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BUYERS GUIDE - UTES & CAB CHASSIS MEDIUM

MAZDA BT-50
The post-2021 model was an Isuzu Ute under the skin.

 

Mazda’s BT-50 became a Ford re-skin in 2011 and the 2021 model did the same on Isuzu Ute mechanicals. It was updated for 2022, 2023 and 2024.

 

 

In June 2020 Mazda previewed its latest BT-50, that was entirely Isuzu Ute, other than for some different front and rear body panels and interior trim changes.

Where the previous-generation BT-50s were produced in conjunction with Ford, the 2021 model was a collaborative effort with Isuzu Ute. Although the basic mechanicals were identical, there were individual brand differences that became obvious at launch in October 2020.

The new BT-50 scored the proved and upgraded three-litre Isuzu diesel engine that has the best pedigree in the Australian 4WD ute and wagon market.

With 140kW of power and 450Nm peak torque, the new BT-50 had ample performance to tow its rated 3500kg trailer capacity, or carry a one-tonne payload.

At the October 2020 launch there were crew-cab models only, in three highly-equipped levels. 

 

 

The XT scored: 17-inch aluminium wheels; LED headlamps; power-adjustable body-coloured exterior mirrors; black cloth seat trim; air-conditioning; power windows; carpeted floors; cruise control (manual transmission); adaptive cruise control (automatic transmission); 185mm (7-inch) infotainment touchscreen; Apple CarPlay® (wireless and USB) and Android™ Auto (USB); Bluetooth® hands-free telephone and audio capability; DAB+ digital radio; reverse camera; rear-seat USB charging point; seven airbags; ABS; Attention Assist; Automatic High Beam (AHB); Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB); Blind Spot Monitor (BSM); Dynamic Stability Control (DSC); Emergency Lane Keeping (ELK); Emergency Stop Signal (ESS); Hill Descent Control (HDC); Hill Launch Assist (HLA); Lane Departure Warning (LDW); Lane Departure Prevention (LDP); Lane-keep Assist System (LAS) (automatic transmission only); Locking Rear Differential (LRD); Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA); Roll Over Protection (ROP); Secondary Collision Reduction; Speed Assist System; Traction Control System (TCS) and Turn Assist. Phew!

The XTR additionally picked up: 18-inch aluminium wheels; exterior mirrors with power folding function; front fog lamps (LED); side steps; LED daytime running lamps; dual-zone climate control air-conditioning with rear vents; leather wrapped steering wheel and gear knob; auto-dimming interior mirror; rear seat centre armrest; 225mm (9-inch) infotainment touchscreen; satellite navigation and keyless entry.

The top-shelf GT added: chrome exterior heated mirrors; brown leather seat trim; driver’s seat with eight-way power adjustment; heated front seats; remote engine start (automatic transmission) and front parking sensors.

In November 2020 Mazda released Single Cab and Freestyle Cab models, all in the highly-equipped XT grade only. All models were cab chassis, suitable for fitment with a range of Mazda Genuine Accessories dealer-fit trays.

 

 

2021 upgrade

 

The 2021 Mazda BT-50 Thunder built on the flagship GT model specifications and was priced from $65,990 drive-away, for the manual variant.

Mechanically identical to the GT, the Thunder version added a steel single-hoop ‘roo bar with LED light bar, black steel tube sports bar with sailplane wing inserts, electric roller tonneau cover, bolt-on plastic wheel arches, side steps and black 18-inch aluminium alloy wheels – all fitted along with a set of Thunder decals.

 

 

2022 SP model

 

 

Positioned above the luxuriously appointed BT-50 GT Dual Cab Pickup, the factory-produced BT-50 SP used a combination of black and grey exterior features to give a sporty appeal.

