2017 Mazda BT-50 Review

2017 Mazda BT-50 Review

Overall Rating

0

4 out of 5 stars

Rating breakdown
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Safety, value & features

4 out of 5 stars

Comfort & space

4 out of 5 stars

Engine & gearbox

4 out of 5 stars

Ride & handling

4 out of 5 stars

Technology

3 out of 5 stars

Pros & Cons

  1. ProOne of the better multi-purpose utes.

  2. ConWeighty low-speed steering; firm ride.

  3. The Pick: 2017 Mazda BT-50 XTR (4x4) Dual Cab Utility

What stands out?

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Mazda’s BT-50 is among the best utes to drive and offers one of the stronger engines, a 3.2 litre, five-cylinder turbo-diesel that is quite fuel-efficient. Stability control is standard, as are head-protecting side-curtain airbags for rear passengers. You can get rear-wheel drive and four-wheel drive versions, ranging from farm trucks to family-friendly dual-cab utes.

What might bug me?

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The bumpy ride when the tray is empty. It’s a feature of all utes like this, because they need stiff rear springs to support the one-tonne loads they can carry.

What body styles are there?

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Single Cab, Freestyle Cab and Dual Cab, and in both cab-chassis and ute form.

Buyers of cab-chassis models fit trays of their choice at the rear, commonly tailor-made by aftermarket specialists. Only Freestyle Cabs and Dual Cabs come as utes, with a factory-fitted tub at the back.

Dual Cabs have a conventional four-door arrangement, with seating for five. Freestyle Cab models have fold-down seats behind the front seats, accessed via small rear-hinged doors.

The BT-50 is available as a rear-wheel drive vehicle, or with dual-range four-wheel drive. It is classified as a light commercial pick-up.

Every rear-wheel drive BT-50 but one is a Hi Rider model, with high ground clearance like the 4WD models. The exception is the 2.2 XT Single Cab chassis 4x2 manual.

What features do all Mazda BT-50s have?

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Cruise control, a multi-function trip computer, Bluetooth phone connectivity, audio controls on the steering wheel, USB and auxiliary input jacks, and a 12-volt outlet.

Electronic Stability Control, which helps the driver control the car in a skid. (Some commercial vehicles do not have this feature, which is mandatory on passenger cars.)

Trailer-Sway Control, which helps stabilise the car if a trailer it is towing sways from side to side.

Electronic Traction Control, which is a great help in slippery off-road conditions.

Hill-Launch Assist, which stops the car from rolling backwards when the driver is trying to move off on a slope.

Four airbags: two to protect the driver and front-seat passenger in frontal impacts, and two curtain airbags to protect their heads in side impacts.

All Freestyle Cab and Dual Cab BT-50s also have side airbags that protect the upper bodies of those in the front seats, and full-length curtain airbags that protect front and rear passengers – making six airbags in total.

Freestyle and Dual Cabs also have two child restraint anchors.

All four-wheel drive BT-50s have a driver-activated rear differential lock, to help the car maintain progress in extreme off-road conditions.

All BT-50s have height and lumbar adjustment for the driver’s seat, except where a bench front-seat is fitted.

All BT-50s are covered by Mazda’s three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.

Which engine uses least fuel, and why wouldn't I choose it?

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The 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel is the more economical of the two engines on offer but only when coupled to the manual gearbox, where it uses a thrifty 7.6 litres/100km in the official government combined-cycle test and is also very economical in the real world.

Unfortunately this engine is available in only two models, both basic work trucks with single cabs and two-wheel drive.

The alternative engine is the considerably more powerful 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo diesel, which comes with all the other variants and is available with both a six-speed manual and a six-speed automatic gearbox.

In the official test the 3.2 uses between 8.4 and 9.2 litres/100km, depending on the variant. In real-world driving, it uses about 12 litres/100km.

What key features do I get if I spend more?

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Prices start with the 2WD 2.2-litre XT Single-Cab chassis, a basic work truck with 16-inch steel wheels and a vinyl floor. By spending more money you can get the more powerful, 3.2-litre engine, four-wheel drive, a cab with rear seats, a ute-style cargo area and extra equipment.

Pay for a dual-cab XT Ute and you also get fancier wheels, made from lighter (but arguably less robust) aluminium alloy. A reversing camera is available on XT models as an extra-cost option.

Choose a BT-50 XTR and you get a reversing camera standard, a 7.8-inch central screen, satellite navigation, carpet on the floor, a driver’s seat with height and lumbar adjustment, and dual-zone air-conditioning (which allows the driver and front-seat passenger to set their preferred temperatures). Windscreen wipers operate automatically when it rains, and the headlamps switch on automatically when it gets dark.

All XTRs also have front foglights, and side steps. And their alloy wheels are an inch bigger in diameter, at 17 inches.

The most expensive BT-50 is the GT, which is available only as a 4WD Dual Cab Ute. In addition to the XTR features, it has leather trim, power adjustment for the driver’s seat, heated external mirrors, and tinted windows.

Does any upgrade have a down side?

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Going from a Single Cab to either a Freestyle or Dual Cab reduces both the tray length and the weight you can carry. The more expensive, better equipped versions also carry less.

White paint is available at no extra cost. All other metallic and mica paints cost more.

How comfortable is the BT50?

