Ford Ranger VS Mazda BT-50
- Great steering
- Nice cabin
- Limited availability
- Soft suspension a bit bouncy with weight
- A bit of turbo lag
- Sharp drive-away pricing
- Robust, eager drivetrain
- Family friendly on-road comfort and space
- ‘Metallic-shearing’ sound from diesel at low speed
- Non-reach-adjustable steering wheel
- Drab charcoal-coloured dash
The Ford Ranger Wildtrak has been a runaway success for the brand. Plenty of people have bought them, modified them, taken them off-road and put them to task in the PX generation of Ranger.
Now, to see out the 2019 model range, Ford has added a new version above the standard Wildtrak. It’s the Ford Ranger Wildtrak X, and the ‘X’ stands for ‘extra’, because you get a bit more gear for a touch more money.
We’ll get to all the detail soon, and for this test we didn’t head off the beaten track - our aim here was to see how the Wildtrak X copes in daily driving, as well as how it handles hard work.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
Mazda Australia might be reluctant to admit it, but it has always been a bit touchy about the BT-50’s looks. So much so, it went to no end of trouble trying to hide the ute's bulbous conk with a bull bar when it first broke cover back in 2011.
But does a ute need to be handsome? Isn’t getting hung up about the styling of a ute like looking for elegance in a shovel? Apparently not, because the launch of the new 2018 Mazda BT-50 marks the third edit of that curvy front clip, and we're still taking about it. Only this time, it's all good news.
But, if you’re in the market for a gutsy, family friendly ute, the bigger story here is the pricing. Mazda’s BT-50, right across the range, is starting to look like one heck of a bargain.
However, before becoming blinded by the beauty of the new nose or the savings you might find on your local dealer's forecourt, let’s not forget that it was Mazda who put in the hard design and engineering yards into the strong and capable bones – the chassis, 4x4 drivetrain, and suspension dynamics – that sit under both this and the Ford Ranger.
And truth be told, this correspondent has always had a soft spot for the big, hard-grafting Maz’. We’ve hammered the BT-50 off-road and on it, spent countless hours chasing outback horizons behind that gutsy 3.2-litre turbo-diesel, strapped kids into booster seats in the back, tip-toed around shopping centre car-parks, dragged it in and out of rutted ravines and through deep river crossings (mostly with a pooch licking the left ear, or slobbering at a window), and never had reason to doubt that this is a very well-engineered, very strong and very capable multi-purpose holiday/work-truck/family/pooch conveyance.
And now, with this styling update, and while enjoying a hefty price advantage over the equivalent Ranger, the new BT-50 comes with a whole lot of enhancements inside and out; Apple CarPlay and Android Auto across all model grades, reverse camera across all models, and service intervals that have now been stretched from 10,000km or 12 months to 15,000km or 12 months.
To introduce us to the charms of this latest BT-50, Mazda Australia took us to the Gawler Ranges in South Australia where we put it through its paces on sand, rock-strewn gravel and bitumen.
But more of its driving character later; let’s talk about the styling – and its new-found elegance.
|Engine Type||3.2L turbo|
The Ford Ranger Wildtrak X is up to the task when it comes to hard work, but it’s more comfortable showing off at the worksite than actually getting the job done. We all know someone like that.
And that’s no bad thing - if you’re after a competent and impressively specified (if a little expensive) dual-cab ute, you could do a lot worse than the Wildtrak X.
Thanks again to our mates at Crown Forklifts in Sydney for helping out with this load test.
Our score is based on a summation of the quality of the car, the robustness of the engineering, where it sits feature-for-feature, and the value in the drive-away pricing. You probably have your own views on the new nose on the updated BT-50; we quite like it.
At these new prices, the BT-50 demands your attention. The fact that you can comfortably take it to the Cape and back, tackle any four-wheel-drive adventure you’d sensibly dream up, and, at the same time, live happily with it as a big, capable, versatile family car, surely adds to the appeal.
