Stuart Martin referees 2018 Isuzu D-Max LS-T Vs 2018 Mazda BT-50 GT with pricing, specs, performance, ride and handling, safety and verdict.

FAR FROM FIGHTING it out for the scraps in the market, Mazda’s BT-50 and the Isuzu D-Max LS-T have staunch followings, one despite the looks and the other with a blind eye turned to its age.

Both have the ability to haul a solid load – either in the tray or on the tow bar – as well as cart kids to school, but the Mazda has lived in the Ranger’s shadow and the Isuzu has gone it’s own way post a divorce from GM.

The next generation models are set to share plenty – think Navara and X-Class Merc – but for now the D-Max and BT-50 face off in the growing and aggressive LCV market.

2018 Isuzu D-Max LS-T Specifications

PRICE $54,700+ORC WARRANTY 5 years/130,000 km ENGINE 3.0L turbodiesel four-cylinder POWER 130kW at 3600rpm TORQUE 430Nm at 2000-2200rpm TRANSMISSION 6-speed auto DRIVE part-time 4WD DIMENSIONS 5295mm (L), 1860mm (W EXC MIRRORS), 1855mm (H) TURNING CIRCLE 12.6m TOWING WEIGHT 3500kg KERB WEIGHT 2026kg SEATS FUEL TANK 76 litres SPARE full-size THIRST 7.9L/100km combined cycle FUEL diesel

2018 Mazda BT-50 GT Specifications

PRICE $51,990+ORC WARRANTY 2 years/100,000km (3yr/100,000km) ENGINE 3.2l turbo-diesel five-cylinder POWER 147kW at 3000rpm TORQUE 470Nm at 1750-2500rpm TRANSMISSION 6-speed auto DRIVE part-time 4WD DIMENSIONS 5365mm (l); 1850mm (w exc mirrors), 1821mm (h) TURNING CIRCLE 11.6m TOWING WEIGHT 3500kg (braked), 700kg (unbraked) KERB WEIGHT 2161kg SEATS FUEL TANK 80 litres SPARE full-size THIRST 10 l/100km combined cycle FUEL diesel

TIRED OF TOYOTA dual-cab utes, fed up with Ford’s representative in the segment too? As the Red versus Blue battle shifts to the LCV market and Toyota assumes the role of the Red protagonist, the pricey pair are not the only decent load-lugging options.

The second cousin of the Ford Ranger is far less afflicted by a face only maternally appealing, with the locally-driven update improving its appearance. But there’s a lot to be said for a punchy drivetrain. The Mazda hasn’t headed as far in the active safety direction as Ford has done with the Ranger, but it has a worthwhile features list and capacities that should put it on your shopping list.

Mazda BT-50 GT

The 2.2-tonne BT-50 has retained the refined 3.2-litre turbo-diesel five-cylinder which has less rattle and more hum than the bulk of the four-cylinder units in its competitive set. Peak power is still 147kW at 3000rpm, which is among the best of the segment and is matched by the Colorado and only beaten by the V6s on offer in the Germans; peak torque is 470Nm between 1750 and 2500rpm, beaten by the Colorado auto and the V6s but nothing at which to sneeze. The Mazda’s payload is just over one tonne and it claims 3.5 tonnes of braked towing capacity but we all know you need to take those numbers with a grain of salt as explained HERE.

Isuzu D-Max LS-T Vs Mazda BT-50 GT

Isuzu has taken a different path to its new bedfellow, parting ways with GM in co-developing the Colorado/D-Max vehicle and will soon be taking a place between the sheets with Mazda when it comes to the next-generation of their utes.


But for now, Isuzu has quite literally gone its own way, sticking with its 3.0-litre turbo-diesel family but giving it a bit more grunt and a much-needed six-speed automatic. The Japanese brand has given its Thai-built beast a cabin upgrade and fiddled with the rear suspension, aiming to refine the ride quality without losing its payload prowess.

Isuzu D-Max LS-T Vs Mazda BT-50 GT

A braked towing capacity of 3.5 tonnes and payload remains on the solid side of one tonne, but a few kilos down on the 90-odd kilo heavier BT-50, and the Isuzu’s relaxed four-cylinder 130kW/430Nm turbo-diesel isn’t as grunty as the Mazda engine.

What about ownership?

Isuzu claims 7.9 litres from the 76-litre tank for every 100km – Mazda’s thirst is 10 from an 80-litre reservoir – both ended their time with us on fuel use figures about two litres per 100km above the combined cycle claim. Both these utes require maintenance every 12 months or 15,000km, which is better than many of the segment’s top-sellers.

