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Ford Ranger Wildtrak vs Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain vs Mazda BT-50 GT - 2021 Dual-Cab Ute Comparison Review


Matt Campbell
Reviewed & driven by
CarsGuide

14 Oct 2020

If this comparison were a relationship status update on Facebook, it'd definitely be "It's complicated".

That's because here we have the all-new Mazda BT-50 GT, which is directly connected to the new-generation Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain. And in the corner, peering over the top of its beer and thinking about what once was? The Ford Ranger Wildtrak.

You see, the last Mazda BT-50 (and pretty much every Mazda ute to date) was based on a Ford equivalent. But in this generation, the BT-50 is now based on the smarter, safer D-Max, meaning the Ford Ranger is now soldiering on after a decade on sale, with a new-generation version of that ute (to be built in kahoots with VW) due in a couple of years.

The question is, then: does the shift to Isuzu underpinnings make the Mazda a better ute? Or does the Ford still offer something worth considering if you're in the market for a high-end four-wheel drive pick-up?

In this comparison we'll cover everything you need to know, give each of the utes a score across our eight categories, and then you'll find out which one is our winner at the end of the piece. Or, if you just want to see how they go on- and off-road, you can - the video above will give you your fix, or you can watch at our YouTube channel.

Pricing and specs

Want the entire price list for every single model or variant in each respective ute range? You're going to need to head to our pages for the Ford Ranger, Isuzu D-Max and Mazda BT-50, because this comparison is only covering off the models on test.

As such, we're looking at three high-end dual-cab four-wheel drive diesel-auto models that are close in price and equipment, and aim to fulfil the same role as the most desirable model in the range at an attainable price point. So, that's why we've got the Ford Ranger Wildtrak, the Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain and the Mazda BT-50 GT.

We're looking at three high-end dual-cab four-wheel drive diesel-auto models that are close in price and equipment (image credit: Tom White). We're looking at three high-end dual-cab four-wheel drive diesel-auto models that are close in price and equipment (image credit: Tom White).

The latter of that list is, in fact, the most affordable when it comes to list pricing - that's the MSRP or RRP, which is the price before on-road costs are considered. The BT-50 GT auto 4x4 dual cab is a $59,990 proposition. The driveaway price for a BT-50 GT auto on Mazda's site was $65,574, at the time of writing.

The Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain is the next most expensive of this trio, with an MSRP of $62,900. But the brand is already doing drive-away deals for $58,990 on the road… no wonder there's a five-month wait list at the time of writing!

And the most expensive of these three is the Ford Ranger Wildtrak, with our Bi-turbo auto model - the one we think is the best option - costing $65,790 plus on-road costs. At the time of publishing, Ford was doing deals on this grade for $67,490 drive-away.

  • The BT-50 GT auto 4x4 dual cab is a $59,990 proposition (image credit: Tom White). The BT-50 GT auto 4x4 dual cab is a $59,990 proposition (image credit: Tom White).
  • The Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain is the next most expensive of this trio, with an MSRP of $62,900 (image credit: Tom White). The Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain is the next most expensive of this trio, with an MSRP of $62,900 (image credit: Tom White).
  • Tthe most expensive of these three is the Ford Ranger Wildtrak (image credit: Tom White). Tthe most expensive of these three is the Ford Ranger Wildtrak (image credit: Tom White).

That makes the D-Max a standout in terms of dollars and cents if you're considering drive-away deals. But how do these three compare when it comes to standard equipment? Here's a rundown.

First up, we'll look at the media systems fitted to these three vehicles.

 

 

Ford Ranger Wildtrak Bi-turbo

Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain

Mazda BT-50 GT

Sat nav 

Y

Y

Y

Apple CarPlay / Android Auto

Y

Y - with wireless Apple CarPlay

Y - with wireless Apple CarPlay

Touch screen size

8.0-inch

9.0-inch

9.0-inch

USB ports

2

2

2

Radio

AM/FM/DAB

AM/FM/DAB

AM/FM/DAB

CD player

Y

N

N

Sound system speakers

6

8

Wireless phone charging (Qi)

N

N

N

Both the Isuzu and Mazda score a larger screen, additional speakers and wireless Apple CarPlay. They're at an advantage over the Ford, unless you really appreciated volume knobs, which the twins miss out on. The Ford's screen is better at adjusting for different lighting, and is less prone to glare, too. Plus we had issues with Android Auto in the D-Max and BT-50, but not in the Ford.

Okay, so what about other interior trim elements?

 

Ford Ranger Wildtrak Bi-turbo

Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain

Mazda BT-50 GT

Interior trim

Leather (black w/orange stitching)

Leather (black)

Leather (brown)

Front seat adjustment 

Electric (driver only)

Electric (driver only)

Electric (driver only)

Leather steering wheel

Y

Y

Y

Heated front seats 

Y

N

Y

Air conditioning

Dual zone climate control

Dual zone climate control

Dual zone climate control

Directional rear air vents

Y

Y

Y

Keyless entry / smart key

Y

Y

Push button start

Y

Y

Y

Cruise control

Adaptive

Adaptive

Adaptive

Auto dimming rearview mirror

Y

N

Y

Right, so the D-Max gets pulled down a little here, with a less special interior. All three have digital speedometers and multifunction trip computers, too. What about other considerable spec differentiators?

 

Ford Ranger Wildtrak Bi-turbo

Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain

Mazda BT-50 GT

Alloy wheels

18-inch

18-inch 

18-inch

Tyres

TBC

265/60/18 H/T

265/60/18 H/T

Spare wheel

Full size alloy

Full size alloy

Full size alloy

Roof rails

Y

Y

N

LED headlights 

Y

Y

Y

LED daytime running lights

Y

Y

Y

Fog lights

LED

LED

LED

Auto headlights

Y

Y

Y

Auto high-beam lights

Y

Y

Y

Auto rain sensing wipers

Y

Y

Y

Tub liner

Y

Y

N

Side steps

Y

Y

Y

Sports bar / sailplane

Y

Y

N

Tonneau cover

Y - roller top hard cover

Y - roller top hard cover

N

The Mazda really starts to make less sense if you're looking at 'uteness', with no sports bar, no tub protector or bed liner, no hard tonneau or soft tonneau cover for the tub, and no roof rails, either. You'll have to add those by checking the accessories catalog, where the other two have all of that stuff standard.

