Now that the 2021 Mazda BT-50 has arrived in Australia, it’s plain to see that Mazda has done everything it can to get out of work.
By now you’ll already know that the all-new BT-50 shares its mechanical bits and electrical architecture with the Isuzu D-Max, with Mazda creating its own look inside and out. What you may not know is that Mazda doesn't seem to want to get its hands dirty. This new BT-50 XT 4x4, the entry-level model, neither looks nor feels like a workhorse ute.
That’s going to be great news for families who want comfort and safety without breaking the bank, but may not be the perfect match for tradies or fleets looking for something that’ll stand up to a bit of biffo on the inside.
At its very cheapest, the BT-50 XT starts from $44,090 before on-road costs as a cab-chassis 4x2 automatic (for now two-wheel-drive models are auto only), but move up to the 4x4 with a ute tub on the back and a six-speed manual like you see here and the price rises to $50,760 plus ORCs or $53,260 with a six-speed auto.
As with any ute range, there’s a variety of formats and configuration options, and the full range can be seen here. For now, the BT-50 comes only as a dual-cab, though that’s expected to change as 2021 rolls round with single- and extra-cab models on the way.
|2021 Mazda BT-50 XT 4x4 manual|
|Engine||3.0-litre (2999cc) four-cylinder turbo diesel|
|Power and torque||140kW at 3600rpm, 450Nm at 1600–2600rpm|
|Drive type||Selectable 4x4, two-speed transfer case and rear differential lock|
|Fuel claim, combined||7.7L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||7.7L/100km|
|ANCAP safety rating (year tested)||5-star (2020)|
|Warranty (years / km)||5 years / unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Isuzu D-Max, Toyota HiLux, Ford Ranger|
|Price as tested (excl on-road costs)||$50,760|
Traditionally, base-model utes haven’t been too generous in terms of standard equipment, but in the BT-50’s case the basic specification isn’t very basic at all.
For one thing, there’s no multi-engine range any more, all BT-50 models come with the same Isuzu-developed 3.0-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder producing 140kW at 3600rpm and 450Nm from 1600 to 2600rpm.
Owners stepping out of the previous 3.2-litre five-cylinder model may miss the extra 7kW and 20Nm from the older engine, but if you happen to be upgrading from the old 110kW/375Nm 2.2-litre model the news is good – though you’d only find it in the 4x2 single-cab, so it’s hardly the only upgrade you’d get.
From the outside, the XT hardly looks basic at all, with painted bumpers front and rear, body-coloured door handles and mirrors, 17-inch alloy wheels and a chrome-framed grille. Higher-grade models add side steps, chrome door handles and grille inserts, and 18-inch wheels.
Standard equipment includes manual air-conditioning, carpet flooring and cloth seats, a urethane steering wheel rim, LED headlights with auto-on and auto high beam, cruise control (or adaptive cruise for the automatic), remote central locking with key-in ignition, a reverse camera and rear park sensors, though of the last two, the camera is a little low-res and low contrast for low light or bright sunshine, and the shrill three-beep confirmation each time you select reverse wears thin quickly.
The tub is a bit of a blank canvas. There's no tonneau or tub liner as standard, so what you add is up to you. Similarly, there’s no towbar provision included, so either Mazda’s genuine accessories or the aftermarket will have to step in to help.
It’s probably no real surprise that the new BT-50’s interior is a step forward compared to the old, which had very little done to it since it was first introduced in 2011.
The design is more modern, the styling more cohesive, and while Mazda has tried to stamp its own design DNA, there are still some Isuzu details in the switchgear and infotainment. Nothing that’s a deal-breaker, just not a perfect match if you happen to have a CX-9 as your family car.
Mazda’s made some questionable choices. There are only two cupholders up front whereas the related D-Max gets four. There’s a row of soft vinyl across the edge of the dash, which feels plush and squishy, but doesn’t instil confidence in its longevity once tape measures, quote books, or boots get leant, dragged and scraped across it (feet off the dash at smoko then).
Most of the interior feels solid, with no loose bits or rattles where they shouldn’t be. The air-con controls let the team down a little, though, feeling clunky and not as polished as everything else.
Mazda has used Isuzu’s infotainment system here instead of its own, so it retains touchscreen functionality and not the dial controls of its newest passenger models.
While the screen can measure up to 9.0 inches in top-shelf versions, the XT runs a 7.0-inch touch display, with thick black bezels – probably the most obvious reminder that you didn’t look further upmarket.
While leaps and bounds ahead of the Alpine head unit in the previous model, the new system still frustrates, not always responding to touch inputs and sometimes slow to load. There’s a row of hard keys at the bottom for volume, tuning and changing modes, which is handy at least.
Wireless CarPlay is still a disappointment. Stuttering and dropping in and out constantly, but you can use it as a wired connection, which seems to improve the experience.
The front seats don’t offer lumbar adjustment, but the stock shape felt surprisingly supportive after a few hours behind the wheel. I’m not a tall driver at around 169cm, though, so whereas the snug bolstering and shoulder-height seatbacks worked for me, taller occupants might find the front seats less ideal.
Rear seat space is impressive, there’s good head room and enough knee space, even behind a tall front passenger, but toe room under the front seats could be a touch better. That’s the only dimension that’s lacking, though.
The rear bench isn’t as soft or shapely as the front seats, so spare a thought for anyone in the back on an extended run. A single USB charge port, face-level air vents and a take-away hook on the back of the passenger seat add some additional versatility.