Mazda, the little company “that can”, has been carving out its place in this market off the back of well-engineered cars right across its product range. There is more than one reason why it’s number two in one of the toughest markets on the planet.
What do you think of the 2018 BT-50? Like the new front end? Tell us in the comments below.
You might be considering the Wildtrak X purely on aesthetic appeal - and that’s understanding. It has a few new design highlights compared with the non-X model, and most of them add function as well.
It scores an array of blacked out components, such as new 18-inch wheels (still wrapped in the same Bridgestone Dueler H/T rubber), wheel-arch flares (allowing for a more aggressive wheel/tyre setup), plus there’s a black nudge bar with LED light bar, and there’s a genuine Ford snorkel, too.
Combined, it makes the Wildtrak X look like a lot of those non-X models you’ve seen, where owners have spent thousands on extras. The rest of the destine is unchanged for the 19.75 model year variant we had, but there are subtle updates coming for the 2020 model range.
The answer here is 'yes'. What is interesting about the new BT-50, and its new nose, is that this car is unique to Australia.
In fact, it was Mazda Australia who designed the new-look front clip. The project began as something of a skunk-works operation between Mazda Australia and Queensland company EGR, who manufacture and supply the factory-approved canopies across the BT-50 range.
With Australia the BT-50's biggest market, it is perhaps no surprise that the design work done here – done, it has to be said, because Aussie buyers were not crazy about the BT-50’s schnoz – won the approval of Mazda in Japan.
While unique to Australia, the new front has all of the attributes – in terms of engineering, pedestrian protection, and aerodynamic efficiencies – of the nose it replaces. Airflow for cooling, in fact, is slightly improved, and drag, the coefficient of resistance, remains unchanged.
And from front-on, thanks to the new chromed grill and stronger horizontal lower lip, the BT-50 could easily be mistaken for an approaching SUV. Visually, there is certainly more conventional appeal in the new look.
Like every dual-cab Ranger, the Wildtrak X is a good size inside. There’s enough space to fit three adults across the back and therefore five adults in the cabin. No rear air vents, though, which can result in a stuffy back seat on hot days.
You get cup holders up front and in the rear, and bottle holders in all four doors. You can raise the seat base for extra storage space, if there’s not enough room in the tub.
Up front there’s a good amount of space and storage, and the media system is simple to use. And while we haven’t raised this in the past, the number of warning gongs and danger dings might annoy you. Like, I know the door is open, I just opened it. Sheesh!
Now, the tub.
It’s 1549mm long, 1560mm wide and 1139mm between the wheel-arches, which means it’s too narrow for an Aussie pallet to fit (1165mm minimum). The depth of the tub is 511mm, but not in the the Wildtrak models, because the roller cover housing at the far end of the tub just about halves that, eating into usable space.
It’s great that you get the hard top roller cover, and that there’s a tub liner, too: however, the four tie-down hooks in the corners of the tub makes it difficult to strap down a load.
We only drove the dual-cab GT at launch. And, while the Freestyle cab with its rearward-hinged portal doors and compact cabin is perhaps the more sporting, the dual-cab wins hands-down for practicality.
There is lots of room in the rear even for adult passengers. And, for children, enough width to go three-abreast. Getting booster seats or capsules in and out is also well served by the square-opening rear doors. And the height is just right for wrangling belts and buckles around junior passengers.
The deep tub out back, while not as cavernous as the Freestyle's, still offers a very useful 1560mm width and 1549mm length. Not even the largest SUVs offer that kind of carrying capacity.
Externally, you’ll pick the dual-cab GT by the standard chromed bars and heavy-duty tub liner in the tray.
Price and features
The Ford Ranger Wildtrak X starts at $65,290 plus on-road costs for the 3.2-litre turbo-diesel five-cylinder model we drove, while the more powerful and more refined 2.0-litre Bi-turbo four-cylinder engine is $1500 more ($66,790).
That makes it a $2000 jump over the standard Wildtrak, but according to Ford, you’re getting $6000 worth of extra value.
