Mazda’s second generation BT-50 has won many friends since its arrival in 2011, joining its Ford Ranger mechanical twin at the pointy end of the light commercial utility segment. The BT-50 lineup spreads across three bodystyles, three trim levels and three engines, with a choice of cab-chassis or tub trays and two or four-wheel drive.
The XTR Freestyle Cab variant was initially only available with a manual transmission, but Mazda bowed to consumer pressure and added the auto tested here in October 2013.
With the optional six-speed auto, the four-wheel drive 3.2-litre XTR Freestyle Cab kicks off at $48,890, and ours was also optioned with a tray liner and towbar capable of lugging up to 3500kg.
The XTR comes with plenty of modern conveniences as standard, like a leather wheel and gearknob, dual-zone climate control, a five inch multimedia screen with satnav and Bluetooth, alloy sidesteps and 17 inch alloys.
However, auto headlights, parking sensors and a reversing camera remain optional extras.
The BT-50 Freestyle Cab forms a halfway point between the Single Cab and the Dual Cab bodystyles, and gives you an extra 36cm of tray length over the Dual Cab, which is enough room to carry most mountain bikes lengthwise with the tailgate up.
There’s plenty of scope for filling the tray with heavier loads also, with the XTR Freestyle Cab auto rated with a useful 1146kg payload.
The longer tray does mean a shorter cabin, but handy suicide doors give access to occasional seating for two, or secure storage for a big pile of luggage. The cushions are easily removed to make the most of the space, and under-seat compartments offer discreet storage for valuables.
Despite the occasional nature of the rear seat, there are two child seat anchorage points, but there are no headrests to cushion heads from the rear window glass.
Engine / Transmission
Like all BT-50 XTR variants, the Freestyle Cab comes with the most powerful 3.2-litre turbodiesel five-cylinder engine, with 147kW and 470Nm from 1750-2500rpm promising plenty of urge to shift its 2054kg kerb weight, and comfortably manage a full payload.
The torque converter six-speed automatic costs $2000 more than the $46,890 XTR Freestyle Cab in six-speed manual guise, and stretches the combined fuel figure by 0.3L/100km to 9.2L/100km.
The XTR Freestyle Cab carries a five star ANCAP rating like all BT-50s, with dual front, side and full-length curtain airbags, plus ABS, EBD and stability control.
Like all current BT-50s and Rangers, the Freestyle cab offers impressive refinement and car-like comfort. It’s still only car-like though, as the stiff suspension for carrying loads makes for a bumpier ride than most passenger cars.
It’ among the most comfortable in its segment though, and fine for day to day driving as long as you can handle the sheer size of it. The Freestyle Cab is 20cm longer than a Holden Caprice, so parking can take a bit of skill.
Given its size, the BT-50 handles very well for a light commercial, and it’s more than comfortable enough for long highway journeys.
The 3.2-litre delivers ample urge for hauling big loads, and it’s well paired with the six-speed auto, with smooth and perceptive shifting.
During our experience, the 9.2L/100km claimed combined fuel consumption was surprisingly achievable, suggesting a range of at least 800km on the open road.
Cruising on dirt roads, the BT-50 is just as composed as it is on-road, with good calibration of the stability control system to keep you pointing in the right direction – even when travelling unladen.
Off road, the BT-50 has decent off-road clearance considering the 3220mm wheelbase, alloy sidesteps, and long rear overhang.
Selection of four wheel drive is by a simple console switch, and there’s a standard rear diff lock for when you’re really pushing it. There’s also an effective hill descent control system with speed adjustment via the cruise control buttons, and it can pretty swell swim too with an 800mm water fording depth.