January 21, 2011
Mazda shunned the notion that a ute had to look like a car to appeal to recreational users who were buying one-tonne utes like the BT-50 in increasing numbers for their weekend getaways.
The company believed a ute should still look tough and purposeful, and held true to that belief when designing the replacement for the old B-Series.
Beneath the tough exterior, however, Mazda worked hard to ensure the BT-50 had a measure of the 'Zoom-Zoom' that proved so successful in reviving the image of its passenger cars.
The BT-50 was an all-new model with barely anything carried over from the outgoing B Series. The model range consisted of 4x2 and 4x4 models, with three body styles - single cab-chassis, Freestyle extended cab and dual-cab utility - and three levels of equipment, the base model DX, the DX+ and the range-topping SDX.
It had a strong, purposeful look that gave it a solid, substantial image, the result of raising the belt line 30 mm and the sides of the cargo bed by 60 mm. The cabin was generally a pleasant place to be, the only criticism was that it lacked elbowroom compared to most of its rivals, all of which had grown larger with the changeover to the new generations models, of which the BT-50 was one.
Mazda offered two diesel engines depending on the model. The entry- level two-wheel drive single cab-chassis had a 2.5-litre common rail double overhead camshaft four-cylinder turbo diesel engine that produced 105 kW at 3500 revs and 330 Nm at 1800 revs.
All other models were powered by a 3.0-litre common rail double overhead camshaft four-cylinder intercooled turbo diesel. When on song the 3.0-litre developed 115 kW at 3200 revs and 380 Nm at 1800 revs, up by 33 kW and 109 Nm from the engine in the outgoing model.
Most models had a new five-speed manual gearbox, but there was also the option of a five-speed auto in the range topping SDX Dual Cab. The BT-50 was built in both two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive forms, the latter utilising a dual range transfer case and limited-slip rear diff.
On manual models the transfer case shift was manual, and they had remote free-wheel hub lock mechanisms, while those with auto transmissions had an electric shift allowing "on the fly" shifting between two and four-wheel drive. Underneath, the BT-50 sat on a beefed-up ladder frame chassis.
Larger front and rear shocks, and longer rear leaf springs improved the ride without affecting the BT-50's capacity for work. Mazda chose to stick with nut-and-ball steering instead of following the trend to rack-and-pinion; the result was a rather large 12-metre turning circle.
Brakes were a mix of disc front and drum rear, but with improved pedal feel and braking efficiency. ABS antilock brakes and Electronic Brake Force Distribution were available on all but the entry 4x2 single cab-chassis model.
The BT-50 would carry a payload of up 1430 kg, 59 kg more than the old B Series, and would tow up to 2500 kg (braked), up from the 1800 kg of the B Series.
IN THE SHOP
The BT-50 causes few concerns for owners, the only complaints that have come to Cars Guide relate to the fuel consumption and clutch life.
Generally used to tow caravans or heavy trailers, and often using four-wheel drive, both are issues that all one-tonners can suffer from. The fuel consumption tends to be higher than new, first time owners expect. Many first time owners also ask a lot of their one-tonners by expecting them to tow heavy loads.
If planning to use a BT-50 as a tow vehicle hauling a caravan or the like consult a towing specialist for advice on set-up, particularly if the vehicle is equipped with auto transmission. Also consider having the auto serviced before leaving on a long trip with a load on the back.
Make the usual checks for regular servicing; oil changes are critical for a long engine life. Look for evidence of a hard life, towing, off-road or on a worksite.
IN A CRASH
Dual front airbags and seat belt pretensioners were standard across the range. ANCAP gave the BT-50 three stars when it was tested.
UNDER THE PUMP
Mazda claimed the 2.5-litre models would sip fuel at the rate of 8.3 L/100 km, they also claimed the 3.0-litre models would average 9.2-10.4 L/100 km. When tested by Cars Guide the 3.0-litre manual dual-cab ute returned an impressive 8.8 L/100 km average in a mix of city and country driving.
Some owners have complained about the fuel consumption of the BT-50, but Mike Bradshaw told Cars Guide that he got an average of 10.0 L/ 100 km from his 2009 model on a four-month long trip through the WA and the Northern Territory. Mike said that it was loaded to 2.6- tonne, using four-wheel drive, and with the air-conditioning on.
Frank Murray has done 21,000 km in his 2008 3.0-litre BT-50 and they have been trouble free, but he is concerned about the clutch life of the BT-50 after hearing stories of others having clutch issues. One owner, he said, was on his third clutch in 50,000 km, and another had to replace one at 40,000 km.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Performs well, is comfortable, quiet and economical, but a little narrow in the cab. 82/100