The Wildtrak X’s additional styling gear builds upon the already impressive list of included equipment on the regular Wildtrak.
Included on this grade are 18-inch alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights, HID headlights, an LED light bar as well as all the Wildtrak X body additions (see the Design section for more detail), an integrated tow bar and wiring harness, a tub liner, 12-volt outlet in the tub, roller hard top and the model-specific interior with part-leather trim and a dark headlining.
There’s also an 8.0-inch touchscreen media system with sat nav, DAB digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player. There are two USB ports, a 12-volt charger in the back seat and a 230-volt powerpoint, too.
The front seats are heated and the driver’s seat has electric adjustment, there are digital displays in front of the driver showing navigation and driving data (including a digital speedometer, which many utes still miss out on).
Mazda has always been prepared to take the sharp pencil to the pricing of the BT-50 range. And in terms of the quality feel of the product and the space it occupies in the segment, this car is very good buying.
Look at the one we’re driving, the top-of-the-range BT-50 3.2-litre dual-cab GT 4X4 with a six-speed auto. Its drive-away price is just $51,990. Line it up, feature by feature, with the equivalent Ranger, and you’ll recognise a saving here of the better part of $10k. It is cheaper, even, than the second-tier Ranger XLS. That kind of saving is not to be sneezed at.
Line it up against the equivalent Isuzu D-Max, and, on that drive-away price, you’ll see a saving of thousands of dollars. It is also cheaper than Mitsubishi’s Triton Exceed, which has long been one of the price leaders in the segment.
The BT-50 range begins at $28,990 drive-away for the 2.2-litre 4x2 cab chassis; the 4x4 range starting at $37,990 drive-away.
Some in this segment just can’t hide their ‘workboots’ feel. But there are no ratty plastics in this cabin, and few indicators of the BT-50’s built-for-work origins. The sloping soft-touch dash gives an SUV-like feel to the interior, as does the large (7.0-inch or 8.0-inch) screen occupying the centre stack, as well as the solid feel to the doors and passenger-car ambience when on the road.
Start adding in features across the range - like standard reverse camera, power windows and mirrors, air-conditioning, cruise control, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, quality Alpine sound systems, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, rear-view mirror auto dimming, and sat-nav with live traffic updates and off-road maps – and you’ll possibly agree that there is more than a bit of substance packed behind those drive-away prices.
For XTR and GT models, to the list above you can add side steps (tubular, polished), tailgate lock, rain-sensing wipers, and dual-zone climate control. The GT also gets leather trim, an eight-way power front driver’s seat, chrome rear bars and heavy-duty tub-liner.
Engine & trans
Under the bonnet of the Wildtrak X we drove is a 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo-diesel engine producing 147kW of power (at 3000rpm) and 470Nm of torque (from 1750-2000rpm). It has a six-speed automatic transmission in this spec, and there is no manual option for the Wildtrak X. It has selectable four-wheel drive with a low-range transfer case (2H, 4H and 4L gearing), and an electronic locking rear diff.
The other engine option for the Wildtrak X is the 2.0-litre Bi-turbo four-cylinder engine producing 157kW of power (at 3750rpm) and 500Nm of torque (1750-2000rpm). That’s class-leading levels of grunt from a four-cylinder engine. It runs a 10-speed automatic transmission and four-wheel drive.
The Ranger Wildtrak X has a towing capacity of 750kg for an un-braked trailer, and 3500kg for a braked trailer.
The kerb weight of the Ranger Wildtrak X 3.2L is 2287kg. It has a gross vehicle mass (GVM) of 3200kg, and a gross combination mass (GCM) of 6000kg.
Lift the bonnet and what you are looking at there is grandpa’s axe. The redoubtable five-cylinder, 3.2-litre turbo-diesel, which shares duties under the bonnet of the BT-50 and Ford Ranger (with a 2.2-litre turbo-diesel also available in lower-specced models across both brands), has been around since Adam was a pup. It produces 147kW at 3000rpm and 470Nm at 1750rpm.
