2018 Mazda BT-50 Review: GT dual-cab 4×4
Isaac Bober’s 2018 Mazda BT-50 (dual-cab GT 4×4) Review with pricing, specs, performance, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
In a nutshell: The refreshed Mazda BT-50 has done more than enough to keep those looking for a work-and-play dual-cab ute happy.
2018 Mazda BT-50 GT 4×4 Dual-Cab Specifications
Price From $56,990+ORC Warranty two-years, 100,000km (although, if you don’t hit 100,000km in the first two years, your warranty will be pushed to three years) Service Intervals 15,000km/12 months (capped price servicing ranges from $431-$502) Safety five-star ANCAP Engine 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo-diesel Power 147kW at 3000rpm Torque 470Nm from 1750-2500rpm Transmission six-speed automatic (as tested) Drive 4×2; 4x4H; 4x4L Dimensions 5365mm (long) 1850mm (wide) 1821mm (high) 3220mm (wheelbase) Angles 28.2-degrees (approach) 26.4-degrees (departure) 25.0-degrees (rampover) Ground Clearance 237mm (claimed) Wading Depth 800mm Weight 2147kg Towing 3500kg maximum braked GVM 3200kg GCM 6000kg Fuel Tank 80L Spare full-size steel underslung Thirst 10.0L/100km (claimed combined)
THE MAZDA BT-50 was born out of an alliance with Ford and the Ranger which has proved itself consistently as one of the country’s best-selling dual-cab 4x4s and, indeed, best-selling vehicles depending on the month. Oddly, the virtual twin-under-the-skin Mazda BT-50 hasn’t enjoyed the same success.
Australian motoring scribblers are quick to point to the fact that this is because of the way the BT-50 looked compared to the other offerings on the market. Meaning, Mazda had opted for a more car-like design via its family grille design while its rivals had gone from designs inspired by Tonka trucks. But I don’t agree with that…see, around where I live, just about every other tradie I know or pass in the street is driving a Mazda BT-50. And, as we know, looks are in the eye of the beholder.
What is the Mazda BT-50?
Well, as mentioned it was spun off the Ford Ranger with its sheet metal taking styling cues form Mazda’s passenger car range, note the grille design, rather than stick with the styling of the blunt, square-edged Ranger. And while plenty of motoring scribblers complained the BT-50 didn’t look tough enough, I’m not so sure genuine buyers were as ‘upset’.
Fast forward to now and Mazda’s released a refreshed BT-50 that, for the Australian market only at this stage, sees a new-look front end for the thing, one that still resembles the passenger car grille but is now squarer to give the front-end some more presence.
Interesting to note that many of the BT-50s I see driving around, especially the dual-cab 4×4 variants, are all wearing a bull bar meaning the supposedly ‘un-manly’ grille is hidden behind protective bar work that toughens up the front of the thing more than any designers pen could. That said, I think the changes have done enough to toughen up the front of the BT-50, squaring off its swooping angles. There have been some changes made to the interior too but we’ll explore them in greater detail later in the review.
The BT-50 is available as either a Single Cab, Freestyle Cab and Dual Cab and in both 4×2 and 4×4 with the model grades being XT, XTR and GT. There are two diesel engines to choose from, although the 4×4 range is only available with the Ford 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo-diesel.
Mazda is targeting around 1250 sales/month for the BT-50 and expects the dual cab will be the most popular variant (59%), 4×4 is expected to outsell 4×2 (64%) with the entry-level XT variant the most popular (60%), with automatic transmissions just edging out manuals (56%).
Our test car is a top-spec BT-50 GT 4×4 with a handful of extra cost option, including black steel bull bar ($2541.01), Lightforce driving lights ($827.12), Canopy ($3743.41) and towing kit consisting of towbar ($656.58), wiring harness ($335.45), and electric brake controller ($630.86), and also black tubular side steps ($692.32) and black alloys ($357.74). It’s worth mentioning the fit and finish of the accessories was excellent, especially the incorporation of switch gear for the driving lights and brake controller.
In the 4×4 range, pricing starts at $46,190+ORC for the entry-level, manual XT through to $56,990+ORC for the automatic GT. One of the major gripes with potential buyers was the servicing schedule which has been pushed out to 12 months or 15,000km for the updated BT-50.
What’s the interior like?
While competitors go for chunky plastic and lots of contrasting materials, the interior of the BT-50 follows in the wheel tracks of the exterior and offers a very car-like environment. Sure, there’s a lot of hard, scratchy plastic inside the thing but, remember, the BT-50 isn’t intended to be a fashion accessory, like a Mercedes-Benz X-Class, rather it’s meant to be able to do a hard day’s work, be dusted off and driven around town with the family inside. In this respect, it’s more like the inside of a Toyota HiLux.
