Mazda BT-50 2020 gt (4x4)

2021 Mazda BT-50 review

Australian first drive

The all-new Mazda BT-50 is finally available in Australia, and it's been a long time coming. Underneath, it's the same as the Isuzu D-Max, but with undoubted Mazda styling.
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Hot on the heels of its near identical sibling, the 2021 Mazda BT-50 has launched in Australia, with the brand hoping to capitalise on what is undoubtedly a high-quality platform.

Not so long ago – around a decade, in fact – Mazda (and the motoring media) thought it was onto a winner with its Ford Ranger twin, the then new BT-50. We know now that Ford went on to continually fettle and improve the Ranger over the course of that decade, maintaining a compelling proposition in an improving segment; one that still sits near the very top of the dual-cab ladder.

And while Ford continually improved its offering, we know that Mazda, well, didn’t.

To be quite frank, the result was a dual-cab that felt every bit of its age, and despite being rugged and well-built, simply couldn’t keep pace with the competition. That’s all changed now, though, thanks to the underpinnings of the excellent Isuzu D-Max.

There’s a saying in our industry that if motoring journalists ran car companies, we’d all be riding bicycles, such is the business acumen or lack thereof depending on how you put it. However, even if that sentiment is true, one thing I’d advise Mazda to do is remember the experience of the previous generation, and remember it well. Especially in a segment that is as globally significant as dual-cabs.

We know from our recent testing that the new D-Max is an excellent dual-cab, but we also know that resting on that is dangerous. Especially long-term. There’s a new Ranger coming – all new, in fact – followed by the platform-sharing Amarok, just for starters. And we know what both those marques are capable of.

For now, though, the BT-50 is entitled to enjoy its moment in the sun, and we’ve been looking forward to testing it at launch as much as we did the D-Max. Let’s get into it, then.

First up, you can read our pricing and specification guide for all the specific pricing breakdown details, and also take a look at Josh’s comprehensive review of the differences in spec and price between the twins. If you’re in the market and can’t make your mind up, it’s a must-read.

To recap, the BT-50 dual-cab range starts from $44,090 for the XT 4x2 automatic (there's no 4x2 manual at launch) and rounds out at $59,990 for the GT dual-cab 4x4 automatic – additional variants are expected to follow at a later date.

We’ll focus on the top-of-the-range GT here, given that’s the grade that gets spoken about the most in this segment. It will compete with the Ranger XLT and Wildtrak, HiLux SR5 and D-Max X-Terrain.

2021 Mazda BT-50 GT
Engine (capacity, cylinders, type)3.0-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder
Power and torque (with RPMs)140kW @ 3600rpm, 450Nm @ 1600-2600rpm
Transmissionsix-speed automatic
Drive type (FWD, etc)part time four-wheel drive
Kerb weight2025kg
Fuel claim combined (ADR)8.0L/100km
fuel use on test9.7L/100km
Boot volume (rear seats up / down)N/A
Turning circle12.5 metres
ANCAP safety rating (year tested)Not tested yet.
Warranty (years / km)5 years / unlimited km
Main competitorsIsuzu D-Max, Toyota HiLux, Ford Ranger
Price as tested (ex on-road costs)$59,990 (plus ORC)

Key specification differences between the Mazda and Isuzu at the top end are few – the BT has a matching alloy spare wheel rather than steel, heated leather seats, and heated side mirrors, and attractive brown leather instead of black, but aside from that it’s all the same componentry wrapped in a different skin.

Mazda’s warranty is slightly different, too – it covers the BT-50 for five years and unlimited kilometres against six years and 150,000km for the D-Max. Both get 12-month/15,000km service intervals.

The most obvious difference is the styling, though, and parked side by side, there’s no doubting the Mazda DNA in the design language (I hate that term). Car companies like to rabbit on about whatever their chosen theme is at the time, but putting that aside, it’s obvious the BT-50 is a Mazda-designed dual-cab. It’s sleek and stylish, arguably more muscular than the D-Max, and undoubtedly attractive.

Mazda resisted the urge to simply toss an SUV front end at the BT and call it done, crucially. The way the styling comes together front to rear, or side on, works particularly well on what could be a slab-sided body style. As such, if you’re style-driven as many buyers are, the new BT-50 will appeal.

Inside the cabin, there’s no doubt the contrasting brown leather trim brings a touch of class to the offering, and while it won’t be to everyone’s tastes, it’s a solid point of difference with a cohesion lacking from the old BT-50 GT's grey plastics and black leather. The seats are comfortable – heated up front, of course – and provide more than enough adjustment. There’s as much, if not more, room in the second row as any other dual-cab we know apart from the D-Max, so it’s good news for family buyers there also.

