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Mazda BT-50 2021 review: GT off-road test

Daily driver score

3.9/5

Adventure score

3.9/5

The new Mazda BT-50 is no longer based on the Ford Ranger platform; it is now based on the all-new Isuzu D-Max. 

So, a pretty big change, to say the least.

Among other things, the new Mazda ute has a new look – moving even further away from the polarising exterior of past BT-50s – and it has a new engine, but that’s producing less power and torque than the previous-generation BT-50.

We’ve been impressed with the new D-Max, so how will the BT-50, effectively the Isuzu’s twin, perform on- and off-road? Read on.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

The GT auto 4x4 dual-cab is the top-spec variant in the new BT-50 range. It has a manufacturer suggested retail price (MSRP) of $59,990, but that excludes on-road costs.

As standard the GT gets a 9.0-inch multimedia screen with sat nav, eight-speaker stereo, chrome heated exterior mirrors, brown leather seat trim (plus leather-topped steering wheel and shifter knob), heated front seats, eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, dual-zone climate control, auto dimming rear view mirror, 18-inch wheels, and LED daytime running lights and fog lights.

The GT auto 4x4 dual-cab is the top-spec variant in the new BT-50 range.  The GT auto 4x4 dual-cab is the top-spec variant in the new BT-50 range. 

It also gets remote engine start, which the user is apparently able to initiate via a Mazda app on their smartphone, but I never tried it.

The list of driver-assist / safety tech is a lengthy one and includes (take a deep breath) AEB, front parking sensors, reverse camera, blind spot monitor, attention assist, lane keep assist, emergency lane keeping, lane departure prevention and warning, rear cross traffic alert, among other things.

As standard the GT gets 18-inch wheels. As standard the GT gets 18-inch wheels.

It also gets traction control, hill descent control and hill launch assist.

All 4WD BT-50s get a rear diff lock.

Is there anything interesting about its design?

This new BT-50 is 5280mm long (with a 3125mm wheelbase), it is 1870mm wide, 1790mm high and it has a listed kerb weight of 2035kg. 

So pretty standard sizing for this realm of dual-cab utes.

What isn’t standard – and what is rather impressive – is the way Mazda has moved away from its BT-50 exterior styling sins of the past, marking a dramatic shift even further away from the ute’s divisive appearance, especially its front end, that a lot of people wanted to punch, so very hard.

This new BT-50 is 5280mm long, 1870mm wide, and 1790mm high. This new BT-50 is 5280mm long, 1870mm wide, and 1790mm high.

It now has more of a more subtle, urban-friendly look and apparently it all ties in with Mazda’s Kodo design language, so the result is that it looks a lot like every other new Mazda.

Overall, it’s a bit ute-generic but – you know what? – I don’t mind that.

What is rather impressive is the way Mazda has moved away from its BT-50 exterior styling sins of the past. What is rather impressive is the way Mazda has moved away from its BT-50 exterior styling sins of the past.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

The BT-50 has a 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine, producing 140kW@3600rpm and 450Nm@1600-2600rpm – that’s a decrease of 7kW and 20Nm from the previous BT-50’s five-cylinder engine.

It has a six-speed automatic transmission, and a selectable four-wheel drive system (with high- and low-range 4WD), and a lockable rear diff.

The BT-50 has a 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine. The BT-50 has a 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine.

Though the engine and auto are a no-stress combination, in terms of real-world driving, it actually feels a little underdone: the engine would certainly benefit from more grunt and the transmission is just not quite as smooth as it could – and should – be.

How practical is the space inside?

The GT is the top-spec variant so you’d be safe in assuming that it would have a real prestige feel about it – and it does feel a little bit premium, but it’s also a little bit under done. 

There are nice soft-touch leather surfaces, wth chrome-look here and there, but there’s also lots of hard plastic. And in places those hard plastic panels aren’t exactly flush, and the glove box is a little bit sticky to open and close. Slight issues, in terms of build quality / fit and finish, but issues nonetheless.

The multimedia screen is, at time of writing, the ute market’s biggest, but though it’s easy enough to use – and it does have Apple CarPlay (USB and wireless) and Android Auto (USB only) – the screen itself, because of its size and the way its positioned, does tend to catch glare throughout the day, which can be a bit annoying.

It does feel a little bit premium, but it’s also a little bit under done.  It does feel a little bit premium, but it’s also a little bit under done. 