  • The Ford Ranger has Auto LED headlights (image credit: Tom White). The Ford Ranger has Auto LED headlights (image credit: Tom White).
  • Ford Ranger tail-light (image credit: Tom White). Ford Ranger tail-light (image credit: Tom White).
  • All three utes have 18-inch alloy wheels (image credit: Tom White). All three utes have 18-inch alloy wheels (image credit: Tom White).
  • The Isuzu D-Max has Auto LED headlights (image credit: Tom White). The Isuzu D-Max has Auto LED headlights (image credit: Tom White).
  • Isuzu D-Max tail-light (image credit: Tom White).
Isuzu D-Max tail-light (image credit: Tom White).
  • All three utes have 18-inch alloy wheels (image credit: Tom White). All three utes have 18-inch alloy wheels (image credit: Tom White).
  • The Mazda BT-50 has Auto LED headlights (image credit: Tom White). The Mazda BT-50 has Auto LED headlights (image credit: Tom White).
  • Mazda BT-50 tail-light (image credit: Tom White). Mazda BT-50 tail-light (image credit: Tom White).
  • All three utes have 18-inch alloy wheels (image credit: Tom White). All three utes have 18-inch alloy wheels (image credit: Tom White).

And the BT-50 GT doesn't have any of the showy bits that so many ute buyers want. But it does have a few niceties you can't get in any D-Max, and that makes it a difficult argument on value. The Ranger Wildtrak is expensive but pretty well loaded with kit - and the interior still seems a bit more special than its competitors in some ways, too.

There's more to this equation, though - check out the safety section below to see what we mean.

Ford Ranger Wildtrak Bi-turbo - 7

Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain - 8

Mazda BT-50 GT - 7

Weight and dimensions

Usually we look at styling as part of our design component, and while we know that one of these three utes will appeal more to you than the others, we should consider a few things.

The Isuzu D-Max and Mazda BT-50 are essentially twins under the skin. The front-end design - bumper, grille, lights, bonnet and guards - is different between the two, as is the tub and tail-light look. The cabin body and doors are the same, while the interior has common elements, but with different styling finishes between the two. More on that in the interior section.

  • The Isuzu D-Max and Mazda BT-50 are essentially twins under the skin (image credit: Tom White). The Isuzu D-Max and Mazda BT-50 are essentially twins under the skin (image credit: Tom White).
  • The BT-50 measure 1870mm in width (image credit: Tom White). The BT-50 measure 1870mm in width (image credit: Tom White).
  • The D-Max measures 1870mm in width (image credit: Tom White). The D-Max measures 1870mm in width (image credit: Tom White).
  • The Ranger measures 1867mm in width (image credit: Tom White). The Ranger measures 1867mm in width (image credit: Tom White).

So don't be surprised when you see a lot of duplication between the figures and specs in the following tables, as we're about to dive deep on dimensions.

 

Ford Ranger Wildtrak Bi-turbo

Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain

Mazda BT-50 GT

Length

5446mm

5280mm

5280mm

Wheelbase

3220mm

3125mm

3125mm

Height 

1848mm

1790mm

1790mm

Width 

1867mm

1870mm

1870mm

As you can see, the D-Max and BT-50 are identical in terms of exterior dimensions, and in every aspect except body width, they're smaller than the Ranger - which remains one of the largest utes in this class both in terms of overall length and wheelbase stretch, too.

Next up is tub dimensions. Again, expect some crossover between the twins!

 

Ford Ranger Wildtrak Bi-turbo

Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain

Mazda BT-50 GT

Tub length (at floor)

1579mm

1570mm

1571mm

Tub width / between wheel arches

1560mm / 1139mm 

1530mm / 1122mm

1530mm / 1120mm

Tub depth

511mm

490mm

490mm

The tale of the tape is that the Ranger's tub is at an advantage in all aspects. I mean, it makes sense - you buy a slightly bigger ute, you get a slightly bigger tub. All three of these bakkies (one for our South African fans!) have four tie-down points to secure your load, while the Ranger again steps up with a 12-volt outlet in the tub - and, as mentioned above, the Ranger and D-Max have tub liners (which will, in fact, see their tub width lessened a little), and they have the Mountain Top roller cover, which eats into the tub space at the cab end.

  • The BT-50 does not have a tub liner (image credit: Tom White). The BT-50 does not have a tub liner (image credit: Tom White).
  • The Ranger has a Mountain Top roller cover (image credit: Tom White). The Ranger has a Mountain Top roller cover (image credit: Tom White).
  • The Ranger's tub is at an advantage in all aspects (image credit: Tom White). The Ranger's tub is at an advantage in all aspects (image credit: Tom White).
  • The D-Max comes with the Mountain Top roller cover (image credit: Tom White).

The D-Max comes with the Mountain Top roller cover (image credit: Tom White).
  • The tub liner in the D-Max lessens the width a little (image credit: Tom White). The tub liner in the D-Max lessens the width a little (image credit: Tom White).

We'll cover off payload capacity and weights next. The payload impacts of all the additional kit fitted to the show-pony utes becomes a bit clearer here, with the Mazda at a distinct advantage.

 

 

Ford Ranger Wildtrak Bi-turbo

Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain

Mazda BT-50 GT

Payload 

954kg

970kg

1065kg

Kerb weight

2246kg

2130kg

2035kg

Gross vehicle mass (GVM)

3200kg

3100kg

3100kg

Gross combination mass (GCM)

6000kg

5950kg

5950kg

Towing capacity 

750kg unbraked/3500kg braked

Great that all three models offer the maximum towing capacity of 3.5 tonnes, but there was sadly no time to complete a towing comparison this time around.

Because these are dual-purpose trucks that families might choose to live with day-to-day and head off-road for weekends or holidays, there was no plan for a load test here, either.