That’s not to suggest it feels like the inside of an old lunchbox. There’s enough ‘luxury’ in this top-spec GT to justify the price tag and in enough tough plastic that you won’t need to treat it too carefully.
The dashboard is neatly and simply laid out with the dash dominated by a new 8.0-inch infotainment unit which unlike the Mazda MZD-Connect system is touchscreen rather than requiring a rotary dial to scroll the functionality. More than this, the Alpine system allowed the incorporation of the Apple and Android smartphone connectivity, something the rest of the Mazda line-up does without. And, it makes for a much nicer, user experience.
There’s a decent amount of functionality via the infotainment system, from Bluetooth phone connectivity to smartphone mirroring, as well as digital radio and even in-built shortcuts to apps like Pandora. There’s native sat-nav and everything responds quickly to finger touches. The screen offers a matte finish which looks nice when not in use but shows fingerprints easily and can be hard to read in direct sunlight. The reversing camera projects through this screen and it cements the feeling that the screen isn’t a particularly high-res offering; the reversing camera image is grainy and particularly so in low-light and while there’s s line projecting from the tow bar to make hitching up easier although the reversing lines are not dynamic.
Our test car came with a leather interior and while the trimming on the seats wasn’t perfect (there was some slight puckering around the seams on the seat bolsters) the leather quality was good and they look like they’ll stand up to plenty of abuse. In fact, the whole interior, including the carpet looks strong and hard wearing and that’s exactly what you want from a ute.
The front seats are comfortable with enough support for longer drives or when bumping about off-road and the electric adjustment means it’s easy to get comfortable behind the wheel for drivers of all shapes and sizes. The steering wheel on our BT-50 GT was wrapped in leather and feels good in the hand.
All the controls in the front of the vehicle fall easily to hand and there’s a reasonable amount of storage with bottle holders in the door bins, cupholder in the centre console as well as a small storage space at the base of the dashboard with a 12v outlet and another shelf at the top of the dashboard with a non-slip base and USB outlet.
The doors, both front and back, are light making them easy to open and close but they don’t feel tinny, closing with a decent-sounding thunk. My kids had no problems climbing up and into the back and they both had plenty of room, and because the doors are light they could easily close them even when opened fully. There are no ISOFIX outlets for the back seat but there are two top tether anchors for the outboard seats meaning you can fit a conventional childseat.
The seats themselves, as you’d imagine, are upright in their design but they’re well-shaped and comfortable. The middle seat is more of a perch, though, so, realistically you’ll comfortably seat four adults in the BT-50. With both the driver and passenger seat set to suit me, I found I had good foot, leg and knee room and decent headroom, despite the stadium-style seating. This higher set seating position means vision from the back seat is good, an important consideration if you’ve got kids. You can raise the bench seat base to reveal storage underneath and there’s a pocket on the back of the passenger seat.
There’s a 12V outlet at the back of the centre console a small shelf but there are no directional air vents for those in the back. That said, the front vents are well positioned and the climate control system is more than powerful enough to heat or cool the cabin quickly.
Our test car was fitted with a cost-optional canopy with two lift-up windows ($3743.41), tailgate central locking ($219.95) and Tailgate Ez down ($207.39) which is a strut to make lowering the tailgate easier; raising it still requires two hands, though. It also had canopy roof racks ($770.64). Being the GT it comes standard with a lined, non-slip tub, tub light and a weather-proof 12V outlet.
From the ground to the tub floor measures 841mm, it’s 1549mm long and 1560mm wide, the sides of the tub measure 513mm high. I found the tub with the cost-optional canopy to be a useful and practical space.
What’s it like on the road?
All 4×4 BT-50 variants come standard with a 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo-diesel engine (shared with the Ford Ranger) which makes 147kW at 3000rpm and 470Nm of torque from 1750-2500rpm. It’s standard with a six-speed manual but our test car was fitted with a six-speed automatic transmission – it drinks 10.0L/100km claimed combined. The gear ratios are identical to the Ranger’s: 1st: 4.171; 2nd 2.342; 3rd: 1.521; 4th: 1.443; 5th: 0.867; 6th: 0.691; and Reverse: 3.400. The transfer case ratios are high-range 4×4: 1.000:1 and low-range 4×4: 2.717:1.
The engine, as the numbers suggest, is strong and relaxed both around town and on the highway when overtaking. While our test car was fitted with a towing pack we didn’t get a chance to tow with it, although the engine is more than capable of easy towing. The transmission is well matched to the engine offering smooth throttle-responsive shifts.
That said, the ‘box is keen to get to the highest gear possible, and quickly, when cruising to improve fuel economy. While you can hear the engine it’s a purposeful sound and even hard throttle inputs don’t result in the engine note becoming harsh. All the general controls, like brakes and throttle are nice and progressive allowing easy creeping in traffic and comfortable stopping from speed.
