Mazda BT-50 2014 Review

words - Matt Brogan
photos - Josh Thomas
Mazda's trade tough light commercial ute proves that big torque and small fuel consumption need not be mutually exclusive

Mazda BT-50 XTR Freestyle 4X4
Road Test

Good off-road, better on-road, the Mazda BT-50 is one of the best light commercial utilities currently on the market. Impressively powerful and with generous payload and towing potential, this four-wheel drive ute will go just about anywhere, and do so in comfort. The Freestyle cabin offers part-time accommodation for four while retaining the larger tray of the single-cab model. The 20-strong diesel-only BT-50 range starts at $25,570 plus on-road costs.

Along with the Volkswagen Amarok and its twin-under-the-skin Ford Ranger, the Mazda BT-50 is one of a trio of new comers that has reshaped the way we think about light commercial utes.

A trade tough, no nonsense workhorse on one hand, the BT-50 is accommodating and liveable on the other. It offers a degree of safety most segment competitors still lack, provides many of the creature comforts some family sedans still want for, and, importantly, has all the mumbo you could ever need, almost literally from the get-go.

Taking a look at the figures it’s impressive to note the BT-50 boasts a braked towing capacity of 3500kg, and a payload of up to 1146kg. The figures exceed those of most in the segment, including the popular diesel-powered Toyota HiLux which carries only 835kg in the tray and hauls 2500kg behind it.

It’s a similar story with the Great Wall V200, Nissan Navara, Mitsubishi Triton, and Ssangyong Actyon. In fact, the BT-50 is more comparable with the Holden Colorado, Isuzu D-MAX, Ford Ranger, Land Rover Defender and Volkswagen Amarok where payload and towing capacity are concerned.

Under the bonnet the BT-50’s 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo-diesel delivers a gutsy 147kW at 3000rpm and epic 470Nm from 1750-2500rpm. With so much grunt down low you’re rarely left wanting. There’s negligible turbo lag and very little fuss from standstill.

If anything, the terse throttle travel makes momentum in wet conditions and over loose surfaces a little flighty. The prompt response can also make crawling over tough terrain a spasmodic affair.

Compared to similarly priced and specified competitors, the Mazda offers the same power (but less torque) as the Holden Colorado, and more power and torque than the Isuzu D-MAX, Land Rover Defender and Volkswagen Amarok. Being mechanically identical to the Ford Ranger it’s no surprise their output figures are shared.

Roll-on acceleration is especially strong and overtaking is tackled with confidence. We found that in spite of the amount of oomph on offer, the BT-50 adhered closely to its claimed combined cycle fuel consumption figure, achieving an average of 9.3L/100km on test.

With a quiet and spacious cabin the BT-50 is an enjoyable place in which to spend time. The front seats are generously cushioned, though not without support, and combined with tilt adjustable steering offers a relaxed driving position.

The rear pews, accessed by smaller suicide-style doors, are strictly for temporary use and don’t provide a head restraint, opening windows or ventilation outlets but are fitted with three-point seatbelts. We’d suggest buying a dual-cab model if you’re going to carry passengers regularly, though this will mean a reduction in cargo area.

Priced at $48,890 plus on-road costs, the BT-50 XTR grade on test was fitted as standard with cruise control, dual-zone climate control, power windows and mirrors and three 12V power outlets. The stereo system featured Bluetooth connectivity and voice control, and provided a pretty good level of sound clarity and volume.

If we did have any complaints from the cab it’s that there’s no grab handle on the driver’s side. It’s a small thing in the scheme of things, but when climbing in and out on wet side steps the addition of a grip on the A-pillar would be welcomed. The one on the passenger side was a great help, and did not obscure visibility. Indeed, the outward visibility on the BT-50 was excellent, the large mirrors also helping reverse into tight spots (though reverse parking sensors would have been a nice touch).

What would also be welcomed is a slight softening of the wishbone (front)/leaf (rear) suspension tune. The Ranger proves that the same payload and towing capacity can be offered with a more comfortable ride. The BT-50 grips and rides well in the dry, but in the wet and on loose surfaces, is a bit of a handful, relying heavily on the stability and traction control, especially when unladen.

Large bumps and potholes send a jolt through the cabin, but do not impact severely on the BT-50’s intended direction. There’s enough give in the hydraulically-assisted steering to provide relaxed feedback off-road, while at the same time providing accurate feel and adequate assistance on-road.

The BT-50 offers a 12.4 metre turning circle which considering its size isn’t bad. However, in a vehicle measuring 5.124m in length, inner-city car parks and tight bush tracks can cause a few headaches.

Like most in this segment, the BT-50 is stopped by disc brakes up front and drums at the rear. The braking action is powerful with decent modulation. The pedal is well assisted and soft stops are as easy to manage as a family SUV.

The 4x4 system is a breeze to use and proved confident on tough off-road tracks. Hill descent control is fitted, as is a rear differential lock, but even in trying conditions, the BT-50 is more than capable without the use of either. Ditto the use of low range -- manual override on the six-speed automatic was sufficient for most terrain tackled.

Also worth mentioning is that the BT-50 is offered only with a two-year/unlimited kilometre warranty where most others offer three. There’s also no capped pricing on the servicing schedule, which is every six months or 10,000km (whichever comes first).

As utes go we reckon the BT-50, which was Australia’s sixth-highest selling ute (in its class) last year, is one of the best of its ilk. Barring its uneasy ‘Nagare’ exterior styling, it would be a sensible choice given the relativity of its pricing and specifications to the newcomers we mentioned earlier.

2014 Mazda BT-50 XTR Freestyle 4X4 pricing and specifications:
Price: $48,890 (plus on-road costs)
Engine: 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo-diesel
Output: 147kW/470Nm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel: 9.2L/100km (combined)
CO2: 246g/km (combined)
Safety Rating: Five-star ANCAP

What we liked:Not so much:
>> Gutsy engine>> Firm suspension set-up
>> Impressive fuel economy>> Uneasy exterior styling
>> Generous payload and towing>> Terse throttle travel

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Published : Wednesday, 8 January 2014
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