Building on the highly specified GT, which already included heated front seats and an auto-dimming interior mirror, the SP added: metallic grey roof rails; black grille; gunmetal signature wing; gloss black exterior mirrors and door handles; satin black 18-inch alloy wheels; grey side steps; black and Driftwood leather with synthetic suede interior trim; manually-operated black roller tonneau cover; tub liner; gloss black sail-plane sport bar’ front bumper lower decoration trim and gloss black wheel flares.

BT-50 SP was powered by the current 3.0-litre turbocharged diesel four-cylinder engine, producing 140kW and 450Nm. Exclusively available in 4×4 Dual Cab Pickup form, the BT-50 SP came with a choice of six-speed manual or automatic transmissions.

 

 

2022 XS specification 

 

in November 2021 Mazda announced the XS 4×4 dual-cab model, powered by a 1.9-litre Isuzu turbo-diesel, with 110kW and a 350Nm torque peak. The XS was rated to tow up to three tonnes and a six-speed automatic transmission was standard.

RRP was five grand less than for the three-litre diesel model.

Equipment level included: 17-inch alloy wheels; LED headlamps with manual levelling; power-adjustable body-coloured exterior mirrors; black cloth seat trim; air-conditioning; power windows; vinyl floor; adaptive Cruise Control with Stop & Go; seven-inch full-colour infotainment touchscreen; Apple CarPlay® (wireless and USB) and Android™ Auto (USB); Bluetooth® hands-free telephone and audio capability; DAB+ digital radio; reverse camera; rear-seat USB charging point; airbags SRS (driver, front passenger, side, curtain, driver’s knee and driver’s far-side); ABS; Attention Assist; Automatic High Beam (AHB); Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB); Blind Spot Monitor (BSM); Electronic Stability Control (ESC); Emergency Lane Keeping; Emergency Stop Signal (ESS); Hill Descent Control (HDC); Hill Launch Assist (HLA); Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Prevention (LDP) and Lane-keep Assist System (LAS); Locking Rear Differential (LRD); Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA); Rear Parking Sensors; Roll Over Protection (ROP); Secondary Collision Reduction; Speed Assist System; Traction Control System (TCS) and Turn Assist.

 

 

2023 upgrades

 

 

Based on the XTR grade, the Mazda BT-50 LE gained Mazda Genuine Accessories in the form of a single-hoop, polished alloy ‘roo  bar, polished sports bar and heavy-duty tub liner.

Locally engineered, the polished ‘roo bar was designed to integrate with the safety systems of the vehicle, ensuring crumple zones, airbag and assistance systems were unhindered.

The polished sports bar was manufactured from high-quality stainless steel and featured an integrated brake light.

All versions of the Mazda BT-50 LE were offered as a Dual-Cab Pickup 4x4s, with 3.0-litre Isuzu turbo-diesel engine paired to a six-speed automatic transmission, finished in Ingot Silver metallic paint.

Priced from $64,295 before on-roads, the Mazda BT-50 LE represents a $2500 saving for customers overall compared to specifying the same accessories separately.

Two new accessory packs were offered for the flagship SP and Thunder models. 

The Mazda BT-50 SP Pro enhancement pack added Nitrocharger suspension, incorporating upgraded springs, with a 50mm lift. These modifications have were tested to ensure that the vehicle lift did not impact any safety systems, including Electronic Stability Control (ESC). 

New 18-inch wheels increased the vehicle’s track. 

An integrated LED lightbar set into the grille provided a claimed 1 lux of illumination at up to 569m. 

BT-50 ‘SP Pro’ decals were applied and the Pro accessory pack was priced at $7668 RRP.

Additionally, a BT-50 Thunder Pro pack was available, adding Old Man Emu BP-51 suspension, set up for medium-load use where weight requirements range from 0-300kg. The BP-51 kit featured nitrogen-filled dampers with remote reservoirs and manual adjustment of compression and rebound. 

A snorkel was also fitted and round LED driving lights supported the lightbar with claimed output of 1 lux at a distance of more than one kilometre ahead of the vehicle.  

