To the end of 2020, nearly half the 4x4 utes sold in Australia were made by either Ford or Toyota. In a busy and lucrative market, everyone else wants a slice of that success, not least Mazda with a scant 4.7 per cent share of the 4x4 segment by the end of 2020.
The 2021 Mazda BT-50 is all-new, and as has been well documented already, comes from a production partnership with Isuzu in place of previous partner, Ford. The styling may be Mazda’s, but the bones are Isuzu’s – which is no bad thing.
Whereas the previous generation struggled to keep up with some of the tech and safety inclusions of rivals, the new BT-50 leaps to the front of the pack. It’s hard to know if Isuzu decided to change the game of its own accord, or if Mazda pushed to bring the ute range up to passenger car levels, but either way it’s a win for consumers.
As for the BT-50 GT, being the range-topper of Mazda’s range means it comes packed with everything the BT-50 range has to offer. Curiously, Mazda has decided not to go for the bold flares, black wheels, and sailplane styling found on rivals like the HiLux Rugged X, Ranger Wildtrak X or even the D-Max X-Terrain.
Of course, you get what you pay for – or, in this case, you don’t get what you don’t pay for with the BT-50 GT automatic priced at $59,990 plus on-road costs. Well under the $66,490 for a Wildtrak X or $69,990 for a Rugged X – money you can either pocket for yourself or splurge at your local Ironman 4x4, TJM or ARB agent.
If you were wondering, it looks like Isuzu leads the value game here, with a $62,900 sticker price, but a $59,990 drive-away deal on the X-Terrain as of the start of 2021.
|2021 Mazda BT-50 GT 4x4 dual-cab|
|Engine||3.0-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder|
|Power and torque||140kW at 3600rpm, 450Nm at 1600–2800rpm|
|Drive type||Part-time 4x4|
|Fuel claim, combined (ADR)||8.0L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||9.2L/100km|
|ANCAP safety rating (year tested)||5 stars (2020)|
|Warranty (years / km)||5 years / unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Toyota HiLux, Ford Ranger, Isuzu D-Max|
|Price as tested (excl. on-road costs)||$59,990|
Like every other member of the BT-50 range, you get a 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine producing 140kW at 3000rpm and 450Nm at 1600–2600rpm. That’s down 7kW and 20Nm on the previous model’s 3.2-litre five-cylinder diesel, but in most day-to-day situations that's not enough to notice.
Hooked up to a six-speed automatic, the engine feels robust enough to cope with anything. Floor it and it’s far from quick, but slow and steady wins the race, be that with a full load of passengers or a couple of hundred kilos in the tray.
Previous BT-50 owners might miss the old model's more urgent off-the-line acceleration, but it really only reveals itself when you pin the accelerator to the floor.
Thanks to the overall newness of the package, the ride feels nicely settled, new electrically assisted steering is well weighted and well balanced, and refinement is good but not perfect. You’ll get some light diesel clatter at part throttle, and a little bit of wind rustle around the mirrors, but nothing too painful.
Like most utes, the rear gets a little bouncy around town with nothing in it. Rear suspension is via leaf springs, so that’s a fairly typical trait.
It’s worth singling out the Ranger, which leads the segment for ride and handling (with Aussie engineering input that no doubt helps it feel at home here), but the BT-50 is hardly off the pace. No bucking or skipping to be found, just a bit of jiggling when the surface beneath gets patchy.
Unlike the often hesitant manual transmission that’s also available, the six-speed auto is much smoother off the line, and accelerates up to speed without the stumbles that can affect the manual from a standing start.
Toyota’s recently updated HiLux might have the quicker shifting, more resolute auto, but there’s not much to separate the pair in the rise or fall of heaving traffic.
While GT may only be a name, not a reflection of ability, the BT-50 is a pretty solid open-road tourer. Long stretches behind the wheel are quiet and smooth enough. A tray full of gear for a weekend away makes it even better on the blacktop.
Patchy gravel roads were pretty effortlessly shrugged off, too. If you’d like to see how the BT-50 fared while towing, be sure to check out our ute mega test.
As the range-topper, the GT comes only as a 4x4 model, with no two-wheel-drive version of the same spec. And, by the same measure, you’ll only find the GT label attached to dual-cab ute models, not the extra- or single-cab bodies, or cab-chassis variants available further down the range.
Perhaps a little more obvious than what’s included on the spec sheet is what’s missing. Although many items can be remedied via Mazda’s accessory catalogue, some of the Mazda’s missing spec comes standard on top-rung rivals.
There’s no tub liner, no tonneau cover (either hard or soft), no tow bar, no sport bars or back-of-cab adornments, and no tub lighting. Key rivals do include a mix-and-match list of those features in their range-toppers, but for now the GT is more of an SR5/XLT rival than a fully fledged image pack.
Think of it as more of a blank canvas waiting to be customised for work or play as you require. There’s also a range of accessory packs (Boss Adventure, Boss Sports, Boss Touring, etc) if you were after a one-stop dress-up kit.
The list of standard inclusions is hardly short, though. GT-exclusives, above the XTR grade one step down, include remote engine start, front parking sensors (in addition to rears), leather-trimmed seats with front seat heating, power-adjustable driver’s seat, and heated rear-view mirrors.
