While modern-day four-wheel-drive utes are being pulled in a multitude of directions, the single-cab variants are a bit more pointed.
In this part of the world, it’s all about load hauling. And we’ve got a 2021 Mazda BT-50 single-cab – in base XT specification – to test out.
Before on-road costs, this BT-50 is priced from $36,550 plus on-road costs as an auto-only two-wheel drive cab-chassis, but steps up to up to $41,550 before on-roads when equipped with a manual and four-wheel drive, or $44,050 for the 4x4 automatic tested here.
|2021 Mazda BT-50 XT 4x4 single-cab chassis|
|Engine||3.0-litre (2999cc) four-cylinder turbo diesel|
|Power and torque||140kW at 3600rpm, 450Nm at 1600–2600rpm|
|Drive type||Four-wheel drive|
|Payload (tray included)||1186kg|
|Fuel claim, combined||8.0L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||8.3L/100km|
|ANCAP safety rating (year tested)||Five-star (2020)|
|Warranty (years / km)||Five years / unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Isuzu D-Max, Toyota HiLux, Mitsubishi Triton|
|List price (before on-road costs)||$44,050|
Now based on Isuzu’s equally new D-Max, the BT-50 carries the latest Isuzu 3.0-litre turbo diesel engine. This remains unchanged regardless of body style, powertrain or specification, and makes 140kW at 3600rpm and 450Nm at 1600–2600rpm.
That runs through a six-speed automatic gearbox to the rear wheels, with a transfer case and selectable four-wheel drive on the car shown here. For those happy to take care of the shifting themselves, the BT-50 XT 4x4 is also available as a six-speed manual.
The six-speed automatic gearbox does come with a slight economy penalty over the manual. Our tester comes with a claimed 8.0 litres per hundred kilometres. We averaged 8.3L/100km overall, which included a mix of town and highway driving, as well as a fully laden loop.
While Mazda lists a 17705kg kerb weight and 3000kg GVM as a cab-chassis, it also quotes a 1186kg payload when fitted up with an alloy tray. And to put that to the test, we made a beeline down to Nepean Landscape Supplies to load up the BT-50 with gear – 1.1 tonnes of sand, in fact.
But before we get to that, it’s worth running through the unladen experience, which is quite firm. Suspension needs to be in order to be up to the task. However, the Mazda is ruthlessly stiff, with a brittleness over rough surfaces that evolves into big thudding whacks on larger events. It’s something you’ll need to be aware of, especially if you’re not loading this thing up heavily most of the time.
And when laden, the suspension still manages to keep a sense of firmness when driving around town. It’s certainly less harsh, but this Mazda doesn’t suffer from any kind of sponginess or excessive oscillations when loaded all the way to GVM.
Electric steering remains well weighted, both when laden and unladen, and braking seems plenty strong enough. Although, it’s worth noting that we didn’t do any hard braking with the load on board, because I didn’t want all of that sand making its way into the cabin.
Drivers will appreciate the electrically assisted steering system in tight situations, without having to heave hard at the wheel while stationary.
The engine, typical of Isuzu’s work, remains steadfast and unfussed with the extra weight on board. I noticed the car hung onto each gear ratio slightly longer when accelerating, but was otherwise unchanged. I imagine stressing this engine out would involve also maxxing out the gross combination mass (GCM) with some kind of heavy trailer.
While we didn't have a towbar fitted to our test vehicle, the BT-50 retains a 3500kg towing capacity. And thanks to the strong suspension and powertrain, it is a good choice for somebody looking to tow heavy loads.
Unlike many other more expensive vehicles out there, and perhaps the big strength of the BT-50 in this specification, is the full gamut of included safety gear. There’s autonomous emergency braking, lane-keep assist, lane-departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring and lane-departure prevention. Plus, you’ve got an average-quality reversing camera mounted onto the standard aluminium tray.
But wait, there’s more: automatic LED headlights are a good inclusion for a base-specification ute, and adaptive cruise control will help mow down the many kilometres these utes often do.
And importantly, the BT-50 is backed up by a five-star ANCAP safety rating from 2020.
The smaller infotainment display in lower-specced BT-50s still carries Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, along with digital radio capability. The single-zone manual air-conditioning works to cool the small cabin quickly, but the two speakers can sound a bit average when worked hard.
Operating through the main display or the multifunction display in the instrument binnacle can be fiddly at times, but you’ll learn to find the important bits quickly enough. It also takes a while to boot up and load, which can be frustrating.
The digital speedometer in the latter is a handy addition for adhering to speed limits, but a physical volume dial would be a welcome addition in future models.
When judging all-important fit-for-purpose criteria, the BT-50 doesn’t really put a foot wrong. The Mazda is at its best when fully laden, and will happy drag the full GVM weight without any issues. Plus, there's plenty of active and passive safety equipment on hand to help keep occupants (and other road users) safe.
The unladen ride is uncompromisingly stiff, but if you’re buying a ute like this and not loading it up, what are you actually doing with it?