Model: Mazda BT50 SDX
Price as tested: $48,665 (BT Plus pack 4x4 - $5115)
Also consider: Ford Ranger (see here), Toyota HiLux (see here), Mitsubishi Triton (see here), Holden Rodeo (see here)
Overall Rating: 3.0/5.0
Price, Packaging and Practicality: 3.0/5.0
Behind the wheel: 3.0/5.0
Mazda B-Series utes have seemingly always been around. Regularly but not too frequently refreshed, the range has always offered a good, solid, reliable workhorse for those bushies, tradies and others who want exactly that.
With a careful eye on the market, Mazda has wisely upgraded its entry into the turbodiesel market and the results are the 2.5 and 3.0-litre inline four-cylinder BT50 -- in this top-drawer iteration boasting selectable high and low range four-wheel drive, a dual cab and a generous string of useful features.
Because this kind of vehicle is very much about the engine, let's start there: 115kW may not sound much, but 380Nm does -- especially when it's at just 1800rpm. Claimed fuel consumption is 9.2lt/100km, which turned out about right; with a 70-litre tank, operators will like the 700km-plus range.
Coupled to a very well sorted manual gearbox (auto is a $2000 extra-cost option), well-weighted controls and accurate electronics, the mildly clattery common-rail injection turbodiesel engine delivers a broad spread of really meaty, low-down grunt. Sadly the tester vehicle didn't have a tow-hitch, or its capabilities would have been tried more thoroughly by the weekly chore of transporting a ton of water up a steep dusty track. Not that the BT50 wouldn't have shrugged off the task -- but it would have been good to see just how effortlessly it managed it.
Tastefully redressed for the 21st century, the Mazda cleverly hides its bulk visually -- at least when viewed on its own, it doesn't look like a big vehicle. In fact, it's very long (5.17m) as evidenced by a roomy front cabin, acceptable rear cabin -- and then a generous ute tray out back.
With a kerb weight of 1855kg, a payload of 1158 and a braked towing capacity of 3000kg (2500 with automatic transmission), this is a truck built to work and work hard. The BT50 offers a wading depth of 750mm, approach and departure angles of 32 and 26 degrees, and a breakover of 28 degrees -- all respectable.
The tester came with Mazda's optional $5115 BT Plus pack 4x4 which includes air-conditioning, a lockable fibreglass TJM canopy and a bull-bar. It's hard to believe that aircon is an option in a 21st century, $40k-plus vehicle, but there you are.
Fitment of a canopy instead of a tonneau cover should be considered carefully -- it adds two more rear windows to peer through, one really close to the cab's back window. All three will get coated with dust and dirt fairly quickly and only the rearmost one can easily be cleaned.
The canopy comes with a lockable hinge-up side window on the left and a slider on the right, and the canopy's 'front' window swings down (and in) for cleaning -- but it's a five-minute task that requires a few trips around the long vehicle and one into the load-bed. Hopefully, BT50 owners will either have a flexible apprentice or a compliant child to perform this chore.
In addition, the ute cab's high-level brake light isn't disconnected, so it reflects back and dazzles the driver via the interior mirror.
For the tradie driver, the BT50 is close to nirvana; the front seats are wide, firm and supportive, with good under-thigh length. The instruments are highly-visible, the heating, ventilation and aircon system quiet and efficient.
There's a removable ash-tray, two power sockets, map-book and drink-bottle pockets in the front doors, two-level armrest console and rake-only adjustment on the steering column.
The sound-system offers six-disc in-dash convenience and MP3 connectivity -- but a quaint manually-extendable aerial that slides into the A-pillar. With the final ticket likely to exceed fifty grand, you'd expect either power antenna, or a glass-mounted one.
In contrast, 'our' top-flight SDX tester offered four electric windows (with glass from Ford) and two usefully vast exterior mirrors -- electric too. Both the SDX models -- Double and Freestyle cabs -- feature fog-lamps, but sadly, no auto-off on shutdown function, so it's possible to accidentally annoy other road-users with inappropriately-used fogs.
In the back of the BT50, the seating is best described as 'occasional' -- there are only two rear headrests and lap-sash safety-belts, making the vehicle a four-seater with a central lap-belt. There are also two cupholders in a fold-down arm-rest. The seat's back-rest is more vertical than is comfortable and, typical for double cabs (Triton perhaps excluded) the access doors are on the small-side.
The BT50 has power aplenty, is easy to drive, has a generous load-bed in spite of the extra row of seats and the vehicle looks smart and modern.
Technology includes ABS brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, a limited slip-differential and manually-selectable four-wheel drive and low range. Remote free-wheeling hubs are engaged in four-wheel drive, but can be deactivated by a switch on the dash.
With all paws working, the BT50 will go just about anywhere. However, the downside of using just rear-wheel drive is that without a couple of hundred kilograms in the tray, the BT's grip on Mother Earth is tenuous at best. With so much torque available, wheelspin is just a clumsy foot away.
Even damp roads make every street corner, roundabout or driveway into a dial-a-slide playground -- which is all very well if it's safe to do so, but such a taily beast can get away from an unwary driver with little provocation. If ever a vehicle is in need of an electronic stability control system, it's this one. Systems such as those Mercedes-Benz has developed for the Sprinter and Vito commercial van ranges can measure the load onboard and mitigate power delivery, brakes and steering to save the day.
That said when the road is dry or four-wheel is engaged, the BT50 offers a surprisingly compliant ride for a vehicle that makes no apologies for being a working-class hero one-ton ute.
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To read our launch coverage of the BT 50 range click here