The Mazda BT-50 has always lived in the shadow of whatever twin it shares its platform with. We take the BT-50 GT for a spin to see if it’s any good.
The Mazda BT-50 has a new twin. For the last two generations it’s been based on a Ford Ranger and it’s never really found as much favour with the market as that vehicle. And it hasn’t kept pace with the updates to the Ranger either.
So, we ended up with a vehicle feeling tired and behind the times. Enter the all-new Isuzu D-Max. Mazda got off the Ford train and partnered with Isuzu and that’s big news.
And not just because the Mazda BT-50 is now a D-Max but because this makes it a thoroughly modern vehicle. More refined too, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Although, if you’ve read our review of the new D-Max then you can pretty much guess the kind of things we’ll be saying about the BT-50.
It’s essentially the same vehicle but this new BT-50 feels like it has more of its own personality than did the old Ranger based one. At least to me it feels that way.
So, what are we looking at here? Well, there are a bunch of different variants to choose from with both manual and automatic transmissions, but the one we’re driving is the GT. It’s the top-spec model, and in automatic trim it’s a staggering $59,990 plus on-road costs. That’s not a million miles away from the pricing of the vehicle it replaces which is a good thing given how modern this new BT-50 is. And by that I mean, it’s loaded down with creature comforts and technology (safety and infotainment) the old car could only dream about.
But it’s not perfect. And by that I mean, for a rig costing $60k before on-roads there’s no sports bar or tub liner. Maybe I’m being too picky but I’d expect those sorts of things on a $40k 4×4. It means you’ve got to go out and get those basics before you even leave the show room, well, you do in the case of the tub liner unless you want all your stuff to scratch the buggery out of the tray.
Mazda is offering an incredible list of accessories though…you reading between the lines? You can get everything from racks, to bars, to canopies, to suspension, lights and more and all of it has been developed from the off to work with the new camera-based active safety system.
That said, you’ve got to pay a similar amount for the equivalent Ranger and you don’t get a tub liner on that one either…Funnily enough, the Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain is that brand’s top-spec model and its undercuts the BT-50 and gets a tub liner and lockable tonneau as standard. Hmmm.
And there are some things you get with the BT-50 you don’t get on any other ute (ahem, except for the D-Max) and that’s preparation for a snorkel in the front guard and raised diff breathers above the wading depth. That alone is pretty cool as its means there’s no need to fit aftermarket ones.
As we all know, the new BT-50 is a twin-under-the-skin with the D-Max and that means it now runs that vehicle’s updated 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel which is slightly underpowered compared to the old five-pot from Ford. So, you now have 140kW and 450Nm of torque. But this is a newer engine with a newer six-speed automatic hanging off the back and so you’ll never notice the missing oomph.
The BT-50 keeps up with traffic easily, overtakes without trouble and is happy with weight in the cabin or tub. And the automatic does a great job of keeping the engine in its sweet spot, it shifts cleanly and responds nicely to the throttle. And it’s a whole lot quieter than the old rig too…so much so that you barely hear the engine, even when you’re giving it a good kick. And there’s no clatter at startup either.
This newfound refinement carries over to the ride and handling. On bitumen, and dirt, the unladen ride is excellent and it’s easily one of the best in the segment now. The BT-50 has good body control through corners and off bumps too. There’s no hard thumping…watch the video and you’ll see me moving around in the cabin, but I was on a rough and rutted dirt road and never once did the BT-50 buck like the old one used to.
Won’t say it now feels like a high-riding SUV but it’s ride and handling is so much better than it was.
So what about off-road? Like a lot of dual-cab 4x4s designed to appeal to townies the tyres are fine for bitumen but they’re less than impressive when you hit the dirt. Designed more for shedding water on the blacktop they struggle to find grip on wet or loose surfaces off-road. So, swap the tyres for something more aggressive and you’ll have a much better rough roader, but you already knew that, right.
What else do you need to know? There’s not a lot of wheel travel but it’s enough for what most people will expect from their BT-50. If you need to go hardcore then you’ll be swapping out the suspension and throwing on a lift, so… The bumper on the outer edges seems to sit lower than on the D-Max so you need to be careful you don’t nudge it when you’re clambering around off-road. But if you throw on a replacement bar, then that’s unlikely to be a problem.
Obviously you’ve got high- and low-range with a locking rear diff which is standard fare these days. It all works as it should and the switch from two-high to four-high is quick and easy, as is the switch to four-low. It’s all done via a dial.
Let’s talk briefly about the looks. The BT-50 has always been given a hard time for the way it looks. Because of Mazda’s overtly passenger car oriented design, the BT-50 was always going to look a little softer than its rivals. The new one is easily the best looking so far, but it does look more like a premium passenger vehicle than a ‘truck’. For some people that won’t be an issue, for those that it is but who love everything else about the BT-50 then throw on a bull bar and a set of driving lights and you’ll never see the nose.
What about the inside? Well, everything is the same as it is on the D-Max but Mazda’s colour choice helps it stand apart and feel different to the D-Max. Our test car boasted a chocolate brown leather interior with the same colour panels around the dashboard and on the door cards. That and the silver piano-style keys for the climate controls give it a Mazda feel.
And the infotainment system is impressive. Looking and feeling like a tablet in the centre of the dashboard it boasts wireless Apple CarPlay although stick to the wired version as there’s often a delay between command and response, something I’ve not experienced on other vehicles with this technology.
The seats are comfortable and there’s good vision right around, similarly the back seat is nice and roomy and with the front seat set to suit myself there was plenty of room. The rear seat air vents add a bit of extra comfort too. And the fact you can fold down the back rests or raise them up for extra room is a nice touch.
In the end, the transformation from the old BT-50 to this new one has been a radical one. And a move that will make it more appealing for sure. Whether it’ll appeal enough for buyers to look past its better equipped twin, the D-Max X-Terrain remains to be seen.
The new BT-50 is comfortable and capable and with a raft of accessories available to personalise the thing, it’s worth a look if you’re after a 4×4 dual cab that’s as at home in town as it is in the country.
2021 Mazda BT-50 GT Specifications
Price: $59,990+ORC (automatic)
Warranty: five years or unlimited kilometres
Safety: five star ANCAP
Engine: 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel
Power: 140kW at 3600rpm
Torque: 450Nm from 1600-2500rpm
Transmission: six-speed automatic (as tested)
Dimensions: 5280mm long; 1870mm wide; 1790mm high; 3125mm wheelbase
Angles: 30.4 approach; 24.2 departure; 23.8 breakover
Fuel Tank: 76 litres