Speaking of adventures, let's look at the off-road angles and dimensions:

 

 

Ford Ranger Wildtrak Bi-turbo

Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain

Mazda BT-50 GT

Approach angle

29.0 degrees

30.5 degrees

30.4 degrees

Departure angle

21.0 degrees
(tow bar is fitted standard)

24.2 degrees

24.2 degrees

Ramp-over / break-over angle

25.0 degrees

23.8 degrees

23.8 degrees

Ground clearance mm

237mm

240mm

240mm

Wading depth

800mm

800mm

800mm

From those figures you'd probably expect the Ranger to be the struggler of this trio when it comes to off-road driving... but that's not the case at all. More on that in the driving section below.

All told, the Ranger is at a bit of a disadvantage here - it's the biggest of these pick-ups, yet has the lowest payload. The others? Aside from the additional payload for the Mazda, we can't split them for weight and dimensions.

Ford Ranger Wildtrak Bi-turbo - 8

Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain - 9

Mazda BT-50 GT - 9

Interior and practicality

You spend more time inside your ute than standing outside, looking at it... right? Well, it makes sense that interior space, design and practicality is an important factor, and these three fight pretty hard in their own ways.

And, yes, there is some distinct separation between the Isuzu and Mazda utes, despite a number of shared components and parts being used identically between the two brands.

For instance, the common elements for the D-Max and BT-50 include the dashboard instrument cluster and digital info display, the steering wheel, the key and start button, the media screen, the ventilation controls, the seats front and rear... yeah, there's a lot shared.

But it is worth noting that the seats in the BT-50 GT are heated (as are the Ranger Wildtrak's), while the D-Max X-Terrain doesn't have seat heating, even as an option. And the Ranger and BT-50 have auto-dimming rearview mirrors, but the D-Max doesn't.

It's also worth calling out the effort that Mazda has made to differentiate the BT-50 from the D-Max in terms of the interior trim and design. The dashboard has a nice fake metal look to it, which streams into the front and rear door cards, too. Plus there are differently designed air-vents, and a soft-touch pad on top of the dash as well as soft padded sections along the edge of the lower console.

  • The D-Max has additional dash-top storage (image credit: Tom White).

The D-Max has additional dash-top storage (image credit: Tom White).
  • The D-Max has a 9.0-inch infotainment touchscreen (image credit: Tom White). The D-Max has a 9.0-inch infotainment touchscreen (image credit: Tom White).
  • The front seats of the D-Max are not heated (image credit: Tom White). The front seats of the D-Max are not heated (image credit: Tom White).
  • All three utes offer competitive levels of rear seat space (image credit: Tom White). All three utes offer competitive levels of rear seat space (image credit: Tom White).

But the D-Max has a few things - important, cup-holdery things - that make it a better, more practical, day-to-day option. That's because it has pop-out cup-holders at the outer edges of the dash, but the BT-50 doesn't - and that means you can put a regular takeaway coffee cup somewhere without potentially spilling hot beverage all over yourself and the ute, as the BT-50's centre cup holders are oversized (we assume for bottles rather than cups). The D-Max also gets additional dash-top storage, as well.

Both have the largest media screen in the ute market at the time of launch - a 9.0-inch infotainment touchscreen that is a huge step forward for both of these trucks, as they had terrible touchscreen systems in their previous generations. Each also has wireless Apple CarPlay (with optional USB connect, too) but you'll have to plug a USB in for Android Auto, and that's if it works - we had issues with both of our vehicles.

The Ranger also has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (USB-connect), and all three have sat nav, while the Ranger runs an 8.0-inch touchscreen. But the Ranger betters its buddies with a set of knobs for volume and tuning - the D-Max and BT-50 have buttons, which can be fiddly.

  • The Ranger's dash design has stood the test of time (image credit: Tom White). The Ranger's dash design has stood the test of time (image credit: Tom White).
  • The Ranger runs an 8.0-inch touchscreen (image credit: Tom White). The Ranger runs an 8.0-inch touchscreen (image credit: Tom White).
  • The the seats in the Ranger are heated (image credit: Tom White). The the seats in the Ranger are heated (image credit: Tom White).
  • All three of these utes offer competitive levels of rear seat space (image credit: Tom White). All three of these utes offer competitive levels of rear seat space (image credit: Tom White).

The Ranger's screen was less prone to glare during daylight hours, and it has a better native menu system if you're not the smartphone mirroring kind. The one thing that still annoys us about the Ranger is that it needs some controls for the ventilation and climate to be done through the screen, not the buttons below. It's just dumb.

The Ranger's dash design has stood the test of time, even arguably offering a more sophisticated look and feel than its rivals. Plus with the orange stitching and neat 'Wildtrak' emblazoned on the dash and seat backs, it feels properly special. Expensive, even... and it is.

As mentioned above, the D-Max and BT-50 have oversized centre cup-holders, and while the Ford doesn't have pop-out edge cup-holders like the D-Max, its central units are a more usable size, though it is lacking some loose item storage comparatively.

All three utes get bottle-holders in all doors, and in the specs we have here, there are rear cup-holders in a flip-down armrest, and rear map pockets as well. The Ford doesn't have a pop-out shopping bag hook like the D-Max and BT-50, but otherwise it's close for storage.

  • The dashboard of the BT-50 has a nice fake metal look to it (image credit: Tom White). The dashboard of the BT-50 has a nice fake metal look to it (image credit: Tom White).
  • The BT-50 features a 9.0-inch infotainment touchscreen (image credit: Tom White). The BT-50 features a 9.0-inch infotainment touchscreen (image credit: Tom White).
  • The front seats of the BT-50 are heated (image credit: Tom White). The front seats of the BT-50 are heated (image credit: Tom White).
  • All three utes offer competitive levels of rear seat space (image credit: Tom White). All three utes offer competitive levels of rear seat space (image credit: Tom White).

