The 2018 Mazda BT-50 has been given a bolder front-end look, upgraded equipment and an improved cost of ownership. Can it still compete in the hard-fought ute segment?
The 2018 Mazda BT-50 is like an ageing boxer: it can still pack a mean punch, but it lacks the pep of some of the young up-and-comers in the dual-cab market. It's a market that continues to grow and doesn’t look like stopping either. Dual-cabs are on a relentless march.
It’s surprising then that the Mazda is missing so much. It does, after all, share some of the same heritage as the class-leading Ford Ranger. Both came on the scene around the same time, but only one manufacturer has put in the ongoing work required to get to the top of the sales charts.
Not surprisingly, something had to give. Australia is the BT-50's biggest market and the old model was starting to age. The call was out, and Mazda needed to respond.
Unlike Ford, Mazda Corporation has not invested in updated mechanics, engine upgrades or steering/suspension changes. And with none in sight, it was up to Mazda Australia to answer the call. So, the Australian arm has given the old girl a facelift, or more accurately, a nose job.
What began two years ago has culminated in a new front end that still uses the existing mounting points of the previous incarnation. No structural changes, just a new bumper. It now looks more Mazda and perhaps closer to their darlings, the sports utility vehicles, although even they are starting to date.
The nose is much wider and tougher-looking in my opinion, and I quite like it. The old one seemed like Mazda had accidentally whacked it on the wrong car. It didn’t say tough ute, so much as lifted passenger vehicle. Now it looks the part and can challenge the bigger sellers, in appearance at least.
Aside from a little nip and tuck on the front end, all the mechanics, and indeed the power plants, remain unchanged. The new bar is slightly lower (0.3cm) and it has improved cooling efficiency, but not to the point where any substantial gains are realised.
I surmise that Mazda Corporation suggested there will be no standout changes coming in the short term, so it was left to Mazda Australia to present a case for this update, to stay on its feet so to speak.
There are internal changes to go with the new front end. In a first for Mazda, all variants of the BT-50 now come with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus they all now run a reverse camera as standard.
While this is by no means earth-shattering news, it at least brings Mazda up to par.
There are three variants of the BT-50, with the GT the top of the line. It has a tub liner and sports bar, plus an illuminated 12-volt plug in the back on the left-hand side.
The XT is the base model and misses out on things like electric adjustable seats, although it gets a satin-black grille and insert that I prefer. The XTR, like the GT, gets the chrome version.
Despite the lack of investment, the Mazda BT-50 does hold its own against the competition. On the bitumen it is composed and, while I cannot be sure, it seemed quieter in its new guise.
The unchanged suspension is a little on the jittery side going along the bumpy stuff. To be fair to the BT-50, I’d expect that most unloaded utes would handle no differently on some of the roads within the Gawler Ranges National Park.
We had been dispatched to this stunning region of South Australia for an off-road tour and camping by starlight. As expected of the Aussie bush, conditions were unpredictable.
Despite the dry and sometimes desolate terrain, we experienced some heavy showers that turned some of the tracks into muddy puddles of joy. I enjoyed myself in any case.
The five-cylinder, one of only two five-cylinder platforms available in this category, lacked nothing in the power department and cruised through soft sand and mud with ease.
The traction control, though not as quick as some, still manages to do a great job keeping you on the road when the sand turns to mud and you feel the car is shifting sideways, as if skating on ice. It is more than quick enough to offer novice four-wheel drivers and families peace of mind in slippery conditions.
Mazda has also upped the service intervals from 10,000km/12 months to 15,000km/12 months, which will certainly reduce ownership costs over a five-year lifespan of the guarantee. Mazda estimates this saves more than $850 over this period, and potentially $1920 if you did the equivalent mileage to the average Mazda owner of 25,000km per annum.
The base-model XT is now priced at $41,198 drive-away, the XTR starts at $46,990, while the top-of the-line GT will see you hand over $49,990, plus an extra $2000 if you want the six-speed auto transmission in any variant.
Engine choice remains the same with a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel or a 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo diesel.
Only time will tell if the changes will be enough for the BT-50 to maintain, or even increase, sales in this competitive market. I do like the new look and the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto across the range. The BT-50 is also reasonably priced for the technology and will now appeal to more buyers.