Strangely, the infotainment system, which is clear and crisp in terms of the display, provides for wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but you still need to plug your phone in to charge anyway with no wireless charge pad. Not such an issue, but the wireless connection wasn’t entirely glitch-free for us on test, leaving us to wonder why we wouldn’t just plug it in to get the pairing anyway.

Still, glitches aside, the response of the screen and the touch commands worked easily enough. Specifically, though, the connection often took a while to link, would occasionally mute the radio when it did connect, and didn’t always default back to whatever app you were last using – mapping, for example.

The native satellite navigation is accurate and quick to respond to inputs, and the audio system works well, too, but the infotainment is one area where a generational update could make genuine inroads. It’s good, but not great in other words, though still ahead of the previous Alpine system it replaces.

Another area that Mazda could knock Isuzu out of the park – not to mention the competition – would be to adopt the clever and easy to use Mazda Connect system. The large screen makes a big difference to the drive experience, though, there’s no doubt about that.

Some of the driver aids are annoyingly intrusive and need to be disabled each time you start the BT up if you don’t like them. The speed warnings were too enthusiastic for us on test, and the lane-keep assist is on the aggressive side, too, but we can live with safety inclusions being more vigilant than less.

2021 Mazda BT-50 GT
Length / width / height (mm)5280 / 1870 / 1790
Ground clearance240mm
tow rating braked / unbraked – payload min / max (kg)3500 / 750 – 900 / 1050
approach / departure angles / ramp over (degrees)30.4 / 24.2 / 23.8
wading depth800mm
tub/tray dimensions length / width1571 / 1530

Across the BT-50 range, buyers will get a 3.0-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder engine making an easy 140kW and 450Nm with a six-speed automatic as tested here (or an available six-speed manual on 4x4 models).

The combined fuel claim is 8.0L/100km for the dual-cab-chassis 4WD we’re testing, and in the real world, in city traffic with some highway running, we’ve seen an average of 9.7L/100km. That’s impressive for a diesel that is barely run-in, and will almost certainly gain some efficiency as it is run-in.

Despite not having peak power or torque figures that match the segment leaders, the BT-50 feels basically effortless even right up to redline. Peak torque is the key, with all 450Nm available between 1600rpm and 2600rpm, right where you need it for that feeling of punchiness and urge.

Generally speaking, the engine rarely feels like you ever have to work it hard to do anything. You can use light throttle for almost all your daily driving duties.

It’s all quite refined, too, even under load the engine barely disrupts the cabin, and the smooth-shifting automatic does a good job of using the available power and torque on offer also.

I’ve noted in testing before, and it rings true again here, that six ratios seems perfect to me for daily driving duties. There is no instance where you’re left thinking the transmission needs more ratios than it has, it’s competent at all times.

Electric power-assisted steering is new for the new BT-50 and it’s all the better for it, especially around town. It feels light and effortless, which adds to the quiet composure in the cabin, and doesn’t feel wafty at highway speed either, so a solid balance has been struck.

Once you get onto the open road and find some windy country sections, the march forward in terms of how these dual-cabs perform and can be driven has continued apace.

The balance is excellent, the turn-in better than you expect, and the composure almost always unaffected by the road surface unless it is particularly bad. Had you have driven a dual-cab with any level of enthusiasm even a generation ago, you’d be picking your way out of the trees on the side of the road.

The ride is undoubtedly more accomplished than the previous generation, and better by some margin, without being perfect. Unladen, it is firm without being fierce, and while the rear end will skip over poor surfaces, it strikes a solid balance between ride comfort and work ability.

The payload is more than 900kg (1065kg for this specific variant), and the tow rating 3500kg, so the BT needs to work and play. Add weight to the tray, as we will in future testing, and the ride will settle down even more. Still, it’s entirely acceptable unladen day-to-day around town, and that’s a key point for the lifestyle buyer.

Mazda uses the same key engineering hardware as the D-Max here, of course. An independent wishbone front suspension, and live rear axle with leaf springs at the rear, with ventilated front disc brakes and drums at the rear.

After a week behind the wheel, the only obvious negative I can come up with is the fact that Mazda could have injected more ‘Mazda’ into the new BT-50. It’s safer, better to drive, smarter, more efficient and more future-proof than the old model, so it’s unquestionably a better vehicle – neck-and-neck with the D-Max at the top of the segment.

However, it could be even better with more Mazda DNA inside the cabin specifically. While it’s a small point, it’s one worth making. That would be an opportunity for Mazda to really change the dual-cab game, in a way that not even Mercedes-Benz did with the X-Class. Midlife update perhaps?

In any case, the new BT-50 is an excellent dual-cab in a segment that shows no signs of slowing down or becoming less competitive. We’ve scored it only just behind the D-Max at launch, which we think sets the standard at the time of testing. That’s only because Mazda has chosen not to put more effort into differentiating it from its twin.

As it did a decade ago, Mazda once again has an undeniably solid platform beneath the attractive styling.

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