Today’s popular 4x4 dual-cabs make big claims when it comes to tow ratings and payloads, but are they really up to serious yakka?
We test the Mazda BT-50 to see how its GCM, GVM and Payload fare against other industry icons.
The Mazda BT-50 and the Ford Ranger were developed side-by-side; both debuted late in 2011 and they share most of the basics. But where Ford carried out a significant remake of the Ranger in 2015, Mazda tweaked little more than equipment, aside from – like Ford – fixing the awkward shift of the manual ’box when fitted to the 3.2 engine. Apparently Mazda and Ford haven’t been seeing eye-to-eye on a few things and word is that Mazda will look to partner with Isuzu for its next-generation ute. But that’s a few years off yet.
What we have here is the MY16 BT-50. As before and like the Ranger, it has six solid tie-down hooks to help to secure the 800kg pallet. With that load in the tub the rear of the BT dropped around 65mm, a little more droop than the best on test managed but certainly not a significant difference.
Even with the weight of the total payload (driver, observer and tow bar), the BT-50 is left with a handsome 200kg payload to spare on the lightest BT 4x4 dual-cab pick-up, or 100kg of extra capacity on the heavier top-spec GT. Along with the Ranger, the BT-50 has the highest GVM, which is the reason why it has payload to spare beyond most of the others.
With its big 3.2-litre five-cylinder engine at work the Mazda had little trouble hauling the weight of the pallet up our test hill.
Compared to the Ranger, the Mazda’s engine isn’t quite as responsive at low revs – its peak torque comes in a little higher than the Ford’s revamped version – and the engine is also a little gruffer and noisier.
No complaints, however, about the Mazda’s gearbox; although, like most of the others, it seems reluctant to downshift automatically on the descent even when prompted by the driver via brake application.
With the load in the back the BT isn’t too nose-up and feels positive in the steering. It lacks the electric power steering of the Ranger and Colorado – something you really notice at parking speeds – although, the steering weight once you get going is reassuring, as is the BT’s general stability and handing with that 800kg in the tub.
What took us by surprise, however, was its tendency to bottom out on some of the test hill’s bumps – we certainly didn’t expect that.
The BT-50 hasn’t always shared the sales spotlight with its Blue Oval blood brother and, while running changes have been made recently, it’s mechanically pretty close to where it was when first launched.
The engine is a little more raucous under load and the power comes in just a little later than the Ranger. That said, the BT still felt confident with the 3500kg trailer in tow and the five-cylinder powerplant has more than enough grunt to pull a decent load.
The hydraulic power steering retains its decent feel, though it comes across as a little more old-school than the Ford. It also feels a little twitchy in comparison; it’s a big ask to put this kind of weight behind an empty truck at the best of times. Clearly, it was never going to handle like a go-kart.
However, the Mazda’s leaf-spring rear end still feels stable enough, and you don’t get a sense that the load is pushing you on descents.
As with the transmissions in most of the vehicles put to the test, you still have to intervene manually to force a down-shift on a long descent to save the brakes. But, as with the Ford, the bigger cubic displacement of the 3.2-litre helps share the mechanical strain when bleeding off speed.
The verdict: the BT-50 is a worthy contender when it comes to big towing.
SPECS: MAZDA BT-50*
Engine: 3.2-litre 5-cyl turbo-diesel
Max Power/Torque: 147kW/470Nm
Gearbox: six-speed automatic
4X4 System: dual-range part-time
Kerb Weight: 2036kg to 2118kg
Payload: 1082kg to 1164kg
Towing capacity: 3500kg
Towball download: 350kg
Fuel tank capacity: 80L
ADR fuel claim: 9.2L/100km
*4x4 dual-cab pick-up automatics only
MAZDA BT-50 PRICES*
*4x4 dual-cab pick-up manuals only