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Mazda BT-50 XTR 4x4 Freestyle cab 2016 review

2016 2016 Mazda BT-50 XTR 4x4 Freestyle cab
EXPERT RATING
8
Marcus Craft road tests and reviews the Mazda BT-50 XTR 4x4 Freestyle cab ute with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.

Marcus Craft road tests and reviews the Mazda BT-50 XTR 4x4 Freestyle cab ute with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.

With updated versions for 2016, Mazda BT-50 and Ford Ranger utes continue to chip away at Hilux's supremacy in the Australian ute market. Of those, the dual-cab models rule the roost when it comes to options for buyers looking for roomy family-friendly SUVs with what closely approximates car-like ride and handling. But, for buyers in need of less cabin space and more room in the tray, a good-value, multi-purpose ute – such as the 2016 Mazda BT-50 XTR 4x4 Freestyle Cab – should not be ignored.

The new XTR 4x4 Freestyle Cab – $49,675, up from $48,890 – offers a practical and appealing solution to those in need of a workhorse for actual work and/or a tough truck capable of handling weekend warrior duties, loaded with camping gear and mountain-bikes.

Design

The previous version of the BT-50 copped flak because of its looks – specifically, the front end. Mazda has reined in that divisive appearance. The new BT-50 has a straighter front grille and – along with re-designed lights at the front and rear, and 16- or 17-inch alloy wheels (our XTR had 17s) – it looks cool and more at home wherever it goes. Now, you don't have to buy a bull bar to hide the front end; you can buy a bull bar because you actually need one.

The XTR's look is topped off with chrome door handles, chrome power mirror, aluminium-finish side steps and chrome rear-step bumper.

There is plenty of room inside: as well as a real feeling of stretch-your-legs space for driver and front passenger.

It has a neat but workmanlike interior: cloth seats, plastic, carpet – you get the idea. Nice interior touches include leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear knob. I like the inside of the XTR; some fussier people won't.

There are power windows and mirrors, dual-zone climate control, USB, Bluetooth connectivity, 12V points (front and rear) and more.

There is plenty of room inside: as well as a real feeling of stretch-your-legs space for driver and front passenger, there is a generous amount of storage spaces for bits and pieces upfront, in the doors and under the rear bench-style seats, which are removeable.

Front seats are broad and supportive and fine for long journeys; the rear seats are – as in most Extra, King or Super Cab utes – really only for short jaunts. With no rear passengers in there, the rear of the cabin can be used to house more gear, a bonus for two-up tourers or workers looking for extra room for their equipment.

When opened, the two front doors and two rear panels – there is no fixed B pillar – providing easy access to the cabin.

About town

The Freestyle Cab is, of course, ute big – 5365mm (L), 1850mm (W) 1810mm (H), 3220mm (WB) and weighs 2105kg – but it doesn't feel like it when you drive it, even through cluttered traffic on city streets. Modern utes are getting too damn good at this around-town stuff for their own good.

The rack-and-pinion steering is weighted supremely well for a ute, and is light and precise.

The 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo-diesel, producing 147kW/470Nm, is a real goer and has plenty of punch for fast, safe overtaking in urban scenarios. What's more, it's matched well with a cool-as-a-cucumber six-speed auto. Eight-speed autos in utes have got their fans, but six is spot-on in this. The auto box offers normal and performance mode in auto, or you can drive it in manual mode.

Normal mode is stress-free and smooth, but performance mode yields more immediate acceleration.

Take-off is a swift, smooth affair and open-road driving is a comfortable cruise.

The BT-50 has a five-star ANCAP rating. As well as airbags – front, side and curtain – you'd expect in a modern vehicle of this kind, there's a raft of active safety tech: ABS, dynamic stability control, traction control, electronic brake-force distribution, emergency brake assist, emergency stop signal and more.

One bug-bear with the safety tech about town: the reversing camera image is small and shows up on the left-hand side of the rear-view mirror, not on the centre console screen, which is annoying.

On the road

Take-off is a swift, smooth affair and open-road driving is a comfortable cruise. The auto holds gears when needed and smartly cycles through, up or down, when required; there are no clunky kick-downs on hills.

The BT-50 has wishbone suspension at the front; rigid axle and leaf springs at the back. For a ute, it rides and handles nicely. No surprise, the back-end gets a touch jittery without a load.

Mazda reckons that steps have been taken to further suppress noise, vibration and harshness over the previous generation but, with the radio off, we copped a fair bit of engine clatter and wing-mirror noise. No deal-breaker, though.

A bonus for tradies and tourers: the tray – 1847mm long and 1560mm wide in Freestyle Cab – is almost 30cm longer than the dual-cab's (1549mm). So, there's plenty of room in there for work tools, or camping and fishing gear, mountain-bikes and more.

It's rated to tow 3.5 tonne or handle payloads of up to 1310kg. Trailer sway control is a safety feature.

Claimed fuel consumption is 9.4L/100km.

Off the road

CarsGuide.com.au drove a range of 2016 BT-50s in the South Australian outback last year, so we know any of the range can pretty much go anywhere you point them. They are that good – "So is every other modern ute at that price!" I hear you shout – but the difference here is that the BT-50 does it all with ease and in sublime comfort.

Switching from 2WD to high-range 4WD, via a centre-console dial, can be done on the fly, and we only switch to low-range when the going, intentionally, gets really tough. Off-road tech includes Hill Launch Assist, Hill Descent Control, (4x4 only) and Locking Rear Differential (4x4 Only).

While we didn't have a chance to test its maximum wading depth (800mm), the Freestyle Cab got through every other challenge without stress.

The new centre-console screen takes some getting used to. The 7.8-inch high-definition unit, with built-in satnav, is a touch small for our liking and has a ‘muddy' look to it at times, including in bright sunshine or dappled light in the bush, which makes on-the-move reference difficult.

Verdict

The BT-50 Freestyle Cab is no slouch in the hard-work – or having fun – department. It's awesome to drive, there's room aplenty for this type of ute and it's pretty good value for money. For tradies or touring couples with no rug rats along for the ride, this ute is well worth considering.

What it's got

Slick package and a huge tray.

What it hasn't

Rear-seat comfort.

Would you take a BT-50 over a Ranger or a HiLux? Let us know in the comments below.

Click here to see more 2016 Mazda BT-50 pricing and spec info.

Pricing Guides

$31,999
Based on 219 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$14,990
Highest Price
$44,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
GT (4x4) 3.2L, Diesel, 6 SP MAN $32,990 – 44,990 2016 Mazda BT-50 2016 GT (4x4) Pricing and Specs
XT (4x2) 3.2L, Diesel, 6 SP MAN $14,990 – 27,500 2016 Mazda BT-50 2016 XT (4x2) Pricing and Specs
XT (4x4) 3.2L, Diesel, 6 SP MAN $22,990 – 35,990 2016 Mazda BT-50 2016 XT (4x4) Pricing and Specs
XTR (4x2) 3.2L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO $24,990 – 34,000 2016 Mazda BT-50 2016 XTR (4x2) Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8
Marcus Craft
Editor - Adventure

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Pricing Guide

$25,650

Lowest price, based on 12 car listings in the last 6 months

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