The BT-50 service prices range from $431 or $502 while some of the D-Max’s services are a little cheaper, with the range stretching from $350 to $500. However, the Mazda’s warranty is only 2 years/unlimited-kilometre – or up to 3 years and limited to 100,000km if you don’t reach that milestone after two years, with roadside assistance an extra charge. The updated D-Max gets a 5 year warranty with roadside assistance and capped price servicing up to five years and 75,000km.

What Are The Interiors Like?

Neither cabin is approaching luxurious – with plenty of dark hard plastics – but the Mazda’s dashboard and centre stack noses ahead for features and looks.

Both the D-Max and BT-50 flagships are fitted with black leather trim and both are a comfortable enough seat – the Mazda pews feel more supportive laterally but the cushioning on both is good. The Mazda scores dual-zone climate control and sat-nav with traffic updates (the Isuzu nav is less well-informed), while the D-Max makes do with one temperature setting, but neither offer rear vents.

The driver gets powered seat adjustment in both but the Mazda offers a better range of angle and movement to compensate for tilt-only adjustment for its nice leather steering wheel, which is all what the D-Max gets, although the helm is a little less grippy. Both rear seats have armrests and storage beneath, with a rear USB in the Isuzu and a 12-volt outlet for the BT-50’s rear occupants.

The centre information display is a little easier to read in white on the D-Max as opposed to red in the Mazda, but there’s no digital speed readout on either. Rear vision is taken care of by power-folding and adjustable exterior mirrors of a useful size on both vehicles, but Mazda offers heating for quick winter morning demisting, as well as reversing cameras.

Dashtop storage is offered by both, with an open tray with USB in the Mazda (that’s more secure for phones staying put than it looks because of the grippy rubber base) and a lidded compartment in the D-Max with a 12-volt outlet, although the lid refused to open during our time with the vehicle.

Both have large touchscreens with satellite navigation but while the Mazda’s looks aftermarket it has more features – including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Isuzu’s two upgraded USB ports – joined by an HDMI port – are better-positioned but more difficult to access, hidden behind stubborn covers.

Both cabins are a little dated, with plenty of black and grey plastic, but there’s decent room for front occupants in terms of the footwell and cabin headroom – again, the more modern Mazda feels roomier front and rear, although the Mazda’s rear bench is certainly cut for two rumps as the centre is high-set.

The rear trays of both test cars were lined as standard but Isuzu had installed an accessory hard tonneau cover, which restricts the flexibility of the tray. Mazda’s rear tray is equipped with a 12-volt outlet and the tailgate locks as part of the remote central locking, something worthwhile if considering a hard tonneau to secure items within the tray. The BT-50 just pips the Isuzu for outright payload – 1039 versus 1024 kg – a light for the tray, tie-down points (6 versus 4), width between the wheel arches and tray depth, but tray sizes are similar otherwise.

What Are They Like To Drive?

What is immediately apparent after the first few minutes behind the wheel of the BT-50 is the extra urge and a sharper throttle response. The extra 17kW and 40Nm is enough – when combined with a smarter automatic transmission – to get the big Mazda up and running quickly and efficiently, so much so the Sport mode is not required for most conditions.

Both are six-speed autos but the D-Max’s automatic is – like the engine – a little more leisurely in its change and not quite as smart on the gearshifts; the only exception to that is descending under brakes, when the Isuzu transmission does work on its down changes to help take the load from the brakes.

The D-Max is a little more relaxed in its power delivery too, still getting underway on the well-spread torque offering but without the insistent attitude of the Mazda, which can mean the stability and traction control is woken more often in the latter until you get used to the throttle. A constant 4WD system, or at least the option of running it in four-high on the bitumen as the Triton can (although it doesn’t suffer from an excess of grunt) would be a welcome addition to the Mazda’s features list.

Isuzu D-Max LS-T Vs Mazda BT-50 GT

Once up and cruising, the Isuzu’s diesel clatter subsides but the noise from the four-cylinder is a little more intrusive than the off-beat thrum of the five-cylinder in the Mazda. Neither like being wrung through to the redline and complain vocally when doing so; the accessory window weathershields on the Isuzu also didn’t help with cruising speed wind noise but help with air flow during inclement conditions.

The revs are largely wasted on both engines – wafting along in the midrange is where both are in their element, but the outputs are better applied by the Mazda’s auto in most day-to-day running.

Ride quality has improved in the D-Max with the revision to the rear leaf spring set-up, but it’s not earth-shattering in its level of change to the comfort factor for the occupants, but at least it hasn’t forgotten how to carry a load.