That’s on top of other equipment spread across the lower grades. Things like keyless entry with walk-away lock and push-button start, 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights with auto high beam, dual-zone climate control, side steps, adaptive cruise control, auto lights and wipers, plus plenty more.
Inside the cabin it’s a fairly plush place to be. The verdict on Mazda's choice of brown leather hasn’t been unanimous around the CarAdvice office, but it looks suitably premium, and is many, many times nicer than the old grey plastics and black leather combo from before.
Things like a black headliner and careful two-tone splitting, with some subtle silver highlights, really go a long way to making the BT-50 look more like a cultured family car and less like a work truck.
The general fit, finish and presentation are also a long way ahead of the previous generation. At first glance it’s more SUV than ute in some areas, but is still let down in a few spots, like the hard plastic door toppers and the rough plastic seam at the tops of the front doors.
It’s hard to fault the seat comfort on offer, though, or at least for my 170-ish centimetre height the BT-50 is a decent fit. That may not be the case for all shapes and sizes, though, with sculpting around the shoulders that might be a bit more mid-back for taller or wider drivers.
The 9.0-inch infotainment system in the middle of the dash looks pretty good at first glance, and packs in satellite navigation, AM/FM/DAB+ radio, Bluetooth connectivity, wired Android Auto and wireless Apple CarPlay.
The native system isn’t intuitive, and can be a bit fiddly once you dive into the menus. Wireless CarPlay can take a few minutes to connect in some instances, yet paired almost instantly in others – hot tip, though, there’s no wireless charge pad, and plenty of battery drain from going wireless, so you’re better off plugging in anyway.
Mazda has used the infotainment system and instrument display from Isuzu, so if you’re already running a CX-5 or CX-9 as a family car, you won’t find the same trip computer displays, head-up projection, steering wheel controls or digital real estate. Hardly a deal-breaker, but Mazda’s own system might have been a smarter solution.
At least the eight-speaker sound system is punchy and clear. Not audiophile quality, but probably better than you might expect from factory in a ute.
The rest of the interior is pretty well planned. To give the BT its own design stamp, the dash is different to that of the D-Max, and in the process the Isuzu’s up-high cup and carton holders have been given the flick, though dual gloveboxes remain, as do the console cupholders alongside the manual handbrake.
Rear seats are roomy, and get their own air vents and USB charge point. Any modern family will tell you two USB points for the whole cabin is a bit light-on, so it’s a shame Mazda wasn’t more forthcoming with charging solutions. There is a single 12-volt barrel plug up front, too, but no household socket like the HiLux and Ranger offer.
While head room and leg room are decent, the space under the front seats for back seat feet is a little low, making long-distance stretch and move comfort a bit tricky. Mazda has also included child seat anchorages for only two seats, not three, with both top tether and ISOFIX points included.
Into the rear and you’ll find a 1065kg payload, a kerb weight of 2035kg, and a 3100kg GVM. As with most utes in the segment, maximum towing capacity is listed at 3500kg braked with a 350kg tow ball load.
A 5950kg gross combination mass rating means at max payload there’s up to 2850kg of towing capacity in store, or with the full 3500kg behind, a fairly skinny 415kg of payload, based on Mazda’s quoted figures.
|2021 Mazda BT-50 GT 4x4 dual-cab|
|Length / width / height||5280mm / 1870mm / 1790mm|
|Tow rating / payload||3500kg braked, 750kg unbraked / 1065kg|
|Approach / departure / rampover angles (degrees)||30.4 / 24.2 / 23.8|
|Tub dimensions (mm)||Length: 1571 / Width: 1530 / Between arches: 1120|
As for some of the other figures: the warranty spans five years with no kilometre cap. Servicing runs a prepaid program, but whereas most Mazda schedules run fixed prices with add-ins for things like filters and fluids, the BT-50 is all inclusive at $419, $390, $673, $496, and $313 respectively for the first five, at 12-month or 15,000km intervals.
Fuel consumption carries an official 8.0L/100km rating on the combined cycle. A week of mixed running returned 9.2L/100km, mostly lightly loaded but with a few all-aboard stints as well.
On the safety front, Mazda, and spec-matching Isuzu, lead the ute pack for now. With a list of features designed to appease 2020’s tougher ANCAP criteria, collision-avoidance tech features strongly with autonomous emergency braking that includes cyclist and pedestrian detection, along with intersection assist, to stop you turning into trouble.
The list also includes eight airbags (including one 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, and driver-attention monitoring. A full five-star ANCAP score was also awarded.
At the end of the day, the BT-50 has managed to deliver an identifiably Mazda take on the ute segment, which holds plenty of appeal, without playing the rough and rugged car externally. Under the skin, the move to Isuzu underpinnings is really no secret, and is sure to have no damaging effect in terms of perception.
The interior is plush, without going to the full luxed-up extremes of some American pick-ups, but the tech and safety are top of the class for something that’s as likely to be a family bus as it is a work hack.
There’s no doubt Mazda is missing something by not joining the X-kitted club alongside the D-Max X-Terrain, HiLux Rugged X and Ranger Wildtrak X. That could always appear down the track, of course, but as a more understated flagship, the BT-50 GT works a treat as hard-working family transport without the rough edges.