You can fold up the seat bases or fold down the back-rests in each of the second rows of these vehicles, allowing additional dry secure storage if you're not using the back seat. If you are, and you intend to have child seats back there, you need to know that all three of these dual cabs is only capable of holding two baby seats - there are dual outboard ISOFIX anchors and top-tether attachment loops that mount to a central top anchor, meaning no legal  middle seat mount option.

If you have older kids or plan to ferry adults, all three of these utes offer competitive levels of rear seat space. There's adequate leg room, head room and shoulder room for three adults to fit side by side (I'm 182cm/6'0" and rear seat accommodation for all three utes here was good).

There is no denying that the Ford's cabin is a nice one to be in, but the other two offer their own advantages, too. It's even Stevens for cabins.

Ford Ranger Wildtrak Bi-turbo - 8

Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain- 8

Mazda BT-50 GT - 8

Drivetrains

It's time for another cut-and-paste job - that's because the engine specs for the new Mazda BT-50 and Isuzu D-Max are identical!

While the D-Max's horsepower and torque stats have been increased, the new-gen BT-50's figures are actually a step down from the five-cylinder model that came before it.

  • The D-Max's horsepower and torque stats have been increased from the previous model (image credit: Tom White). The D-Max's horsepower and torque stats have been increased from the previous model (image credit: Tom White).
  • The Ranger has the smallest engine capacity of the three (image credit: Tom White). The Ranger has the smallest engine capacity of the three (image credit: Tom White).
  • The new-gen BT-50's figures are actually a step down from the five-cylinder model that came before it (image credit: Tom White).

The new-gen BT-50's figures are actually a step down from the five-cylinder model that came before it (image credit: Tom White).

And the best for grunt of these three is the oldest ute, which is running a relatively new and up-to-date engine - though you can still get a Ranger Wildtrak with the five-cylinder motor if you want it.

Let's run through the engine outputs and details below:

 

Ford Ranger Wildtrak Bi-tubro

Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain

Mazda BT-50 GT

Engine

2.0-litre bi-turbo four-cylinder

3.0-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder

3.0-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder

Power output 

157kW at 3750rpm

140kW at 3600rpm

140kW at 3600rpm

Torque output 

500Nm at 1750-2000rpm

450Nm at 1600-2600rpm

450Nm at 1600-2600rpm

Transmission

10-speed automatic

Six-speed automatic

Six-speed automatic

Drivetrain

Selectable four-wheel drive (4WD/4x4)

Selectable four-wheel drive (4WD/4x4)

Selectable four-wheel drive (4WD/4x4)

As you can see, the Ranger has the smallest engine capacity, but because it has bi-turbo tech it manages to outboost its rivals with more grunt. Indeed, in practice, the engine is considerably more lively, more drivable, and with the 10-speed automatic shuffling through gears to keep it in the sweet spot almost imperceptibly, it makes for a very smooth drive. More below.

As for the other two, well, the engine is not a disappointment per se, but buyers spending this sort of money might be left wanting more - especially considering the HiLux now has more torque on offer for auto models, too.

All three of these utes have emissions-focused items, such as a diesel particulate filter (DPF), though none meet the strictest Euro 6 standards - meaning no AdBlue required.

Ford Ranger Wildtrak Bi-turbo - 9

Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain - 7

Mazda BT-50 GT - 7

Fuel consumption

Fuel consumption is always going to depend on the person driving. But for our test, we mixed it up, with each of our drivers shuffling between the three vehicles.

We took our own 'at the bowser' fuel-use figures, reflecting a mix of on-road and off-road driving, the latter consisting of low-range hill climbs and descents (including extensive muddy patches), water crossings and gravel tracks.

 

Ford Ranger Wildtrak Bi-turbo

Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain

Mazda BT-50 GT

Official combined cycle fuel consumption

7.4L/100km

8.0L/100km

8.0L/100km

Actual fuel use on test 

11.2L/100km

11.5L/100km

10.5L/100km

Difference between claim and actual

3.8L/100km / 51 per cent

3.5L/100km / 44 per cent

2.5L/100km / 31 per cent

Fuel tank size

80L

76L

76L

Theoretical driving range

714km based on actual fuel use

660km based on actual fuel use

723km based on actual fuel use

The disparity between the D-Max and BT-50 could well come down to it doing more driving on the hardcore hill climb, but even so, it's an interesting result.

Displayed fuel consumption was intriguing, too: the Ford's trip computer was pessimistic (11.4L/100km), while the Mazda and Isuzu were both glass-half-full (reading 10.3L/100km and 10.9L/100km respectively).

Your use may vary, obviously, and we think these three are close enough in real-world, at-the-pump consumption for it to be even for this section.

Ford Ranger Wildtrak Bi-turbo - 8

Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain - 8

Mazda BT-50 GT - 8

Driving

You might have thought that the new guys would walk away with this part of the test. I mean, the D-Max and BT-50 have had years to get the driving part of the equation right.

And, while they haven't necessarily got it wrong, the best ute on the market for on-road manners - the Ranger - is still above and beyond. For consistency we inflated the tyre pressures to be equal on all models, and even then, the Ranger was, quite simply, excellent. Read why in the section below, and if you want to see how it went off-road, our Adventure Editor, Marcus Craft, has written his thoughts on all three of these utes below.

Note: the score at the bottom of this section is a combination of on-road driving and off-road punishment.

On-road - by Senior Editor, Matt Campbell

Ford Ranger Wildtrak Bi-turbo

The Ford Ranger Wildtrak was instantly deemed to be the best of these three dual cab utes to drive (image credit: Tom White). The Ford Ranger Wildtrak was instantly deemed to be the best of these three dual cab utes to drive (image credit: Tom White).

It was surprising, to say the least, that the Ford Ranger Wildtrak was instantly deemed to be the best of these three dual cab utes to drive. The other two are brand new, with years of advancements that we expected would have propelled them ahead, if not in line with the Ranger.

They're both very impressive. But this Wildtrak Bi-turbo is something else. It really is the most composed, comfortable, enjoyable and easy pick-up truck to drive. Simple.

There's not just one standout element here. It is excellent in many ways.

The engine is thrusty, offering strong response from low in the rev range, and a nicer noise to it than its bigger-capacity diesel ute rivals. It punches hard for its size, and the power delivery is linear and pleasant.

