2021 Mazda BT-50 XT Review
Our 2021 Mazda BT-50 XT ute review in Australia, including price, specs, interior, ride and handling, safety and score.
The ute market is fascinating. The number of people curious about utes boggles my mind. My wife, who I call The Reluctant Influencer, will sometimes snap a pic of her latest Bunnings acquisition loaded into the back of a Ranger or HiLux. A good proportion of her mostly female, interior design-focused followers (nearly four thousand of them…) will not ask what she plans to do with whatever the hell it is she’s bought this time, but which ute is it and is it any good?
There’s a bit of a changing of the guard going on in Uteland. There’s an updated HiLux, the Chinese brands are getting involved, a new Ford-VW co-production is on the horizon for a new Ranger/Amarok pairing and there’s a new Isuzu D-Max.
It is therefore no coincidence that there is a new Mazda BT-50 about to hit the dealer forecourts. Previous dancing partner Ford has fallen into the arms of German giant VW so Mazda turned to Isuzu for its new-generation of BT-50 Utes.
HOW MUCH DOES THE MAZDA BT-50 COST?
In Uteland, that’s a big question. Mazda is starting with 11 variants ranging from the BT-50 XT dual cab chassis 4×2 for $44,090 right through to the BT-50 GT lifestyler for $59,990.
My steed for a few days was the BT-50 XT dual cab pick-up six-speed manual 4×4 which is yours from $49,360. That gets you a 17-inch alloys with 255/65 Dunlop Grandtrek tyres, LED headlights with manual levelling, power mirrors and windows, manual air-conditioning, cruise control (an auto scores you adaptive cruise with stop and go), reversing camera and a full-size spare. The cloth interior has a surprisingly racy-looking set of front seats, too.
WHAT DOES IT COST TO OWN?
You get a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty with roadside assist for the duration of the warranty.
You also get a capped-price servicing scheme. Every 12 months/15,000km, Mazda would like you to come in and pay between $390 and $750 over the first seven services. The program covers seven years or 105,000km, whichever comes first.
Mazda says the first three years/45,000km costs $1481, $256 fewer than the older model. Five years will cost you $2288 all-up, a hefty drop of $685. Over the whole program you’ll pay $3473 or about $500 per year which, really, isn’t terrible at all. A Subaru XV costs more over five years.
WHAT’S THE EXTERIOR LIKE?
The looks waw always going to be a bit of a compromise and it does look like what it is – Mazda’s nose slapped onto someone else’s body. Having said that, it’s worked out alright. It’s kind of nice to have a ute that isn’t trying to look like an American pick-up truck. Mazda’s slim headlights and signature grille just about fit on the ute’s front-end.
The profile is Generic Twin-Cab Ute as is the (unlined) tray. Mazda toned down the angles for the new rear lights which are verging on anonymous. It’s not the toughest looking ute on the market, but it’s not overbearing either.
WHAT’S THE INTERIOR LIKE?
Given the BT-50’s origins, it’s pretty good in the cabin. While it doesn’t quite look like it fits, the dash is a much calmer, more Mazda-like design than the early 2010s Hyundai vibe of the Isuzu and that’s a good thing. Not a great deal else has changed, but I really like the seats which are comfortable and supportive and don’t look like the cheapest thing the accountants could get their hands on.
WHAT’S THE INFOTAINMENT LIKE?
Surprising. The Apple CarPlay installation is both wireless and USB. As with a number of companies, Mazda hasn’t quite got around to pairing wireless charging with wireless CarPlay and that’s of minor importance but it’s astonishingly useful when it happens. Android Auto is the usual USB-based setup and there are two USB ports, one in the back and one in the front.
Sadly, the touchscreen interface is neither version of Mazda’s MZD Connect (the new one is sooo good) but an out-of-the-box generic one. You can’t win them all, I guess, but it does have DAB+ and not a whole lot else. As far as customisation settings, they are very comprehensive, though.
The screen itself swims in a much larger enclosure (for the 9.0-inch system in the upper model, pictured above) which isn’t very Mazda, but there’s little point in the company dropping millions of dollars for customers who won’t care about that too much.
The six speakers of the dual cab deliver perfectly reasonable sound but obviously don’t expect miracles.
WHAT IS THE STORAGE LIKE?
Well, it’s a ute. As ever, you can’t fit a standard pallet between the wheelarches but the tray will take between 1055kg and 1081kg depending on the chassis and transmission combinations. The cargo area is 1572mm long and 1120mm between the wheelarches. The cargo box’s height is 490mm and the maximum width is 1540mm.
Front axle capacity comes out at 1450kg and the rear’s 1910kg. The GCM ranges from 5850kg to 5950kg and the GVM 3000kg to 3100kg, both from kerb weights of between 1805kg to 2035kg.
Inside the cabin you get two cupholders up front, a bottle holder in each door, a glovebox that is entirely filled by the manuals and a smaller box above with a flimsy, ill-fitting lid. There’s a space under the centre stack for your phone and it fits larger sized phones.