All in-cabin controls are easy to locate and operate.

The front seats are heated – a nice touch, I guess, but something I’d never use – and comfortable. 

The rear seats are not heated but comfortable, with room enough for three adults. 

There are plenty of storage spaces around the cabin, including cup holders in the centre console (but no pop-out cupholders near the outboard vents), bottle holders in the doors, as well as all the usual spaces in which to put your bits and pieces. 

There’s a 12 volt socket and a USB port upfront. 

Both seat-backs have a map pocket and there is a fold-out shopping-bag hook on the back of the front passenger seat.

The rear seats are not heated but comfortable, with room enough for three adults. The rear seats are not heated but comfortable, with room enough for three adults.

Back-seat passengers get cupholders in the fold-down arm-rest, as well as directional air events, and a USB socket in the back of the centre console.

The back row will cope wth two child seats, as it has one ISOFIX anchor point on each outer seat and a central top-tether point.

There is shallow concealed under-seat storage.

Overall, it is a well laid-out and comfortable space, albeit a little less premium-feeling than expected.

The multimedia screen is, at time of writing, the ute market’s biggest. The multimedia screen is, at time of writing, the ute market’s biggest.

What's it like as a daily driver?

The BT-50 was a nice ute to drive when it was built on the Ford Ranger platform – quiet, smooth and refined and enjoyable to steer around – and the good news is, it remains so, although it has lost a touch of refinement in the process. 

It makes sense that it is quite nice on road because after all it's lifted everything from the D-Max, and we've already tested two variants of that and they impressed us when we drove on the bitumen around town, on the highways, and generally it’s a pretty good thing, 

Steering is well-weighted and accurate, it never feels floaty, and it feels right for this ute. 

Acceleration is smoothly dispensed and there’s plenty of power and torque on tap – even though there has been a reduction in what it had when it was powered by a five-cylinder engine, it’s not too substantial a drop and it doesn't affect the day-to-day driving experience.

Steering is well-weighted and accurate, it never feels floaty, and it feels right for this ute.  Steering is well-weighted and accurate, it never feels floaty, and it feels right for this ute. 

There is a touch of diesel clutter at lower speeds, but it's not too intrusive, and, overall, noise vibration and harshness levels are quite well subdued. 

Suspension is well sorted out, albeit a bit firm, and offers a mostly comfortable ride. You only ever really get an indication that this is actually a ute when its back-end skips a bit over particularly coarse or uneven surfaces, but that's nothing a load in the rear wouldn’t fix.

The engine and auto, as mentioned, are a pretty good match-up – the engine does lack real zip but at least it never feels stressed and the auto is clever most of the times, yielding a pretty even-handed and composed driving experience, although it can get busy. 

The new BT-50 is never quite as refined as something like the Ford Ranger or VW Amarok, but it’s still a very pleasant daily driver.

Acceleration is smoothly dispensed and there’s plenty of power and torque on tap. Acceleration is smoothly dispensed and there’s plenty of power and torque on tap.

What's it like for touring?

By the time, I took this BT-50 4WDing I’d already driven two variants of the new D-Max – LS-U and X-Terrain – over this same bush terrain, so it was pretty clear the BT-50 would do well.

And, sure enough, the Mazda coped nicely with the gravel and dirt track on the way to one of our unofficial 4WD proving grounds in regional NSW.

It soaked up most track-surface imperfections along the way, but it did skip a little over lumpier and bumpier sections of the track. Its suspension is independent double wishbones at the front and three leaf springs and dampers, each side at the rear.

It was soon right at home on our steep, slippery and washed-out, set-piece hill-climb.

The Mazda coped nicely with the gravel and dirt track. The Mazda coped nicely with the gravel and dirt track.

In terms of off-road measurements and angles, the BT-50 has a claimed 240mm of ground clearance, a wading depth of 800mm and approach, departure and ramp-over angles of 30.4 degrees, 24.2 degrees and 23.8 degrees, respectively. 

When this ute was Ranger-based it was a decent off-roader and the good news is that it hasn’t lost a step with the transition to the D-Max platform, despite the fact it has taken a hit in the form of a reduction in power and torque.

In low-range 4WD and with the rear diff locked, the Mazda ute made rather light work of the tough hill we drove up and down three times, even as the wet track become more chopped up in sections.

