MAZDA ended its decades of one-tonne-ute product sharing with The Ford Motor Company in 2020, but didn’t want to give up on the popular sales segment. With Ford gone, Mazda partnered with Isuzu early on in the development of the new D-MAX to share the platform, powertrain and most of the vehicle.
Mazda has added its own styling to the interior and exterior to give the BT-50 its family face, feel and style.
The third of four BT-50 specifications, the XTR variant was supplied for 4x4OTY. This lists at $57,210 but floor mats, a tow bar, electric brake controller and black alloy wheels took the price as tested up to $60,780 (plus ORC).
POWERTRAIN & PERFORMANCE
THE BT-50 shares its full drivetrain with the new D-MAX, so that means an updated 3.0-litre diesel engine and six-speed auto transmission. While the power and torque of the Isuzu engine are down on the old Ford 3.2-litre five-cylinder that was in the previous generation BT-50, the new generation is marginally lighter overall, so any performance deficit is negligible.
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The BT does miss the loping, lazy mannerism of the five-pot Ford engine, while the new four-cylinder is more buzzy and noisy. The transmission does everything you ask of it, giving nothing to comment on.\
ON-ROAD RIDE & HANDLING
WITH the shared chassis and suspension, the performance of the BT closely mimics that of the D-MAX. The XTR Mazda does feel a bit softer in the ride suggesting that it uses the lighter rear leaf pack, and it rides on the 18-inch alloy wheels as opposed to the 17s on the Isuzu LS-M. However, any differences in ride and handling are marginal.
AGAIN the hardware here is all shared with the Isuzu D-MAX, so you would expect very similar performance. We were surprised then when the BT-50 struggled more on the set-piece hill climb, failing to get beyond the first rut in the right-side wheel track without the RDL activated.
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It soldiered on and went up the hill with the RDL in, but made more of a show of it than any other vehicle on the test.
The only thing we can put this difference in performance to is the 18-inch wheels and 265/60 tyres on the Mazda compared to the 255/65-17s on the Isuzu; unless there’s a difference in the calibration of the traction control between the two cars that we don’t know about.
CABIN & ACCOMMODATION
THE difference in specification between the D-MAX LS-M and the XTR seems more significant than the few thousand dollars in price, making the Mazda feel like a better value-for-money package. This isn’t just because of the level of equipment the Mazda has, but because the stylish way Mazda does things. It just feels a lot better and more complete.
Significantly noted by our judges were the comfortable seats and the improved feeling of the switchgear over the Isuzu. The fact that this more expensive spec has dual-zone climate control over the old manual air-con in the lower grades was appreciated, as it gives a feeling of higher quality in its tactility. Still no volume control dial, though!
The BT-50 gets the same class-leading level of safety equipment as the D-MAX, which is a huge plus over any previous Mazda ute. Unfortunately, all the same annoyances with warning beeps and chimes are carried over from the Isuzu.
THE BT-50 XTR has a 1070kg payload, a 3500kg towing capacity and large cargo tub. You could say it loses points for having carpet over vinyl floors, but that’s up to personal preference. The difference in performance on the hill climb when compared to the Isuzu would suggest the 18-inch wheels and lower profile tyres are definitely less practical.
Something that became a significant problem was the push-button start in the Mazda. This is only in the XTR and GT grades of the BT-50 range, while the lower spec has key-in-ignition starting. When the BT-50 failed to start on the morning of day three of our test because the vehicle systems wouldn’t recognise or find the remote key, it was game over for the Mazda, requiring a tow-away from our High Country camp.
The car had power and everything else apart from the starter not working, and it was diagnosed as the key not being found or recognised. A situation where technology failed the car in the bush could have been a lot more costly if it were in a remote outback location.
ENGINE: I4 3.0L diesel
MAX POWER: 140kW at 4000rpm
MAX TORQUE: 450Nm from 1600 to 2600rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic
TRANSFER CASE: Part-time 4x4 w/ high/low range
CRAWL RATIO: 33.3:1
FRONT SUSPENSION: IFS w/ upper and lower control arms, coil springs, stabiliser bar
REAR SUSPENSION: Live axle under leaf springs, stabiliser bar
KERB WEIGHT: 2030kg
TOWING CAPACITY: 3500kg
ADR COMBINED FUEL USE: 8.0L/100km
TEST FUEL USE: N/A
FUEL TANK: 76L
DEPARTURE ANGLE: 24.2°
RAMPOVER ANGLE: 23.8°
APPROACH ANGLE: 30.4°
WADING DEPTH: 800mm
GROUND CLEARANCE: 240mm