It’s essentially the same engine that began life as the Td5 diesel under the bonnets of the Land Rover Defender and Discovery 20-or-so-years back. But it's now vastly more refined, robust, and quiet. And teamed with either a six-speed manual or six-speed auto, it’s as strong as a train.
Fuel consumption for the Ranger Wildtrak X 3.2L model is claimed at 8.9 litres per 100 kilometres, and it has an 80-litre fuel tank capacity. There is no long range fuel tank.
Our test drive saw a real-world return of 11.1L/100km across a mix of driving including urban, highway and back-road, as well as laden and unladen.
This 3.2-litre diesel is not the most abstemious among the new generation of turbo-diesel, twin-cab 4x4s, and is bettered by the latest 3.0-litre Isuzu D-Max (8.1L/100km claimed) and the 2.8-litre Toyota HiLux (8.5L/100km claimed).
In our hands, on this trip, we recorded 11.2L/100km on the highway and gravel roads approaching the Gawler Ranges (mostly fair secondary roads with patches of damp red bulldust to watch out for). This rose to 13.2L/100km after some heavy going on a long stretch of sandy inclines.
Mazda claims 10L/100km on the combined cycle for the auto, and 9.7L/100km for the manual. But this is a tarmac-based figure, not the kind of driving we were doing, or that you would do on a family beach or bush adventure.
That said, given the willing output of the diesel – if needing a surge of power, it can summon all 470Nm in very quick time – and the weight of the rig (2161kg for the GT auto), plus its effortless towing capability, the figures we recorded on new engines are not bad, and will give a good indication of what you might achieve in similar driving.
In sand, that muscular torque sitting across a wide band – from 1750 to 2500rpm – is particularly useful. If you’re carrying some weight behind, it won’t run out of shove and leave you stranded when the going gets heavy.
The BT-50 has an 80-litre fuel tank.
We like the Ford Ranger as a daily driver. It’s easy to see why so many people buy Ford Ranger dual-cab four-wheel drives, even if they don’t need the payload, or the towing capacity. It’s the utility that appeals with this utility.
Without weight in the back it rides smoothly enough, and around town you won’t complain about back pain or sore kidneys when you crunch over speed humps. It’s composed and refined, so much so that it’s a better ute to drive without a load than with weight in the back, and there aren’t many that can claim that accolade.
The steering makes it easy to park, and it’s nice to steer in all sorts of situations. If you happen to be on the tools all day, you’ll be happy not to have to wrestle the wheel on your way home.
Acceleration is good, if not blindingly quite, and the transmission does what it should.
That said, it won’t take you long to get used to the more utilitarian feel of the BT-50, nor to the length of the beast (these utes can sometimes feel like aircraft carriers in city carparks). Helping here is the reversing camera (standard across the entire range), the well-weighted power-assisted steering, and the general comfort of the cabin and relatively quiet operation (some diesel noise at lower speeds notwithstanding) of the engine.
Fact is, live with it a while, and you’ll forget about the compromises of its workhorse engineering and learn to love the imperiously high driving position, the ready power, and the convenience of that big tub on the back.
Access in and out is also good, and at a perfect height for strapping the junior members of the tribe into the back seat. And with the icing being a long feature list and a half-decent sound system, it offers the conveniences of any modern sedan or hatchback. You’ll be surprised by its easy driveability, too.
For all its strengths, however, the weight inherent to a strong ladder chassis, a heavy-duty 4x4 drivetrain, and the other compromises built of necessity into a dual-purpose vehicle, will take a week or so to get used to.
Wheels are 17-inch alloys on 265/65 R17 AT tyres. Brakes are 302mm ventilated discs at the front and drums at the rear. The BT-50's tray is also handy for both real work and house-and-yard duties, measuring 1549mm long, 1560mm wide and 513mm deep.
