throttle inputs – though it is a little slower to get going from a standstill than the 2.2-litre, as the 3.2’s peak torque hits from 1750rpm.
The six-speed automatic has a great deal to do with the competency of this drivetrain. It shifts cogs with volition and intuition, and during our time in the auto dual-cab we never caught it out.
The engine doesn’t fill the cabin with its five-cylinder roar, though it is a constant accompaniment when you’re on the throttle. And while there’s some wind noise at times, the road noise that so often plagues Mazda models isn’t too bad in the big BT-50 truck.
The Japanese brand claims the suspension and steering of the BT-50 has been tuned “to steer and handle like an SUV”, and, in comparison to rugged off-roaders like the Holden Colorado 7 or Isuzu MU-X, it seems a fair claim – maybe not a CX-5 or CX-9, though.
Unlike the Ford Ranger – which saw an update of its steering system to an electronic unit rather than the existing hydraulic system, which makes for easier turning at low speeds - the Mazda persists with the existing hydraulic rack and pinion setup that means the nature of the steering is quite heavy, particularly around town, but offers good linear response at higher speeds.
As for the ride comfort there is still some sharpness at the rear end without a load on board, and the back can step out over rough patches. Indeed, it never feels 100 per cent settled, even over smooth road surfaces.
While many owners may not throw their truck through the twisty stuff, the BT-50 feels competent at cornering with some pace on board, and stable in bends, too – so long as there are no mid-corner bumps.
While the tradie-friendly cab-chassis models are more configurable in terms of tray size, the tub of the dual-cab pick-up has seen no modifications to its measurements.
That means it remains one of the better examples in the class, with a tray that measures 1549mm from front to rear, 1560mm from side to side, and a depth of 513mm. The space between the wheelarches remains at 1139mm, which means it’s too small for a standard Aussie pallet to fit (1165mm by 1165mm).
Inside, the interior of the 2016 Mazda BT-50 hasn’t seen dramatic changes in most trim grades, the upper-spec (XTR and GT) models get a new 7.8-inch touchscreen media system.
The system features a simple and effective navigation system, though its aftermarket look – as opposed to the integrated Sync 3 unit in the Ford – means it doesn't have the same quality presentation or thoughtfulness of the menu layout. That said, the unit is quick to respond (faster than some manufacturer-made systems) and has Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, and USB playback through an input in the glovebox.
While the Ford may have seen a new high-tech instrument cluster in its top-end models, the Mazda retains the same dials and nearly all of the same knobs and buttons as before. Still, the cabin of the BT-50 is a smart looking and practical space.
The back seat area is excellent in the BT-50, and a short stint showed that not only is the area dimensionally impressive (there’s good head, knee and toe room), but it is quiet and comfortable, too.
The back seat has a new fold-down armrest with cupholders, which is good for longer journeys, and there are decent door pockets all-around, not to mention bottle- and cupholders up front.
While the updated BT-50 doesn’t come with any of the optional safety equipment seen in the brand’s passenger cars – such as blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assistance or adaptive cruise control (its sibling model, the Ford Ranger, does get them optionally) – the requisite standard suite of airbags (dual front, front side and full-length curtain) are fitted to all models.
A reverse-view camera is fitted to the XTR and GT models as standard, but, oddly, the system doesn’t link up to the stereo screen, instead displaying through the rear-vision mirror, which also has auto-dimming. A camera is optional in all other trim levels, including cab-chassis versions, for $820 fitted.
As for ownership, whether you choose a 2.2-litre or 3.2-litre will determine the servicing costs paid – though all models require maintenance every 12 months or 10,000km, whichever occurs first, and that is more regular than many rivals (Nissan, for instance, only needs maintenance every 20,000km). For the first 50,000km of ownership, the 2.2-litre averages $428, while the 3.2-litre averages $450.
On the whole, the 2016 Mazda BT-50 carries over its predecessor’s strong stance as one of the better options in the class.
It is good value, in dual-cab guise it is comfortable in the back, it’s still good to drive and some thoughtful updates have meant it feels more refined than it did before. The fact it looks a bit more macho is a bonus.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Mitchell Oke and Mazda Australia.