There are two ISOFIX child seat mounts for the outboard seats, or provision for up to two top-tether seats. The seat's base has some flip-up storage underneath (with a 60:40 split), but the backrest only folds as a single piece with slim storage behind, plus access to those top tethers.
If you’re carting anyone under the lanky teen stage of life, the XT’s lack of side steps will need to be remedied. It’s a fair jump in and out of the interior otherwise.
While the ute market still splits itself between manual and auto transmissions fairly evenly, I’d strongly suggest checking out both. The manual in the BT-50 just didn't quite hit the right notes.
While the clutch is smooth and well weighted, and the gearshift gate was about as well-defined as you’ll find in a 4x4 ute, the gearing didn't always feel like a perfect match.
Without a load on board, first gear can feel too short around town and makes crawling through traffic more jerky than it needs to be. Second gear, on the other hand, is a little too tall to comfortably launch in, though it works a treat anywhere you can roll forward before lifting the clutch.
In most cases, if you want a manual, you want a manual, but this time around the auto feels like it might be easier to live with. Especially if there's plenty of low-speed work on your schedule, with the manual hobbling some of the 3.0-litre engine's performance potential from a standstill.
The 3.0-litre engine doesn’t quite match the previous 3.2 for urgency off the line, but with peak torque from 1600 to 2600rpm, it packs plenty of mid-range flexibility. There were no real objections from the engine beyond 3000rpm either, nor any particular advantages to pushing it to redline.
Refinement is a mix-and-match package. There’s some trademark diesel clatter on part throttle – a touch more than the old BT-50, but not enough to be intrusive.
Once the engine settles into a cruise, it’s as calm as you’ll find, and the wind and tyre noise were impressively low. Vibration at idle or around town is a bit of a thorn in the BT-50’s side, and the only real area where the new model steps backwards compared to the old.
Now that the BT-50 runs an electric power-steering system, it’s able to carry more safety-assist tech (more on that in a sec) and feels impressively settled at freeway speeds. It’s a little heavier through the wheel than some utes for low-speed work, but balances out well with no nervousness from the front end.
Unladen ride is another strong suit at freeway speeds. Even over choppy road surfaces, the rear end felt settled. In town it was less fluent, bucking and twitching a little over typical urban obstacles. A light load in the rear helped here, but we’ll delve further into towing (with no towbar fitted to this vehicle) and laden performance down the track.
Key figures for this model are a 2005kg kerb weight, a 1095kg payload (and a resulting 3100kg gross vehicle mass), a 3500kg max braked towing capacity and a 350kg tow ball load. Kerb weight is at the light end of the 4x4 ute class, and the 5950kg gross combination mass means at max payload there’s up to 2850kg of towing capacity in store, or with the full 3500kg behind, up to 445kg of payload, based on Mazda’s quoted figures.
The other payload to consider is scheduled maintenance, which falls every 12 months or 15,000km. The warranty is for five years with no kilometre limit. Mazda’s capped-price program is all inclusive at each interval (unlike the pick-and-mix pricing of passenger cars) and runs to $419, $390, $673, $496 and $313 respectively for the first five visits.
On the invaluable side of things, safety credentials include a five-star ANCAP safety score under the newest 2020 assessment criteria, thanks in part to eight airbags (including a clash-protection bag between front seat occupants), lane-departure warning and prevention with emergency lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, traffic sign recognition, autonomous emergency braking with intersection turn assist, and driver-attention monitoring.
The systems worked well on test for the most part, but the forward-collision warning (a stereo camera-based system) flagged a few more false positives than ideal, be it stopped traffic ahead as I slowed to a standstill, or just beeping at an empty road ahead. Mazda says the system can function with whip antennas in its field of view, but given the multiple false alarms, I have my doubts.
The new BT-50 also appears to have an aversion to fuel use. While only lightly loaded for much of our time with it, the worst consumption figure shown around town was 8.2L/100km with an average of 7.7 after a week. Officially, Mazda claims a matching 7.7L/100km combined and 9.7L/100km on the urban test.
Without a doubt, the new BT-50 is convincingly all-new. Obviously, switching from a Ford-supplied vehicle to one from Isuzu has a large part to play.
Mazda has clearly been a bit more vocal about its demands, and those of its customers, in delivering a vehicle that feels mostly at home in a Mazda showroom. In this case, the BT-50 XT is positioned as a far-from-basic base model.
There are a few touches that mean you might want to upgrade to the plusher XTR or GT models, but nothing essential is missing. It also means that Mazda doesn’t really have a tough as nails, hose-out, hard-wearing fleet spec for work crews.
It also means that, at a starting price of over $50K, Mazda isn’t courting bargain shoppers with its new BT-50, though the step-up is only around $3K over the previous equivalent model, and the safety upgrades alone go a long way to split the difference.
It also stacks up as decent value against 4x4 ute rivals from Isuzu and Toyota that pitch workhorse-spec vehicles into the same pricing window (a less powerful 2.4-litre turbo diesel in Toyota’s case).
Though it may not have what it takes to topple 4x4 frontrunners like the HiLux and Ford Ranger, Mazda has positioned the new BT-50 right where it needs to be in an attempt to lure more buyers.
The Isuzu hardware under the bonnet will no doubt play a big part in that success, but it’s the Mazda-isms inside and out that could seal the deal for families and tradies alike looking to blend some extra comfort with their workhorse rig.