The four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine remained unstressed during the uphill runs, with ample useable torque on tap at low revs, and I only ever needed to apply a heavier right boot to help it scramble out of the deeper, more severe wheel ruts.

It was soon right at home on our steep, slippery and washed-out hill-climb. It was soon right at home on our steep, slippery and washed-out hill-climb.

The BT-50 does get a tad noisy when throttled hard – "What bloody vehicle doesn't!" I hear you shouting – but otherwise it nimbly tip-toed up the slope.

The off-road traction control system – recalibrated and lifted from the D-Max – works in a sensible and even-handed way, not intrusive, not ineffectual.

The BT-50 has decent wheel travel for a modern ute aimed at pleasing mobs in the city and the suburbs.

Hill descent control worked well, keeping our downhill speed to a steady 3-4km/h and that's a safe, controlled pace, giving the driver plenty of time to assess the route ahead and make informed driving judgements.

The sumo styling of the BT-50’s “Kodo design language” front end – more flared and pronounced at the bottom and side edges than the new D-Max’s more action-oriented, tucked-out-of-harm’s-way front end – proved to be a little more vulnerable to knocks and scrapes than the D-Max’s bodywork when the terrain became even more severe.

The BT-50 has decent wheel travel for a modern ute aimed at pleasing mobs in the city and the suburbs. The BT-50 has decent wheel travel for a modern ute aimed at pleasing mobs in the city and the suburbs.

And if you’re planning this as your off-road tourer, you might want to swap out the existing road-friendly showroom tyres – Bridgestone Dueler H/T (265/60 R18) – with a set of more-aggressive all-terrains.

Otherwise, the BT 50 is pretty impressive for a standard vehicle. It has a tractable engine, good low-range gearing, effective off-road traction control, and, in action, the Mazda has shown that it can handle tough terrain rather comfortably.

The tray is 1571mm long at floor height, 1530mm wide (but 1120mm between the wheel-arches), and 490mm deep. It has four tie-down points, but no tub liner.

Note: there are seemingly hundreds of BT-50 accessories to get stuck into, with everything from mobile phone holders, seat covers and rubber floor mats, through to canopies, ladder racks and suspension upgrades.

The tray is 1571mm long at floor height, 1530mm wide, and 490mm deep. The tray is 1571mm long at floor height, 1530mm wide, and 490mm deep.

 

How much fuel does it consume?

Fuel consumption is a claimed 8.0L/100km on a combined cycle. It was showing 8.6L/100km on our dash. But on test, we recorded an actual fuel consumption of 10.5L/100km, and that was after more than 100km of on- and off-road driving, including plenty of low-range 4WDing.

The BT 50 has a 76-litre fuel tank. 

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

Just like the D-Max, the Mazda BT-50 has just been awarded the maximum five-star ANCAP crash test rating. That's no small task.

Safety gear includes eight airbags (dual front, driver’s knee, front centre, front side, full-length curtain), AEB, front parking sensors, reverse camera, blind spot monitor, attention assist, lane keep assist, emergency lane keeping, lane departure prevention and warning, rear cross traffic alert, and more.

It also has traction control, hill descent control and hill launch assist.

All 4WD BT-50s have a rear diff lock.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

A five-year/unlimited warranty applies to the new BT-50. Roadside assist is valid for five years.

Servicing is recommended at 12-month/15,000km intervals and capped price servicing applies for seven years/105,000km. Annual service cost over seven years averages out to $496.

A five-year/unlimited warranty applies to the new BT-50. A five-year/unlimited warranty applies to the new BT-50.

The Mazda BT 50 has always been a decent ute and it hasn't lost a step with its shift from the Ford Ranger to D-Max platform. 

Sure, it has less power and torque than it did before, but that hasn’t impacted its overall day-to-day driveability. 

The BT-50 is not quite as refined as a Ford Ranger or VW Amarok but it is a very comfortable and capable ute and it's absolutely packed full of safety tech so it’s well worth your consideration.

$56,990

Based on new car retail price

Daily driver score

3.9/5

Adventure score

3.9/5

adventureguide rank

  • Light

    Dry weather gravel roads and formed trails with no obstacles, very shallow water crossings.

  • Medium

    Hard-packed sand, slight to medium hills with minor obstacles in all weather.

  • Heavy

    Larger obstacles, steeper climbs and deeper water crossings; plus tracks marked as '4WD only'

Price Guide

$56,990

Based on new car retail price

This price is subject to change closer to release data