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Not quite the most expensive dual-cab in the Mazda stable, the 2017 Mazda BT-50 XTR is Mazda’s attempt to offer a value packed, if not quite range-topping, alternative to an audience hungry for more dual-cabs than ever before.
Matt reviewed the XTR Freestyle Cab back in February, so if you need to prioritise load space over cabin (read second row) space, then take a look at that review to see where he thought the extra tray version was strong. The dual-cab we have on test here is the same specification grade, so you can make a solid, tray-size comparison between the two.
Pricing starts from $49,700 for the XTR dual-cab as tested, with the range-topping GT dual-cab starting from $51,790 before on-road costs. It's worth noting that, comparatively, the BT-50, spec-for-spec, is very competitively priced against others in the segment and offers up a strong value equation. The more buyers who flock to this segment, the more important value and standard inclusions will get too, make no mistake about that.
There’s nothing vast about the standard specification list in XTR guise, but highlights include 17-inch alloy wheels, chrome door handles, front fog lights, auto on/off headlights, auto wipers, side mirror caps, a chrome rear step bumper, polished side steps, locking tailgate, dual zone climate control, leather trimmed steering wheel and shift knob, auto dimming rear-view mirror and – new for this upgrade – an Alpine infotainment system.
Matt remarked back in his aforementioned review the infotainment system was pretty awful and it certainly was. The (almost) good news is that it’s better now, but it’s still not up to the standard Mazda has set with it’s MZD Connect system across other platforms.
In fact, we wonder why MZD hasn’t been added to the BT-50, too. It really doesn’t make any sense at all. The Alpine unit doesn’t look as integrated as it could; it still looks a bit aftermarket and an afterthought in appearance. Manufacturers run into problems when they lift expectations in one model, only to not deliver to those expectations in another model.
The system works well enough through, with decent audio clarity, a responsive touchscreen, satellite navigation that is fast enough and accurate, a clear rear-view camera and a reliable Bluetooth phone and audio connection. We never had any issues with phone call clarity during our week of testing.
The BT-50’s cabin has always been well designed in regards to comfort and storage, and even in the face of revised and newer competition, that remains the case. There are large cupholders between the front seats, a storage bin in front of the shifter, and a central console bin as well. The doors get bottle holders that fit larger bottles also.
The second row is one of the better examples in the class, with a decent seating position, more than enough room for two adults on longer drives (three at a pinch) and plenty of visibility back there, too. Rear seat passengers get a 12V power socket. Up front, there are two 12V sockets and two USB inputs, but no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. It seems strange given you can buy an Alpine unit with that functionality in it from the aftermarket, but not the one that Mazda has used here.
Under the bonnet, there’s the familiar 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo diesel engine, which is a powerful option in the class. The ADR fuel claim is 9.2L/100km on the combined cycle and our test example slurped through 12.8L/100km on test, but it was a reasonably new vehicle too, so the use should drop down a little as it is run in. That 12.8L return was achieved almost completely around town as well, with only an 80km freeway run breaking things up.
The engine cranks out 147kW and 470Nm and it’s got more than enough grunt to get moving from either a standstill or rolling on from 60km/h up to 110km/h. In fact, it will effortlessly spin the rear tyres – a little too easily in the wet, I might add – at the merest hint of enthusiastic throttle application.
We spent some time driving in the rain and the BT-50’s ESC light was flashing like a strobe light at an ’80s disco – the rear is way too loose on wet surfaces, even if it is safer now thanks to the standard electronic nannies keeping watch on proceedings.
We noticed a hint of turbo lag at low speed, when you’re on and off the throttle in traffic and the gearbox had a tendency to hesitate a little in give and take driving, but it was never so intrusive that it ruined the drive experience. We know the 3.2-litre gets down to work easily, even with weight on the tow bar or in the tray, and unladen it’s got more than enough grunt to get the BT-50 moving rapidly.
Having just jumped out of an ST-X Navara, I was reminded of why leaf springs can’t ever behave as well as coils without weight in the tray. The BT-50 skipped over ruts and bumps, danced around, and never felt as settled as the Navara with an empty tray.
I put four chunky all-terrain off-road tyres in the back and even that small amount of added weight changed the way the BT-50 handled, but manufacturers still have a lot of work to do to settle these dual cabs down to the level of a properly sorted 4WD wagon.
The ride around town is never actually uncomfortable, but there’s a constant bounce and rock and roll to the way the BT-50 traverses the urban road network. Given many of these utes spend their time bombing around town, that factor is a point worth making. That’s even more the case if you’re new to the segment like so many buyers are.
We noticed the steering to be a little heavy at low speed which, a lot like the gearbox hesitation, gets better as speed increases. You don’t need to be doing warp speed by any means, maybe once you roll past 40 or 50km/h, to notice the steering getting to the point where the feedback through the wheel feels requisite to the road speed.
The BT-50 has a broad turning circle too, so the meaty feel of the steering at low speed merely exacerbates that, and it can’t match the segment leaders for steering quality.
After a week with the BT-50 in XTR specification, I was a little confused. It’s a quality offering, that feels as solid as a rock and properly bolted together. From behind the wheel, it actually feels reasonably premium at times and presents as a dual-cab you could definitely recommend to buyers.
However, the steering will turn some buyers off – especially if they have driven the competition – the gearbox funkiness is a little annoying at low speed, and the lack of a higher quality integrated infotainment system jars with the overall package, not to mention with what Mazda offers in its passenger car range.
We like the BT-50 at CarAdvice, but it isn’t at its best in XTR specification. It’s still decent value for money, but there are more compelling reasons both up and down the Mazda model grade tree. That said, if the XTR tickles your fancy, you’ll be getting a strong dual-cab that will feel like pretty good value for money.
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