It’s a bit grim in the back, with just a couple of seatback pockets and no armrest. But the seats have isofix anchors and also top tether anchors, so you don’t need to install aftermarket points.
WHAT ENGINES ARE AVAILABLE?
Just the one, a 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel spinning up 140kW and an impressive 450Nm between 1600 and 2600rpm. This isn’t a Mazda engine, obviously, but the same 4JJ3-TCX under the bonnet of the Isuzu D-Max range.
Thankfully it’s not nearly as noisy as the previous installation in the MU-X and D-Max of the which inflicted a lot of noise on even light throttle.
You have a choice of six-speed manual and six-speed automatic.
WHAT ABOUT FUEL ECONOMY?
Mazda reckons the new BT-50 is – on average – 50kg lighter than the previous generation, which translates to fuel savings. Officially, A manual 4X4 will get through 7.7L/100km on the combined cycle while the auto 4×4 dual cab pickup and dual cab chassis models get through 8.0L/100km. The most parsimonious of the range is the dual cab pickup, weighing in at 7.6L/100km.
WHAT IS IT LIKE OFF-ROAD?
I can’t really tell you because I did not get the chance to take the BT-50 offroad and this isn’t an offroad review. Depending on the model you have 235mm or 240mm of ground clearance and a wading depth of 800mm.
The angles are slightly different between the models, so I’ll give you the best and worst of each. Approach angles range from 29.6 degrees to 30.4, departure angle ranges from 23.9 to 25.3 and the ramp breakover angle from 23.3 degrees to 23.9.
WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE?
I’ve driven a lot of utes in the last twelve months and I am staggered at the differences between them. Like a lot of people who buy these, I rarely drive them with anything approaching the loads that tradies subject these cars too, so bear that in mind.
Like most of its rivals, the BT-50 has a live axle rear end. Some have heavy-duty leaf springs, like the XT 4×4 I had. Some have softer, less bouncy non heavy-duty leaf springs. The front is by double wishbones and coilovers with an anti-roll bar.
I’m guessing not too many folks will be buying the manual. I was initially put off by the very long throw shifter that reminded me of my brother’s 1976 Renault 12. It’s nowhere near as vague, but you do cover a lot of miles with your arm pushing and pulling it between gears. The clutch was a bit grumpy the first time I drove it but it settled down since, so I’m guessing it was fresh off the truck.
Given my experience with the BT-50’s ancestor, I braced myself for a big racket from the diesel. It’s not as loud as expected – although no three-litre four-cylinder is quiet – but it’s a more muted diesel clatter and the induction noise is much quieter than I was expecting. It’s not as quiet as a Ford Ranger, but I reckon that car is the benchmark for NVH.
Speaking of the Ranger, this is the closest ute a leaf-sprung ute has come to a Ranger XLT’s relatively plush ride. While it’s a bit fidgety while unladen, it’s not as flat-out uncomfortable as the dearly departed Colorado and there’s daylight between the BT-50 and most Hilux models.
The steering is predictably woolly but that’s pretty much anything of this calibre because sharp, feel-filled steering would be extremely tiring and make towing and manoeuvring hard.
It’s nice enough to drive around the burbs, even in traffic. It’s quite remarkable how quickly utes have become much more pleasant to drive over the past few years and the BT-50 is another one I can cheerfully recommend for those who will never sully its tray with anything other than camping gear or soft bags for a trip to “the farm.”
HOW SAFE IS THE BT-50?
One of the BT-50’s big claims is the huge increase in safety equipment. It wasn’t so long ago that commercial vehicles were a safety wasteland and I suspect the huge increase in female and family interest in this sector has forced the hands of manufacturers to improve things.
The BT-50 ships with eight airbags, which includes a driver’s knee airbag and a Yaris-style centre airbag to soften head clashes, particularly useful in side impacts.
As well as the usual braking and stability assistance systems, you get auto high beam, traffic sign recognition, intelligent speed limiter using the street signs, lane departure warning, lane departure prevention, blind spot monitor, secondary collision prevention and rear cross traffic alert.
Automatic transmission equipped BT-50s also get lane keep assist.
WHAT ARE THE ALTERNATIVES?
Plenty. You can get its twin under the skin, the Isuzu D-Max, for starters. It’s nowhere near as good-looking, though but shares the safety gear, pricing is roughly the same and it costs about the same to own and run.
The current Ford Ranger’s time on earth still has a year or so to go and it’s still an excellent ute. You’ve got almost as many Rangers as BT-50s to choose from, with a very detectable shift towards lifestyle versions.
The Hilux just had a bit of a facelift to keep up with the expanding Ranger set as well as bracing itself against the BT-50 and D-Max. Somehow Toyota has made the Hilux uglier at the front but has improved things inside, a claim I am yet to test.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Is the BT-50 good? For what I did in it, yes, and that’s an increasing number of punters. People just going about their daily lives. It’s very comfortable for ute with proper front seats rather than whatever they found in the skip out the back. While not the best in class, the engine is solid, grunty