The steering in the Ranger has always been the benchmark in this segment, and it remains so (image credit: Tom White).
The steering in the Ranger has always been the benchmark in this segment, and it remains so (image credit: Tom White).

The transmission allows you to explore the potential of the engine which, admittedly, has a narrow peak torque band from just 1750-2000rpm. But it has more gears, so you can more readily be in that band and enjoy that 500Nm at your disposal.

The steering, too, is sweet. It's always been the benchmark in this segment, and it remains so. There's a great weight to the rack, a terrific feel through the wheel, and it's even a bit of fun to drive because the response is so predictable. Like the others, it has lighter weighting at lower speeds to help it feel smaller to drive, and it does. It's a cinch.

And the ride quality is superb. If you didn't know it had leaf springs at the rear, you'd swear it was a coil-sprung model, and indeed it rides and complies better than plenty of coil-spring SUVs out there, too.

The ride quality in the Ranger Wildtrak is superb (image credit: Tom White). The ride quality in the Ranger Wildtrak is superb (image credit: Tom White).

There really is no other ute in this part of the market that is as comfortable without weight in the tray. The suspension is supple, offering good comfort to all passengers and great control over bumps and lumps, too. It doesn't squabble with the surface below as much as its contemporaries, and it has a great balance to it, too.

Wow. What a great thing it is.

Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain

Now, you might have just read the Ranger bit and thought, "So are the others rubbish?" And the answer is a big, fat "No!", because both of them are really impressive.

We'll start with the D-Max, which is so vastly better than the old version, it's almost as though it has been built by a different brand.

Its driving manners are great, with steering that is light and user-friendly at all speeds, and even at lower pace when you're negotiating parking spots or roundabouts, it's a simple ute to pilot. Like the Ranger, it feels pretty small to drive despite its bulk, but with a turning circle of 12.5 metres you may still need to do a five-point turn rather than a three-point turn (at least the steering action is super light - and the same is the case for the Ranger, which has a 12.7m turning radius).

The steering in the D-Max is light and user-friendly at all speeds (image credit: Tom White). The steering in the D-Max is light and user-friendly at all speeds (image credit: Tom White).

And while you might think that steering weight and feel is more important to motoring journalists who rave about chassis dynamics, we're looking at this as more of a "How would you feel if you'd been working hard on the tools all day, and had a long drive home?". The D-Max and BT-50 used to be hard work, but that's not the case anymore.

The D-Max's suspension is different in that its rear leaf spring pack is a three-leaf setup - most utes, including the Ranger, have five-leaf suspension. The X-Terrain offered a subtle and well sorted ride in most situations, but there's still a bit of that 'ute roots' feeling that you get through the back end, especially with no weight on board. It's not too rigid or fidgety; just a touch firmer than the Ranger.

Its engine isn't as perky in its response, and it actually feels quite relaxed in regular driving. It does respond well when you plant your foot, though it is comparatively a bit noisy, and just not as urgent as the Ranger.

The D-Max's six-speed automatic offers smart and quick shifts (image credit: Tom White). The D-Max's six-speed automatic offers smart and quick shifts (image credit: Tom White).

The D-Max's six-speed automatic offers smart and quick shifts, though it can be busy at higher speeds as it aims to keep the engine in its torque sweet spot (from 1600-2600rpm). You might notice on inclines it will want to drop from sixth to fifth to fourth, and if you're not used to that it may catch you off-guard. I guess the thing is that the transmission in the D-Max and BT-50 is more perceptible than the Ranger's but, honestly, you do get used to it.

And while the safety spec items are terrific to have, they can be intrusive in day-to-day driving. The lane keeping system in the D-Max (and the BT-50) is more interruptive than in the Ranger, and it also seemed eager to warn of unsafe gaps in traffic when you're darting between lanes.

Mazda BT-50 GT

The ride quality wasn’t quite as well resolved in the BT-50 as it was in the D-Max (image credit: Tom White). The ride quality wasn’t quite as well resolved in the BT-50 as it was in the D-Max (image credit: Tom White).

I could have copied and pasted the above, because the findings are virtually identical between the BT-50 and D-Max. That is to say, it's a very good ute to drive, but not as good as the Ranger.

The same findings were noted on the steering accuracy and lightness, and if you've driven a previous-generation BT-50, this could be the thing that stands out most when you drive the new one.

The BT-50 had the same steering accuracy and lightness of the D-Max (image credit: Tom White). The BT-50 had the same steering accuracy and lightness of the D-Max (image credit: Tom White).

But also the engine, which is a backwards step for those who have experienced the raspy five-cylinder Ford motor in the old BT-50. It was a noisy, rumbly old thing, but it had a bit more pep than the 3.0-litre unit that is identical between the Mazda and its Isuzu buddy.

One thing we picked up on, though, was the ride quality wasn't quite as well resolved in the BT-50 as it was in the D-Max. Our theory was that because the D-Max has about 100kg more kerb weight - including the sailplane/sports bar, roller cover tonneau and tub liner (and optional tow bar pack) - it was a weight-related thing.

The ride quality wasn't quite as well resolved in the BT-50 as it was in the D-Max (image credit: Tom White). The ride quality wasn't quite as well resolved in the BT-50 as it was in the D-Max (image credit: Tom White).

Again, the suspension is a leap forward compared to the last BT-50, and still better than plenty of rivals in the class, with a level of solidity and day-to-day driving comfort that many can't match.

As with the D-Max, the safety systems were a little unsophisticated at times, and it even had a seemingly much louder lane keeping alert chime. You can turn it off, thankfully, but we don't recommend disabling the safety tech suite on the road.

Off-road is another matter altogether....

 

Off-road - by Adventure Editor, Marcus Craft

Let's face it – an off-roading comparison between contemporary 4WD utes, with established adventure credentials, is always going to be a pretty close contest. Especially when you pit the top-end variants, the cream of the crop in their current line-ups, against each other.

These vehicles are evenly matched in terms of everything (image credit: Tom White). These vehicles are evenly matched in terms of everything (image credit: Tom White).

