They may not be the most popular body-types in the ute segment, but extra-cab models – such as this 2017 Mazda BT-50 XTR Freestyle Cab – offer a neat alternative if you don’t plan to use the rear seats at all times.
The primary appeal of an extra-cab ute is that you get additional tray space – not as much as a single-cab, clearly, but more than a dual-cab, which can be limited in terms of tray depth.
For example, the BT-50 styleside dual-cab ute has a load length of 1549 millimetres, where the extra-cab version has 1847mm of space. The tray is 1560mm wide (and 1139mm between the wheel-arches, making it too narrow to suit an Aussie-standard pallet which is 1165mm by 1165mm). That means it’s better suited to dealing with pipes, ladders, tools and even objects like motorbikes and mountain bikes in the tub.
It’s not just the extra tray length that a space-cab ute gives you that makes them an appealing option: extra-cab models often represent a good discount over their dual-cab compatriots – this top-spec XTR auto extra-cab model, for example, is $49,675 plus on-road costs, making it $2025 cheaper than the XTR auto dual-cab.
Nothing has changed in terms of equipment for the BT-50 line-up since the facelifted Mazda model arrived on our shores back in September 2015. And the version of the extra-cab we have here – the XTR – is the flagship of its line, despite a dearer GT version being offered in the dual-cab ranks.
Buying this spec sees you get 17-inch alloy wheels, chrome door handles, front fog-lamps, auto on/off headlamps, auto wipers, chrome side mirror caps, a chrome rear step bumper, polished side steps and a locking tailgate.
Inside there’s dual-zone climate control, carpet flooring, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearknob, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror that also acts as a display for the rear-view camera (standard in XTR spec only), and a touchscreen media system with satellite navigation.
That media system is a bit clumsy and certainly not up to the standard of the MZD Connect unit used in the brand’s passenger cars. The navigation menu is simple and the controls are generally simple and quick to respond, but it doesn't feel well integrated into the rest of the cabin, and the Bluetooth audio streaming quality was dreadful. That said, if you plan to spend a bit of time in the great outdoors, you could option HEMA off-road maps for $295 on XTR and GT (dual-cab) models.
The cabin is reasonably thoughtful when it comes to storage, with decent sized cupholders between the front seats, plus a storage box in front of the gear-knob and a central storage box. There are bottle holders in the front doors, while the rear doors have large storage boxes because the rear windows don’t open.
Access to the extra part of the cab comes by way of rear doors that open rearwards on both sides. The door action is easy, and ingress and egress is okay – but the amount of legroom for the two occupants in the back (there are only two seats) is tight. We use the term ‘seats’ lightly, because the seat backs are more like a park bench, and the seat bases are thin and hard but can be easily detached for storage underneath (and they’re fiddly to reattach).
If you plan on using the space for children instead of adults (your mates will thank you), there are dual top-tether anchor points, but no ISOFIX attachments.
There are clever touches like a trio of 12-volt outlets (two up front, one in the back) as well as a single USB point in the glovebox. Choosing the XTR sees dual-zone climate control for the cabin, but there are no rear seat air-vents. The lack of a digital speed readout is also a bit of a bummer.
The XTR is only offered as a 4x4 with the choice of a six-speed manual ($47,675) or six-speed automatic gearbox. There’s a cheaper XT model with the five-cylinder engine in 4x4 guise, too with both manual ($40,815) and auto ($42,815), then there’s the high-riding 4x2 XT versions with the 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel (manual: $32,745; auto: $34,475) – so there’s an extra-cab for most people’s budgets.
Choosing a 4x4 model gets you a switchable four-wheel-drive system with proper low-range mode (the switch allows you twist between 2H, 4H and 4L modes), and all 4WD versions come with a locking rear differential and hill-descent control. It has 205mm of ground clearance with a load on board, and 237mm unladen, and its wading depth is 800mm. The approach angle for this spec is 28.2 degrees, while the departure angle is 26.4deg, and the ramp breakover angle is 25deg.
This test was a mix of regular day-to-day driving, and it was also used for a weekend of hard work around the house. We saw an average of 10.4 litres per 100 kilometres – not bad, considering the claim for the XTR's full-fat 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo diesel is 9.2L/100km.
That engine has 147kW of power and 470Nm of torque, and as a result it never feels short of wallop, with plenty of pulling power from about 2000rpm up.
There’s a bit of turbo lag from a standstill, but it never, ever feels troubled. If you’re running around town on your own, the drivetrain is settled and smooth, and even with extra weight on board – in the form of passengers or stuff in the tray – it’s a willing drivetrain. While the six-speed auto gearbox may seem like it’s a bit busy at low speeds, but the shifts are decisive at pace.
The ride of the extra-cab XTR was acceptable with nothing in the back, but better with a few hundred kilos of ballast. Riding on 17-inch alloys, it could be a lot worse.
If there’s one aspect of the drive experience of the BT-50 that could turn you off buying one, it’s the steering. Admittedly, it’s quite excellent at pace, with great feedback, feel and accuracy the faster you go – but when you’re tooling around town a lot, that weigthing can become cumbersome, It’s very heavy, and the big turning circle and the slowness of the rack doesn’t help. If you like fingertip light steering at low speeds, take a look at the Ford Ranger.
As for hauling capability, this spec of BT-50 extra cab has a payload of 1144 kilograms for the automatic model, while the manual can deal with a little more (1158kg). We didn't tow with our tester – the size of the tray meant a trailer wasn’t needed! – but the capacity for most BT-50 models is the benchmark 3.5 tonnes braked (750kg un-braked).
All Mazda BT-50 models require maintenance every 12 months or 10,000km, whichever occurs first. So if you do a lot of mileage, that could be an inconvenience. The average service cost is $463.50 before additional consumables, and the service plan spans up to 160,000km.
The warranty offered by Mazda for the BT-50 is intriguing. It has a two-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, but “if you haven't reached 100,000km at the end of two years, your cover extends to three-years or 100,000 km, whichever comes first”. Weird.
All in all the 2017 Mazda BT-50 XTR Freestyle cab is a solid option for those looking to get into a capable four-wheel-drive extra-cab ute. If you need the tray space more than you need interior room, this configuration of ute could be you (but maybe also consider a single-cab!). But if a proper rear seat is more important, there are plenty of other, competitively priced utes from big-name brands that could prove better options.