This fella had his badges mixed up, considering we were in Mazda BT-50s, three of them, parked in a neat line outside the watering hole from which he’d just emerged.
“Nah, mate. Mazdas. BT-50s,” I said.
“Yeah, they’re good too,” he said, vaguely impressed, and, after raising his eyebrows skywards, he loped away.
“Nah, mate. Mazdas. BT-50s,” I said.
There’s nothing new in this BT-50 beyond the 8.0-inch Alpine colour touchscreen entertainment unit, but Mazda reckoned it was as good a time as any to give their ute another solid test out in the bush – and what better test than the Birdsville Track?
This iconic bush track, a must-do on any serious off-roader’s wish-list, is more than 500km of dirt and gravel, potholes, corrugations, searing heat. Great stuff. What’s more, it runs parallel to the eastern edge of the Simpson Desert – or “The Simmo!” to my bogan mates – which is another great Aussie adventure.
The Simpson, covering more than 170,000 square kilometres and taking in parts of the Northern Territory, Queensland and South Australia, is the world’s largest sand dune desert and Australia’s fourth largest desert. It has the longest parallel sand dunes in the world, more than 1100 of them, some of them 200km long, running north-west to south-east.
We wouldn’t be venturing too deep into the desert though, not on this trip, we would, however, have a chance to play on Nappanerica (aka Big Red), the Simpson’s biggest sand dune at 40m high, which is about 30km west of Birdsville.
Our final destination for this run? Birdsville, for the annual Birdsville Races, when the sleepy bush town in Queensland’s far west, swells from 280 people to more than 7000 party-hungry race-goers. We’re in a top-spec GT dual-cab and were raring to go – no badge-confused bushie was going to ruin it for us.
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?
The GT, priced at $53,790 (plus on-road costs), is the top-spec BT-50. It sits above XTR, XT and XT cab chassis.
Our vehicle had a few Mazda genuine accessories, including bullbar, snorkel and black sports bar, but otherwise it was showroom standard.
Our vehicle had a few Mazda genuine accessories, but was otherwise showroom standard.
Features include steering-wheel-mounted controls, dual-zone aircon, and reversing camera. Among the more notable GT features were leather seats, nice leather and chrome touches all over the place, that aforementioned media unit (with sat nav, Bluetooth, plus six speakers), and more.
The BT-50 is a great looking ute, one of the best of the modern mob. With simple, clean lines on the outside and a neat, tidy interior which maximises space, it manages to mix a tough truck presence with understated style – but it doesn’t try too hard or look too pretentious about it.
All controls are easy to use, even those on the new media unit – and its bigger screen is a welcome addition.
The cabin is spacious; there is ample head- and leg-room in the front and back row. The front seats are very supportive and well-cushioned, making long stints on the road or a bush track easy to bear. The cabin offers similar levels of comfort to the Ranger; rear-seat passengers get more of the usual straight-back sitting position.
Cabin storage includes glove box (lockable and illuminated), cupholders, door bottle holders (front and rear), door pockets (front), overhead sunglass storage box and more.
There are three auxiliary 12V power outlets and a USB port at the front; there is no USB for rear-seat passengers, which was a mild annoyance when the in-car GoPro was plugged into the upfront USB port.
The tray is 1549mm long, 1560mm wide (1139mm between wheel arches), 513mm deep and has six tie-down points. Load height is 841mm.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?
The BT-50 has a 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo-diesel engine – 147kW at 3000rpm and 470Nm at 1750-2500rpm – mated to a six-speed auto, and, we’ve said it before, that’s a bloody good combination that’s worked so well for this ute. There is a six-speed manual option.
From Marree to Birdsville is more than 500km along the Birdsville Track, a track which can range in quality from “yeah, good” to “pretty bloody ordinary”, depending on the time of year you visit and how recently the track has been graded. The track is stony and rough with a variety of corrugations, ruts and surprise patches of potholes to keep drivers on their toes.
Ride, handling and driver feel are right up there with the best of the new generation of dual-cabs.
There are kangaroos, emus and flies to dodge – the challenge of driving the track is part of its appeal – but there’s also an abundance of stunning scenery to gawk in wonder at, as well as a welcome stop at Mungerannie Pub to savour.
Ride, handling and driver feel are right up there with the best of the new generation of dual-cabs, if not better than them. The BT-50 really is so car-like, even in the sometimes very tricky conditions on this track, you could be forgiven for letting it slip your mind that you’re actually steering a 5365mm long, 1850mm wide, 1821mm high, 2095kg ute.
The track was in pretty good nick when we tackled it.
For most of the trip we were unladen, except for a few small bags in the rear seat, and some cameramen and their gear at different times, and yet the GT – coil springs at the front, leaf springs at the rear – always felt strong and settled on any surface; no rear-end skipping, no dirty dancing.
We were on Dunlop AT22 Grandtreks on 17-inch alloys, running 28 psi along the Birdsville Track, and that seemed almost perfect for the conditions at the time as the track was in pretty good nick when we tackled it.
You can’t visit Birdsville without giving Big Red a nudge. A few of the tracks up and down the crimson behemoth have been chewed up and left very corrugated by drivers running too-high tyre pressures and banging on too much speed. (A sound principle for dune driving – or driving on any sand for that matter – is steady, constant throttle to maintain even momentum; there’s no need for Fast and the Furious speed, or a pedal-to-the-metal attitude.)
We did get carried away...
We dropped our tyre pressures to between 15 and 18 psi when we had a play on Big Red late one afternoon and early the next day. In 4L, we were able to rumble up and down the monstrous dune, but, forgive us, we did get carried away by the cameras and the crowd on a few runs and decided to go a little harder than necessary.
Fuel consumption is a claimed 10L/100km; the dash was showing 14.4L/100km during up and downs on Big Red; Mazda said, after the trip, “about 14L/100km”; and we reckon a figure tickling the vicinity of 16L/100km or more is more realistic.
There were one or two tank top-ups along the way to take into account extra side trips for photo and video purposes. It has a 80-litre fuel tank.
The GT dual-cab’s suite of standard safety gear includes six airbags, reversing camera, ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution, Dynamic Stability Control, Emergency Brake Assist, Emergency Stop Signal, high mount stop lamp, Hill Descent Control, Hill Launch Assist, Intrusion-minimising brake pedal, Load Adaptive Control, Locking Rear Differential, Roll Stability Control, Traction Control System, and Trailer Sway Control.
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?
3 years / 100,000 km warranty
Mazda offers a two-year unlimited-kilometre warranty on the BT-50, or up to three years limited to 100,000km if the owner does not reach 100,000km in the first two years. Service intervals are set at six months/10,000km with prices set at $395 or $532 for each service up to 160,000km.
The BT-50 is a smooth-driving, versatile workhorse with great off-road ability and it offers real passenger-car levels of comfort. Faced with a wide variety of terrain, including a few brief but punishing sections of potholes, it was never troubled during this trip.
We saw more than a few BT-50s in Birdsville for the races, so it’s obvious this ute is making inroads into a bush market traditionally dominated by the HiLux.