These vehicles are evenly matched in terms of everything: their driver-assist tech and 4WD systems approximate each other's capabilities (especially the now-twinned, D-Max and BT-50); and their actual physical dimensions (length, wheelbase length and width etc) and off-road angles are very similar – though the Wildtrak's angles are the shallowest here (more about that later). Basically, when you boil everything down to its essence, these three share a basic all-round suitability for tackling difficult terrain.

Matt has done such an exemplary job of comprehensively covering off all three vehicles' spec and tech details thus far, that I won't bore you by merely repeating that info, as important as it is; rather, I'll focus on the off-road driving experience.

So, how did these utes perform off-road? Read on.

Ford Ranger Wildtrak Bi-turbo

  • The Wildtrak excelled on the lightly corrugated dirt track on the way to our set-piece hill-climb (image credit: Tom White). The Wildtrak excelled on the lightly corrugated dirt track on the way to our set-piece hill-climb (image credit: Tom White).
  • The Wildtrak is a proven off-road champ (image credit: Tom White).

The Wildtrak is a proven off-road champ (image credit: Tom White).
  • Steering in the Wildtrak is light and accurate (image credit: Tom White). Steering in the Wildtrak is light and accurate (image credit: Tom White).
  • The Wildtrack remains a comfortably capable 4WD (image credit: Tom White). The Wildtrack remains a comfortably capable 4WD (image credit: Tom White).

The Wildtrak excelled on the lightly corrugated dirt track on the way to our set-piece hill-climb. Overnight rain had washed out sections of the loosely gravelled track, not terribly so, but enough to put any unsuspecting ute off its game but not this ute.

The Wildtrak remained controlled and composed over the route, which was a little bit chopped up in places, soaking up most of the lumps and bumps. It's definitely the most settled of this trio, at speed, over surfaces like that.

Then, it was time for the serious (read: fun) stuff: low-speed, low-range 4WDing.

With low-range 4WD engaged and the rear diff locked, we tackled one of our favourite hill-climbs at one of our unofficial 4WD testing and proving grounds at undisclosed locations around NSW. Intrigued yet?

From the start, it was easy going for the Wildtrak, but it's a proven off-road champ so we weren't surprised.

Whatever concerns that may still linger over the ability of a small-capacity engine to produce enough power and torque to propel a more than two-tonne ute over or through any off-road challenge – in this case, a rather steep slippery hill – should be dispensed with immediately: this 2.0-litre bi-turbo engine is more than up to the task. It's a gusty little unit with plenty of oomph.

With low-range 4WD engaged and the rear diff locked, we tackled one of our favourite hill-climbs (image credit: Tom White). With low-range 4WD engaged and the rear diff locked, we tackled one of our favourite hill-climbs (image credit: Tom White).

Wheel ruts along the uphill track had been washed out so much from overnight rain that straight away we were lifting wheels off the dirt as we dipped in and out of those deep holes in the ground. Any lesser 4WD would have been left futilely scrambling for traction but this Ford ute just needed considered driving to keep it on the right line and trucking along, up the hill.

While the Wildtrak may look like it might be a bit unwieldy to manoeuvre on a tight bush track, the opposite is, in fact, true. Steering is light and accurate, it even sometimes feels a little bit too floaty at times, especially on open dirt tracks, but, while it feels big, in terms of dimensions, it doesn't feel big in terms of steer-ability, especially when you're 4WDing at very low speeds.

Every now and again, heavier throttle was required to prompt the Wildtrak forward – I did have to monster it through two greasy, tight and twisty ripped-up sections – but mostly a steady controlled momentum was all that was necessary to get through even the trickiest of challenges. Note: it was the same story with all three utes.

In this trio, the Wildtrak has the shallowest off-road angles (check the tables above) and the least amount of ground clearance (240mm), but with careful driving you're generally okay. However, it's more likely than the D-Max and BT-50 to touch ground with some part off its under-carriage as you drive over sharper-angled obstacles (i.e. rocks and exposed tree roots) and through deeper holes (washed-out wheel ruts). It's not a rock-crawler afterall, but take your time and pick your line, and those shallower off-road angles and lower ground clearance will be non-issues.

The Ford's engine braking is pretty good but hill descent control is another strong part of the Wildtrak's off-road toolkit. It kept us to a steady speed of about 2km/h-3km/h on our run down the same steep slope we'd driven up. We could hear it softly working away but it really is quite non-intrusive but still very effective.

The Wildtrak is a nice all-rounder, in terms of 4WD capability (image credit: Tom White). The Wildtrak is a nice all-rounder, in terms of 4WD capability (image credit: Tom White).

We did slip and slide a bit up and down this slippery hill-climb but that could be attributed to what are essentially highway tyres, stock-standard tires, more than anything else. This rubber actually did pretty well in the circumstances, but, if you're thinking of turning a Wildtrak into an even better off-road tourer, you'd replace those tyres with more aggressive all-terrains.

The Wildtrak is a nice all-rounder, in terms of 4WD capability: the off-road traction control system is quietly effective; there's plenty of torque available from its 500Nm war chest; and the 10-speed automatic transmission is pretty clever, consistently finding the right spot at the right time.

It remains a comfortably capable 4WD. And that's what sets it apart from pretty much every other ute around. While many of the others – well, pretty much all modern utes of note – are capable, the Wildtrak tends to eat hardcore terrain up, without any fuss.

Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain

  • The D-Max handled the gravel and dirt track route on the way to our set pace hill-climb well (image credit: Tom White). The D-Max handled the gravel and dirt track route on the way to our set pace hill-climb well (image credit: Tom White).
  • The Isuzu is not the most refined ute around, but it did a perfectly reasonable job of the dirt-road drive (image credit: Tom White). The Isuzu is not the most refined ute around, but it did a perfectly reasonable job of the dirt-road drive (image credit: Tom White).
  • The D-Max was well and truly in its element on our steep, washed-out hill-climb (image credit: Tom White). The D-Max was well and truly in its element on our steep, washed-out hill-climb (image credit: Tom White).
  • The D-Max has high- and low-range 4WD (image credit: Tom White). The D-Max has high- and low-range 4WD (image credit: Tom White).