Both noses are held up by independent double-wishbone front-ends – Mazda’s set-up contributes to the better-turn in and feels less likely to throw the snout around over nastier bumps. Neither ute is a fan of metropolitan roads when completely unladen – throw a quarter of the payload in the back of either (easier in the Mazda without the hard tray cover) and the rear end settles into its stride nicely.

Where the Mazda makes up ground is in the steering, which is a lot more communicative, more accurate and well-weighted in the task of pointing the nose in the desired direction. The D-Max is set up more for the off-road work it would seem, but the double-duty nature of the modern-day dual-cab means the Mazda’s steering is a nicer proposition overall.

Isuzu D-Max LS-T Vs Mazda BT-50 GT

Off-road work is well within the purview of both vehicles, which is where the Isuzu comes back a little, with the nice spread of torque and less frenetic steering and power delivery helping it to crawl over most ground without concern. The absence of a standard rear diff lock on the D-Max is a criticism the company has not yet responded to, despite much feedback on its desirability.

Isuzu D-Max LS-T Vs Mazda BT-50 GT

The Mazda has one and it’s welcome – the Mazda also just wins on running ground clearance 237mm to the D-Max listed at 235mm, although Mazda drops it to a 205mm figure ‘when laden.’ Mazda’s BT-50 claims a 12.4m turning circle, which is only slightly less ship-like than the Isuzu’s claim of 12.6, so neither will impress on a tight turnaround. Approach angle goes to the 30-degree D-Max (Mazda claims 28.2), departure and ramp-over angles are a win to the BT-50 at 26.4 and 25 to the Isuzu’s 22.7 and 22.3 respectively. It’s a bigger beast overall too, 70mm longer at 5365mm long, although the D-Max at 1855mm is 34mm taller and at 1860mm is 10mm wider. That same difference is also seen in the Isuzu’s 1570mm track however the wheelbase of 3220mm on the BT-50 is 125mm longer than the D-Max.

Isuzu D-Max LS-T Vs Mazda BT-50 GT

Both the 2161kg BT-50 and 2026kg D-Max sits among the best in class with a braked towing capacity of 3500kg and a maximum ball download of 350kg. The Mazda lays claim to a GCM is 6000kg (up 50kg on the D-Max), with the GVM of 3200kg and a payload of 1039kg; the D-Max GVM is listed at 3050kg and a 1024kg payload.

What About The Safety Features?

Both lay claim to five-star ANCAP ratings, although the Mazda’s last test was in 2011 and the Isuzu in 2013, both ratings stand for 2016 onwards. There are six airbags in both – dual front, front-side and full-length curtain airbags – and the front height-adjustable seatbelts are equipped with pretensioners and load-limiters in both the Isuzu and Mazda.

Anti-lock brakes (for the front-disc/rear-drum set-up on both), traction, stability and trailer-sway control are part of both safety arsenals, and both have reversing cameras (the Mazda’s is a little clearer) but neither have standard parking sensors – Isuzu offers only rear sensors in the accessories catalogue and Mazda’s accessories department offers front and rear, or a pack with both that adds almost $930.

Halogen headlights are the standard fare on both utes but the Mazda is equipped with dusk-sensing function, as well as rain-sensing wipers and an auto-dimming centre mirror.

So, Which One Wins And Why?

For sheer output per peso, the Mazda presents a compelling argument, offering the grunt to get loads underway and keep them moving with less need for slow vehicle lanes.

But the D-Max still gets a similar job done, just with a more relaxed demeanour – the drivetrain on offer in the Isuzu has been around for what seems like decades, but it is a proven performer.

The Mazda delivers cabin space and a modern cabin feel, as well as cleaning up in the features and ergonomics department, save for the infotainment system that is difficult to use and looks a little tacked on.

It also completes the daily driver duties now expected of the vehicles in this segment without feeling like a rolling roadblock to those driving it – neither of the vehicles here and not too many in the broader segment will complete a U-turn without indulging in a bit of off-roading but the steering in the Mazda is more pleasant to use in most conditions.

Improvements in the looks of the BT-50 have gone some way to increasing the visual appeal and it feels a more modern design, which when combined with pricing and performance make it the winner here.


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About Author

Stuart Martin

Stuart Martin started his legal driving life behind the wheel of a 1976 Jeep ragtop, which he still owns to this day, but his passion for wheeled things was inspired much earlier. Regular work and play has subsequently involved towing, off-roading, the school run and everything in between, with Martin now working freelance as a motoring journalist, contributing to several websites and publications including Practical Motoring.

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