Where once these twin-cab dual-purpose 4x4s were a tad raw, with juddery suspension, vague steering, indifferent handling and little in the way of creature comforts, many of the new wave of models, such as this BT-50, have comfort levels close to those of the big 4x4 wagons - and even some SUVs.
I’d happily circumnavigate the continent in the BT-50. The seats are good, it’s quiet on-road (with less tyre noise than some passenger wagons), the feel through the steering is good and well-weighted (if a little vague at the dead-ahead), and there is effortless power underfoot.
Like any other modern car, it swallows highway kilometres with just the gruff muted growl of the turbo-diesel for accompaniment. On gravel – such as you’ll find on any long run through the outback – it can be driven surprisingly quickly and comfortably thanks to the long wheelbase, large wheels (with All-Terrain tyres), and that reasonably compliant suspension; independent double wishbone, coil-over dampers at the front, and live-axle leaf-spring at the rear.
The ride in the BT-50, like the Ranger and VW Amarok, is certainly among the better performers in the segment. Corrugations can have the rear moving around a bit, especially when unladen, but it needs one hell of a whack for bumps, ruts or hollows (like an unexpected washout) to unsettle things in the cabin.
For difficult off-road work, this Mazda's figures – 237mm ground clearance (unladen), and approach, departure and ramp-over angles of 28.2, 26.4 and 25 degrees – all check out.
If trailer towing is your thing, the BT-50 has a maximum towing capacity of 3500kg (braked), 750kg (unbraked) and a towball download of 350kg.
The Ford Ranger Wildtrak - as with the rest of the Ranger line-up - is in the mix for the best in the business for ute safety specs.
Standard gear on all Ranger models is auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection as well as lane keeping assist, driver attention alert, traffic sign recognition and automated high-beam lights. The AEB system works at city and highway speeds, and adaptive cruise control is included, too. There is no blind-spot monitoring or rear cross-traffic alert, however.
The Ranger retains its five-star ANCAP crash test rating from 2015, when the standards were considerably more lax. It does, however, have six airbags (dual front, front side and full-length curtain), a reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors and a semi-autonomous parking system.
It comes with dual ISOFIX child seat anchor points and two top-tether restraints for baby seats.
The BT-50, of course, has a five-star ANCAP safety rating, with all of the expected safety features that sit behind that rating. Importantly, for family duties, the airbag protection extends from the front to the rear cab, with driver and passenger airbags, both front and side, and curtain airbags front and rear.
Other features include anti-lock braking (ABS), dynamic stability control (DSC), and emergency stop signal. Assisting off-road is hill descent control (4x4 only), hill launch assist, a locking rear differential (4x4 only), traction control and trailer sway control – the latter a Godsend when towing at highway speeds or when on loose surfaces (there are few things caravaners fear more than finding the caravan dictating terms at speed).
Ford backs all of its models with a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty plan, which is on par with the rest of the mainstream ute market but behind the likes of the Triton (promotional seven-year warranty), SsangYong Musso (permanent seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty), and Isuzu D-Max (six-year/150,000km).
Capped price servicing intervals are set every 12 months/15,000km. The duration of the service plan is for the life of the vehicle, too, which is good for peace of mind if you plan to hang on to your car for a long time.
Ford is currently running a promotion whereby the first four years/60,000km of maintenance is capped at $299 per visit. That’s competitive, but costs rise as you get beyond the promo period.
Concerned about Ford Ranger problems? Check out our Ford Ranger problems page for issues, complaints, recalls or anything else regarding reliability. We had an issue of our own, with the car convinced it was towing a trailer the whole time we had it, which disabled the self-parking system and the rear parking sensors, too.
Mazda’s standard two-year warranty has been sweetened, with servicing intervals now extended from 10,000km/12 months to 15,000km/12 months.
On Mazda’s calculations (as supplied), based on a 15,000km/12 month interval, this will save owners more than $850 after five years of servicing. And, for owners clocking up real-world distances of 25,000km per annum, the potential saving is $1920 over the five years.