‘Thunder Pro’ decals came with the $9046 RRP Thunder Pro enhancement pack.

Each BT-50 SP Pro and BT-50 Thunder Pro Mazda Genuine Accessory pack could be fitted retrospectively to existing customer vehicles and came with a two-year warranty. 

When specified as part of a new vehicle order, the warranty increased to a full unlimited-kilometre, five-year duration.

 

 

2024 upgrades

 

Fitted to all 4×4 model grades, the addition of Rough Terrain Mode was said to optimise the Mazda BT-50’s traction control when off-roading, intervening before wheel spin could occur by transferring torque to the wheels with most traction, in harmony with the locking rear differential and Hill Descent Control.

The Dual Cab Chassis was available in GT specification, adding remote start, chrome-finished, heated mirrors, heated front seats and brown leather seat trim.

On XTR models and above was the ability for lights and the audio system to remain powered after engine shut-off.

 

 

On and off road in 2021 and 2024 models

 

The principal differences externally between the Mazda and the D-MAX are unique front and rear quarter panels, tailgate, grille and bonnet. The interiors are also different and our test team was divided on whether they preferred the D-MAX or the BT-50.

The buying decision may come down to warranty, fixed-price servicing and roadside assistance packages – and the change-over deal.

Because the 2021 BT-50 was mechanically identical to the Isuzu UTE D-MAX – even down to the suspension settings – we didn’t have to get our original press test vehicle dirty. Check out our road test and video on the Isuzu UTE D-MAX entry in this Buyers Guide, for accurate findings on the standard BT-50.

 

 

However, we concluded that the BT-50 needed the same suspension changes as did the D-MAX, so in early 2024 we borrowed an SP ‘Pro’ model with Old Man Emu Nitrocharger suspension kit, including a 50mm lift in ride height and a Thunder Pro model, with OME BP-51, remote-reservoir suspension kit.

 

 

We checked out both vehicle suspensions on varying road surfaces, including corrugated and potholed gravel. Loads varied from unladen to 700kg in the case of the SP and unloaded to 300kg in the case of the Thunder.

 

 

Fuel consumption varied from 8.5L/100km in the unloaded state up to 10L/100km with 700kg in the back.

The SP Pro’s Nitrocharger suspension pack improved greatly on the standard machine’s load-carrying balance and there was still plenty of rear wheel travel available with 700kg of river rocks filling the cargo area. It would be our suspension choice for most people’s needs, preserving reasonable load capacity and also having tolerance for the ball weight imposed by a trailer.

 

 

That said, as with all medium-sized utes, we’d baulk at putting 3.5 tonnes behind one and certainly not 350kg of ball weight. Our testing and the experience of many medium ute owners indicates that a two-tonnes trailer and 200kg of ball weight is about the maximum, in the interest of good performance, fuel consumption and handling.

 

 

The Thunder Pro model was an entirely different kettle of fish, because it was Mazda’s response to the ‘sporting utes’ that are led in specification by Ford’s Raptor. Mazda didn’t go as far as redesigning the D-MAX’s leaf-spring rear end to match Ford’s coil-sprung and Watts linkage rear axle, but opted for the next-best solution: remote-reservoir OME shock absorbers front and rear and recalibrated leaf rear springs, with handling rather than load-carrying priority.

 

 

The result was very good, giving unprecedented ride quality and handling to the D-MAX platform, on all surfaces. Considerable rear leaf travel gave the Thunder excellent articulation on our demanding off-road circuit.

 

 

The BP-51 suspension was chosen to provide wagon-like ride and handling and it certainly did that. It also absorbed pothole impacts with more aplomb than the Nitrocharger kit did – front and rear. 

However, that agility came at the price of load capacity, so the Thunder Pro would be best bought as a potentially FBT-exempt wagon substitute rather than a load carrier. It would be best used as a light load carrier, or a trailer hauler, but not both.

 

 

 

Previous models

 

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.

mazda bt-50 2016 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.

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