There’s a Sport mode but like a lot of these things it’s a bit of froth and bubble only; revs increase and you get a bit more noise but it doesn’t unleash extra power. And you can move the gear shifter into Manual mode and select a lower gear for improved engine braking if needed.
Across the Practical Motoring road loop which offers a mixture of highway, twisting country and pock-marked back roads with some dirt thrown in for good measure, the BT-50 felt comfortable and controlled. There’s none of the bump and jiggle you expect from an unladen ute and while big hits are heard there’s very little thump-through into the cabin.
There was rain in our week with the BT-50 which saw the traction control system get a decent workout and it’s a good system. Even deliberate big throttle inputs to induce wheel spin are gathered up quickly and efficiently keeping the Mazda pointing in the right direction without the driver feeling like they’ve had their hand slapped or been left stranded in the middle of an intersection waiting for drive to be restored.
The steering isn’t the same as the current Ford Ranger, sticking with the pre-PXII’s hydraulic steering. For me, this offers decent weight, and a consistent action regardless of the speed you’re driving out. Some might find the action when low-speed parking a little ponderous. But, at highway speeds, there’s good weight in the straight ahead which is quite unlike the slackness we encountered in the X-Class when we tested it recently.
The BT-50 4×4 GT with the family on-board felt more like a large SUV than it did a dual-cab ute and that’s probably about as high as you can go with praise for this sort of vehicle.
What’s it like off the road?
Mazda has left well enough alone with the mechanicals, meaning the Ranger and BT-50, when it comes to the rough stuff, are on-par with one another. And that means, when the going gets rough, the BT-50 is very capable indeed.
Switching from 2H to 4H and then 4L is as simple as turning a dial, and there are push buttons just ahead of the that dial to activate the locking rear differential and the hill descent control. You can shift on the fly from 2H to 4H (at up to 120km/h) but need to be stationary and in Neutral to select 4L.
The BT-50 has two ‘almost identical’ traction control systems and they help this thing to clamber up, over and down the sorts of rutted tracks you’d struggle to walk across. It has a Brake Traction Control System which works by applying the brakes when it detects one or another wheel is spinning and sending torque to the wheel with grip, and it also has Engine Traction Control which works by cutting power when it detects a certain level of wheel spin; this is what you tend to notice when driving on a slippery stretch of road, or when turning right at an uphill intersection when you’ve given the throttle a decent shove.
Select 4H and the ESC system will be slightly detuned, but not fully off allowing a little more slip to maintain forwards momentum when off-road. Then in 4L engine traction control and stability control are switched off and B-TCS remains active. And the B-TCS is excellent, able to maintain forward momentum, on an even throttle, when driving over deep ruts and rocks where wheels are either being lifted or becoming light.
A cool feature, and this is the same for the Ranger, is when you select 4×4 Low the throttle action is dulled slightly so that you don’t upset the throttle when crawling over bumpy ground causing the vehicle to surge.
Downhill the BT-50’s Hill Descent Control is excellent. Active at speeds below 40km/h down to 2km/h it’s adjusted using the cruise control stalk and remains active when the rear diff lock is engaged which is great.
The BT-50 offers an impressive 800mm wading depth and ground clearance of a claimed 237mm (although our tape measure showed closer to 225mm) with an approach angle of 28.2-degrees, a departure angle of 26.4-degrees and a rampover of 25-degrees.
What about towing? Well we’ve already written extensively about how a 3500kg towing capacity isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. The BT-50 offers a 3500kg braked towing capacity and a 350kg towball download. The kerb weight on our test vehicle was 2161kg, the GVM is 3200kg which gives a payload of around 1039kg for our auto-equipped variant. This doesn’t take into all the accessories added to our test car, like the canopy and bulbar or passengers and their gear. To avoid exceeding the 6000kg GCM the maximum weight of the caravan you could tow would be around 2800kg. So, make sure you check all your weights before hitching up to avoid exceeding your GCM of 6000kg.
What about safety?
The Mazda BT-50 carries a five-star ANCAP safety rating from its original launch in 2012. Standard safety features include airbags for driver and passenger as well as curtain bags that reach into the backseat. All seatbelts are three-point emergency locking retractable, there’s traction and stability controls, four-wheel drive, hill holding and hill descent control on automatic-equipped vehicles. The BT-50 also features emergency brake assist, trailer sway control, roll stability control, childproof rear door locks, engine immobiliser, remote centre locking, reversing camera, and more. It’s a shame autonomous emergency braking isn’t available, although you can expect the next-generation BT-50 to offer it.
So, what do we think?
The BT-50 looks better than ever thanks to the tweaked exterior and its left-alone mechanicals are proof the thing was just about bang on when it was first launched. Against fresher competitors, the GT variant we tested doesn’t feel quite as ‘premium’ but its rough-road capability, family-hauling comfort and the price mean this thing should be on your shortlist.