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The BT-50 has a roomy and comfortable cabin, although the quality of the fit and finish falls short of the high standard set by Mazda’s passenger cars. XTR and GT models now have a good-sized display screen in the centre of the dash.

The GT model brings a sense of luxury with its leather seats, and powered seat adjustment for the driver.

On the road the BT-50 has the somewhat stiff-riding feel of a ute but it still rides and handles better than most other utes, except for those based on passenger cars. It’s on par with the Ford Ranger, but not as good as the Volkswagen Amarok.

What about safety in a BT-50?

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Standard stability control adds security and can help recover the ute from a skid. Mazda fits four airbags to single cabs and six airbags to all other models, which rank from Very Good to Excellent on the Which Car scale.

A reversing camera is standard on XTR and GT versions, and an expensive option on XTs.

(To see a list of the safety features on any model, open the model from the Cars Covered By This Review dropdown near the top of this page, and look under the features tab. Safety-related features are listed in red.)

The Australasian New Car Assessment Program has rated All Freestyle-Cab and Dual-Cab BT-50s at five stars for safety. Single cabs have a four-star ANCAP rating.

I like driving - will I enjoy this car?

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Utes aren’t designed to be driver’s cars. That said, the BT-50 is a better drive than just about any similar ute, with precise steering and surprisingly good handing. Like most utes, it is better with some weight in the rear tray or tub, to help settle the rear springs.

The 2.2-litre engine is smooth and willing. The 3.2-litre engine is a bit gruff and noisy but has much more power – indeed it is among the stronger engines available in a 4WD ute. The 3.2 works well with the smooth-shifting automatic gearbox. However, the manual gearbox was much improved in the mid-life model update of October 2015, and is also an excellent choice.

The BT-50 is very much like the Ford Ranger to drive, as it’s very close to being mechanically identical to the Ranger. One key difference is in the steering assistance, which unlike the Ranger’s is not variable (the Ranger’s electric system offers extra assistance at low speeds, which makes parking easier). At highway speeds, however, the BT-50 steers every bit as well as the Ranger, and arguably better.

The other main difference is in the ride from the suspension: the BT-50 does not feel quite as comfortable as the Ranger (because the damping is firmer). When co-developing these two utes, Ford and Mazda went their own ways when fine-tuning the chassis, and Ford did a better job of tailoring the suspension for Australian conditions.

How is life in the rear seats?

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Dual-Cab BT-50s have a roomy and comfortable rear seat. It’s a match for the rear seat in most medium SUVs, but – as in most utes – the backrest is more upright.

The two small folding seats in the rear Freestyle Cab models are suitable only for children and small adults, and only over short distances. You can get into the seats easily through the small rear-hinged doors, which can be opened only after the front doors have been opened.

How is it for carrying stuff?

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Excellent, of course. It’s a ute! And the BT-50 is also very good at towing.

How much you can carry depends on which BT-50 you get. Fewer seats in the cab means more length in the tray, and more weight you can carry (because there’s less weight in the cab).

Legally, a BT-50 generally can carry more than most other utes but not a lot more. Even the BT-50 with the least capacity – the GT dual cab – can carry 800kg in the tray (40 bags of cement) and a driver and passenger, and still have 100kg of its rated payload unused.

In practice it all works, too. Pack a BT-50 tray with 800kg of cargo and it handles the load quite easily. Its robust chassis feels stable with that sort of load, and there is strong performance from the five-cylinder diesel – even if the engine is a bit noisy.

Most BT-50s, even those with the smaller four-cylinder diesel, are legally rated to tow a braked trailer weighing 3500kg – as much as any ute. That’s like towing a robust 20-foot tandem-axle off-road caravan, or a fully loaded three-horse float.

In practice, a BT-50 with the five-cylinder diesel engine hauls a trailer that big comfortably, and is stable on the road.

A BT-50 fitted with the smaller, four-cylinder, diesel will work very hard to pull that much but it’s still stable handling-wise.

The only exception to the BT-50’s 3500kg towing limit is the two-wheel-drive (non-Hi-Rider) single cab, which is rated to tow 2500kg.

In any ute, extreme care should be taken when carrying or towing big loads.

Where is the Mazda BT-50 made?

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All Australian delivered BT-50s are made in Thailand.

What might I miss that similar cars have?

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You might miss the active safety features that Ford has added, as extra-cost options, to the BT-50’s twin under the skin, the Ranger. They include automatic cruise control (which slows you to the speed of a vehicle in front), and a forward collision warning (which sounds when you are closing too fast on another vehicle or object). Rangers with this pack – available only on XLT and Wildtrak – also warn if you drift out of your lane, and if they think you might be falling asleep. Since about September 2016, Holden has offered similar features on its Colorado.

Other utes you might consider include the Toyota HiLux, Nissan Navara, Mitsubishi Triton, Volkswagen Amarok and Isuzu D-Max.

I like this car, but I can't choose which version. Can you help?

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The 3.2 XTR Dual-Cab Ute 4x4 with the automatic gearbox is the best choice as a family car.

Are there plans to update the BT-50 soon?

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This BT-50 arrived in Australia in late 2011. In October 2015 it received a mid-generation update that brought a re-styled nose, and on XTR and GT versions a reversing camera and bigger central screen. BT-50 XTs got a height-adjustable driver’s seat, with the reversing camera an extra-cost option.

Mazda has announced it will develop a new ute in partnership with Isuzu. It is expected about 2020.