We've already taken a new D-Max variant, the LS-U, off-road and were impressed, so we weren't expecting any surprises this time, with the top-spec X-Terrain.

The D-Max handled the gravel and dirt track route on the way to our set pace hill-climb well, soaking up most imperfections in the track surface along the way, but not quite as nicely as the Wildtrak. It tended to skip a little over sections of the track which didn't even register in the Wildtrak.

The Isuzu is not the most refined ute around – it's a little bit noisy when pushed hard – but it did a perfectly reasonable job of the dirt-road drive.

Again, from the get-go, the D-Max was well and truly in its element on our steep, washed-out hill-climb.

The Isuzu ute has always had a robust 4WD set-up, but in the past it was hampered by a less-than-ideal off-road traction control system. That, as we've documented, has been recalibrated and sorted out in this new D-Max line-up, now applying a real even-handed delivery of driver-assist tech to the dirt to yield safe, controlled progress, in this case, up a steep and difficult hill-climb.

The Isuzu ute has always had a robust 4WD set-up (image credit: Tom White). The Isuzu ute has always had a robust 4WD set-up (image credit: Tom White).

The surface – a greasy mixture of bush sand, gravel, rocks, and exposed tree roots – was very slippery. There was not a lot of traction on offer and I had to put the hammer down here and there just to get through, but the D-Max rapidly proved its worth.

It was unstressed during most of the uphill run, able to tap into ample useable torque at low revs along the way, and it only ever required a heavier right boot to help get it out of deeper, chopped-up wheel ruts.

The D-Max has high- and low-range 4WD – as do the other two utes in this test – and it has, for the first time, a rear diff lock as standard. The diff lock can be engaged at speeds up to 8km/h and only when you're in four-wheel drive low-range (4L). It will disengage when you hit 30km/h or more. Note: when you engage the diff lock, off-road traction control is disengaged.

It makes a real difference but a diff lock is not the cure-all some people think it is, even though it certainly helps – and the fact you have the option of using it if you think you need it is a big step in the right direction for Isuzu.

The D-Max has decent wheel travel – not the best or worst in the dual-cab 4WD ute mob – but if you can get some flex going, and stretch a tyre to the dirt, the D-Max's really useable extra torque – over the previous-generation – makes a marked difference.

Hill descent control is impressive; on the way back down our set-piece hill, the system held us to a steady 3-4km/h and that's a controlled pace that gives the driver plenty of time to assess the route ahead and make better driving judgements.

Hill descent control in the D-Max is impressive (image credit: Tom White). Hill descent control in the D-Max is impressive (image credit: Tom White).

One niggle and it's the same for all three utes: the showroom-standard tyres should be replaced with a set of new more-aggressive all-terrains. An easy fix.

However, as it is, the D-Max X-terrain is a very impressive all-round package and because the BT 50 and the D-Max have so much in common, sharing the same platform, driving either of them is like driving the same ute and both utes are very effective. Or are they? Is the BT-50 any good? Have I spoiled the next bit of the test? Probably. Oh, well.

Mazda BT-50 GT

  • The BT-50 is pretty handy off-road (image credit: Tom White). The BT-50 is pretty handy off-road (image credit: Tom White).
  • Overall the BT-50 is a pretty impressive package for a standard vehicle (image credit: Tom White). Overall the BT-50 is a pretty impressive package for a standard vehicle (image credit: Tom White).
  • The BT-50 has a tractable engine and good low-range gearing (image credit: Tom White). The BT-50 has a tractable engine and good low-range gearing (image credit: Tom White).
  • The Mazda has shown that it can handle tough terrain and do it all reasonably comfortably (image credit: Tom White). The Mazda has shown that it can handle tough terrain and do it all reasonably comfortably (image credit: Tom White).
  • The BT-50 has reliably effective hill descent control (image credit: Tom White). The BT-50 has reliably effective hill descent control (image credit: Tom White).

As we've mentioned several times, the new D-Max and BT-50 are essentially the same vehicle. The metal, the design elements, are just different, but that doesn't matter when you're low-range 4WDing. What matters is what's underneath: the guts of the vehicle. You want to know that the mechanicals, the 4WD set-up, the off-road traction control are all up to the task.

And the good news? The BT 50 is pretty handy off-road – and that's as we expected because we've already driven two D-Max variants on hard-core 4WD tracks and they've performed well. We drove the X-Terrain, remember? Just take a look up the page a bit.

You could do a lot worse than choose a BT-50 as your next 4WD tourer (image credit: Tom White). You could do a lot worse than choose a BT-50 as your next 4WD tourer (image credit: Tom White).

So, if all the BT-50/D-Max working parts are the same, is it possible for the Mazda to have any off-road strengths or weaknesses that the D-Max doesn't?

Well, the BT-50's new 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine produces less power and torque than the previous BT-50's five-cylinder engine – it's down 7kW and 20Nm – but in practical terms that decrease, while certainly not ideal, is negligible.

The sumo styling of the BT-50's 'kodo design' front end – more flared and pronounced at the bottom and side edges than the X-Terrain's more action-oriented, tucked-away front end – proved to be a little more vulnerable to knocks and scrapes, than the X-Terrain's bodywork when the terrain became even more severe.

The sumo styling of the BT-50's 'kodo design' front end proved to be vulnerable to knocks and scrapes (image credit: Tom White). The sumo styling of the BT-50's 'kodo design' front end proved to be vulnerable to knocks and scrapes (image credit: Tom White).

And, of course, the road rubber needs to be replaced.

Otherwise, overall, the BT-50 is a pretty impressive package for a standard vehicle. It has a tractable engine, good low-range gearing and off-road traction control, reliably effective hill descent control, and with those elements, and many more, in action, the Mazda has shown that it can handle tough terrain and do it all reasonably comfortably.

You could do a lot worse than choose a BT-50 as your next 4WD tourer.

