BUYERS GUIDE - UTES & CAB CHASSIS MEDIUM
Mazda’s ute market entries have ticked most of the boxes. The 2010 BT-50 had part of the required package for market share improvement, boasting the most potent four-cylinder diesel engine in the ute class and the post-2011 range had a class-leading five-cylinder. Upgrades have been done every year since.
As with the 2010 model the post-2011 BT-50 was based around three cab styles: Single, Dual Cab and Freestyle (with forward-opening rear doors and no obstructive B-pillar).
The launch model was the Dual Cab, followed by Freestyle models and Single Cabs.
All models were longer, wider and higher than before, with no carry-over components from the previous range.
A new box-section ladder frame that was taller, wider and thicker than before mounted a double-wishbone, coil-sprung front end with rack and pinion steering.
An underslung rear axle design with bias-mounted shock absorbers continued, but with longer springs and stronger brackets and shackles. A brand new five-cylinder, turbo-intercooled diesel was developed and six-speed manual and automatic transmissions were offered.
The 3.2-litre five-cylinder produced claimed maximum power of 147kW at 3000rpm, with peak torque of 470Nm in the 1750-2500rpm band. Claimed fuel consumption was 8.9L/100km.
More grunt, improved chassis dynamics and car-level electronic aids ensured that the BT-50 easily outperformed and out-handled its predecessor.
Standard kit included ABS with disc/drum EBD brakes; traction control; dynamic stability control; emergency brake assist and hill start assist; shift-on-the-fly 4WD selection; dial-selectable low range gearing; hill descent control and a lockable rear differential.
The dynamic stability control system incorporated roll stability control, trailer sway control and adapted to suit different payloads. Incidentally, drum rear brakes were retained because they provided a more powerful parking brake than the tiny drum-in-disc units fitted to 4WD wagons.
Three equipment levels were offered: XT, XTR and GT. XT is far from being a ‘poverty pack’, with aircon; power windows and mirrors; remote central locking; Bluetooth; steering wheel cruise control and audio controls; trip computer; USB input; six speakers in all but Single Cabs and front and curtain airbags.
Mazda scored an NCAP rating of five stars for all variants when local testing was completed.
XTRs had carpet, aluminium 17-inch wheels instead of steel 16s; 265/65 rubber in lieu of 215/70s; front fog lamps; dual-zone aircon in Freestyle and Dual Cabs; chromed rear step bumper; ambient temperature gauge; leather wrapped knob and steering wheel; satnav; height and lumbar adjustable driver’s seat and a high-mount stop light.
The GT was a Dual Cab Ute model with leather seat trim, auto headlights, rain-sensing wipers and an auto-dimming rear view mirror.
In addition to the standard kit there was a pile of accessories available, including a cargo-tub sports bar; steel and stainless steel side steps; hard and soft tonneaus; different aluminium wheels; canopies; tub liners; driving lights and steel and aluminium ‘roo bars.
The cast aluminium bar was tested in a 100km/h impact against a 100kg dummy kangaroo and protected the vehicle front quite well, Mazda claimed.
Towing capacity at launch was 3350kg, but was increased to 3500kg in February 2013.
In late 2013 an automatic option was added to the Freestyle Cab Utility XTR model.
In mid-2015 Mazda previewed the updated 2016 model that was released in September 2015, with improvements that included revised interior furnishings and much-needed revision to the grille and headlight design.
A new centre console infotainment display was fitted – standard on the XTR and GT models with a 195mm high-definition screen that included satellite navigation.
HEMA maps were also available as an exclusive factory option.
In addition, a reverse camera was standard equipment on XTR and GT models and was an option on all other grades.
XTR models had tubular side steps, auto dimming mirrors, rain sensing wipers and auto on/off headlamps, and the GT scored heated, folding exterior mirrors with embedded indicators and privacy glass.
The entry grade picked up height and lumbar adjustment on the XT. Utility models were fitted with a tailgate lock and the XT Dual Cab utility rolled on 16-inch dark-finish alloy wheels.
In August 2017 Mazda Australia teamed with the local arm of Alpine Electronics to co-develop a new Alpine-branded satellite navigation infotainment system for the Mazda BT-50.
Offered as standard equipment on XTR and GT grades, a larger 200mm high-resolution colour touch screen included a reverse camera display and an improved
sat-nav system that featured point-to-point off-road navigation with 3D digital terrain.
The infotainment system had split screen capabilities, allowing both audio and navigation content to be viewed at the same time.
Video enabled and connected via USB or HDMI cable the system could play MP3, WMA, AAC or FLAC audio and MP4 and MKV video files. Also, the HDMI input allowed
streaming services and on portable DVD players and tablets within the vehicle.
Including DAB+ digital radio the system also offered live traffic updates and voice-controlled Bluetooth, and the dashboard housed more accessible USB,
HDMI and 3.5mm AUX ports.
In April 2018 Mazda released a restyled front end and bumper that improved appearance somewhat.
The flagship GT scored a chrome sports bar with integrated high-mounted LED stop light, a heavy-duty tub liner, tailgate central locking and a 12 volt
auxiliary socket and light to aid visibility in the tub.
The XT picked up a reverse camera and a seven-inch Alpine infotainment system.
In June 2019 Mazda launched the
automatic-transmission Boss model, fitted with eight Alpine S-Series carbon fibre reinforced plastic component speakers, gloss black grille, door handles,
mirror caps, sports bar, tubular side steps and 17-inch eight-spoke wheels.
Sharing other equipment with the GT grade, the Boss comes with black leather trim, tailgate locking, tub liner, power mirrors, privacy glass, 12V auxiliary
socket and light in the tub, power adjustment for the driver’s seat and, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Mazda BT-50 Boss pricing at launch was $55,990RRP.
The BT-50 On and Off-road
For the Australian launch Mazda Australia put on a drive event that took in freeway, secondary bitumen some gravel and a demanding 4WD off-road track. The evaluation vehicles were all 3.2-litre XTR Dual Cabs fitted with a mixture of manual and automatic transmissions. The utes were empty, so we were able to assess ride quality and off-road tractive ability without the benefit of weight over the rear axles.
Getting comfortable wasn’t a problem, thanks to the XTR’s adjustable driver’s seat and tilting steering wheel. However, some of the short-armed testers hankered for a telescopic column.
On bitumen and smooth gravel surfaces the BT-50s rode and handled superbly, with noise levels that were almost car-like at cruising speeds.
Only when the loud pedals were floored did engine noise intrude. Rough surfaces stirred some leaf-spring reaction at the rear end, but the ride wasn’t harsh and dynamic stability and traction control preserved direction.
We checked out gentle and emergency stopping power and were impressed with the BT-50’s pedal feel and stability under panic braking.
The six-speed auto was slick, with a manual override function that was easy to operate, once we adjusted to a forward movement for downshifts, not the more commonly used backward flick. A light clutch with a vague friction point caught out some of the testers, but we found the manual gearbox very easy to use. That said, we preferred the auto, both on and off road.
Steep, stony and dusty grades that were too steep to stand on proved to be no problem for the new BT-50 that made a tidy job of conquering these quite demanding conditions. The 3.2-litre lugged happily down below 1000rpm, with no protest from engine or driveline.
The traction control system worked unobtrusively to control wheelspin and hill descent control was powerful, yet speed-variable by using the cruise control buttons.
We checked out the diff lock operation on the steepest climbs and found that it engaged and disengaged quickly. Unusually, it could be engaged when in two-wheel drive as well.