Ford Ranger Wildtrak Bi-turbo - 9

Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain - 8

Mazda BT-50 GT - 8

Safety

Two of these double cab utes are setting the standard in the segment when it comes to advanced safety technology - unsurprisingly, it's the twins, both of which come comprehensively loaded with safety technology and equipment as standard that the other utes in the segment are yet to match.

There are firsts for the ute segment including a front-centre airbag that's designed to protect occupants in the event of a side impact crash, and the lane keeping system in the BT-50 and D-Max even has a system called turn assist, which can activate the auto braking if it thinks you're about to cross the path of oncoming traffic. You used to have to buy a luxury car from Germany for that kind of stuff.

Here's a rundown on the standard inclusions across these three dual cab utes:

 

 

Ford Ranger Wildtrak Bi-turbo

Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain

Mazda BT-50 GT

Reversing camera

Y

Y

Y

Park assist sensors

Y

Y

Y

Semi-autonomous park assist

Y

N

N

Airbags

6 - dual front, front side, full-length curtain

8 - dual front, driver’s knee, front centre, front side, full-length curtain

8 - dual front, driver’s knee, front centre, front side, full-length curtain

Auto emergency braking (AEB)

Y - speeds above 3km/h

Y - speeds above 10km/h

Y - speeds above 10km/h

Pedestrian detection

Y - 3km/h-80km/h

Y - all speeds

Y - all speeds

Cyclist detection

Y - 3km/h-80km/h

Y - all speeds

Y - all speeds

Auto high-beam lights

Y

Y

Y

Adaptive cruise control

Y

Y

Y

Lane departure warning

Y

Y

Y

Active lane keep assist

Y - speeds above 64km/h

Y - with active steering assistance (between 60km/h and 130km/h)

Y - with active steering assistance (between 60km/h and 130km/h)

Turn assist (stops vehicle turning in front of oncoming traffic)

N

Y - between 5km/h and 18km/h

Y - between 5km/h and 18km/h

Blind spot monitoring

N

Y

Y

Rear cross traffic

N

Y

Y

Speed sign recognition

Y

Y

Y

ANCAP safety rating (year tested)

5 stars (2015)

5 stars (2020)

5 stars (2020)

At the time we originally published this story, the BT-50 hadn't been awarded the five-star ANCAP safety rating you see in the table above. Being based on the benchmark-setting D-Max, it's safe to say these two are the safest utes in the segment.

And while the Ford has been updated and upgraded over the years, it is falling behind in a few ways here. Fewer airbags, a less advanced AEB system, and no blind spot monitor or rear cross-traffic alert let it down here.

Where is the Ford Ranger made? Where is the Isuzu D-Max made? Where is the Mazda BT-50 made? All are built in Thailand.

Ford Ranger Wildtrak Bi-turbo - 8

Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain - 10

Mazda BT-50 GT - 10

Ownership

Spending this much money on a ute, you'd likely want it to be a breeze to own. And while a week-long loan in any vehicle is hardly enough for us to say it will offer the reliability and durability you'd expect, we can assess how these brands compare on their ownership promises.

The average prices for service costs you see below are from October 2020, and may change over time. Ford, for instance, has a promotional service plan pegged at $299 for some maintenance visits.

 

Ford Ranger Wildtrak Bi-turbo

Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain

Mazda BT-50 GT

Service interval

12 months/15,000km

12 months/15,000km

12 months/15,000km

Annual service cost (avg over seven years)

$406

$481

$496

Capped price servicing plan

Lifetime

Seven years/105,000km

Seven years/105,000km

Prepay servicing available?

No

No

No

Warranty cover

Five years/unlimited km

Six years/150,000km

Five years/unlimited km

Roadside assist included?

Seven years

Seven years

Five years

You will need to read the fine print around roadside assist and warranty cover to make sure you're doing what you need to for each of these brands to back you if things go wrong. On paper, at least, the slightly longer warranty of the Isuzu has some appeal. An extra year can make a big difference, after all.

On paper the slightly longer warranty of the Isuzu has some appeal (image credit: Tom White). On paper the slightly longer warranty of the Isuzu has some appeal (image credit: Tom White).

Still worried about common problems, complaints, issues, recalls, DPF problems or any other potential worries? Check out our Ford Ranger problems page, our Isuzu D-Max problems page, or our Mazda BT-50 problems page, where we answer FAQs about reliability problems and offer advice on everything from oil type to owners manual and logbook servicing.

Ford Ranger Wildtrak Bi-turbo - 8

Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain - 9

Mazda BT-50 GT - 8

Verdict

It might sound like a cop-out, but it could come down to preferences.

If you want the best driving ute of these three, the Ford Ranger Wildtrak Bi-turbo is your pick, straight up, no questions asked. But you have to pay for the privilege, and there are some comparative safety and tech shortcomings to consider as well. 

The Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain could well be the best budget alternative to the Wildtrak there is, because the drive-away pricing is so very tempting, and it in fact manages a better score across all the criteria because it’s a more compelling overall proposition, all things considered.

If you want the best driving ute of these three, the Ford Ranger Wildtrak Bi-turbo is your pick, (image credit: Tom White). If you want the best driving ute of these three, the Ford Ranger Wildtrak Bi-turbo is your pick, (image credit: Tom White).

And the Mazda BT-50 GT is also worth a look, particularly if you’re after a classy looking ute, rather than one with styling add-ons stuck to it. It has inherent style through its design, both on the outside and the inside, and it looks and feels different enough to a D-Max to stand on its own four tyres and demand attention from buyers. 

So which would you choose, and why? Our scoring table below sets out how these three dual cab utes scored against all of our criteria, and that should help you sort out what matters most to you. Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

Ford Ranger Wildtrak Bi-turbo

Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain 

Mazda BT-50 GT

Pricing and specs

7

8

7

Weight and dimensions

8

9

9

Interior and practicality

8

8

8

Drivetrain

9

7

7

Fuel consumption

8

8

8

Driving

9

8

8

Safety

8

10

10

Ownership

8

9

8

Overall (average of the above)

8.1

8.4

8.1



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