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Mazda BT-50 XTR dual cab 4x4 auto 2016 review


Daily driver score

4/5

Mark Oastler road tests and reviews the 2016 Mazda BT-50 XTR dual-cab ute with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.

Rival manufacturers commit to joint creation of new models to share development costs and(hopefully) sales volumes. However, that clearly has not been the case for the now fractured partnership between Ford and Mazda which produced the current Ranger and BT-50 twins. 

Although distinctly different in styling and interior they share the same underpinnings, yet in the lucrative 4x4 segment they’ve carved divergent paths since their launch in 2011. The Ranger has been a huge hit and is threatening to unseat Toyota’s Hilux from its well-worn throne. The BT-50, though, has struggled and continues to attract only one third of the Ranger’s sales.

Putting its polarising looks aside, such a large sales disparity doesn’t make sense given that the BT-50 is available at a much lower price than the Ranger, yet offers most of the Ford’s award-winning  design and performance plus a superior and class-leading payload rating.

Price and Features

Our automatic BT-50 in XTR grade sits between the base XT and premium GT. Sharp pricing of $51,700 represents a big saving of almost $4,700 over its XLT Ranger twin ($56,390) and $4,200 less than Toyota’s Hilux SR5 ($55,900).

The Mazda’s lighter kerb weight of 2105kg results in a class-leading payload of 1095kg, which is almost 100kg more than the Ranger XLT.

The base XT model provides a well-equipped starting point for the step-up to XTR which adds 17-inch alloys, polished side-steps, halogen front fog lamps, auto headlights, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone climate control, 7.8-inch high definition screen and sat nav, reversing camera with rear view mirror display and tailgate lock. Plus there’s some extra bling like a nice leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, chrome door handles, power mirrors and rear step bumper.

Design

BT-50 shares the Ranger’s tough drivetrain and ladder-frame chassis architecture including the 3220mm wheelbase, twin wishbone front and leaf-sprung live axle rear suspension, 17 x 8.0-inch alloy wheels (own design) and 265/65 R17 tyres.

However, the BT-50 did not share in the extensive mid-life upgrades to styling, steering, infotainment, driver-aids etc enjoyed by the PX II Ranger in 2015. Instead, the Mazda received relatively minor changes headlined by a mild front and rear restyle and a new centre console infotainment display.

Even so, the original packaging for the Ranger/BT-50 pair was such a quantum leap forward in performance, comfort and safety that the BT-50 is still an excellent vehicle that’s still at the forefront of dual cab ute design and still very fit-for-purpose.

Engine and Transmission

One of its greatest strengths is the Ford-sourced ‘Puma’ engine shared with the Ranger. The intercooled in-line five cylinder common rail turbo-diesel features state-of-the-art 20-valve DOHC technology with a hearty 3.2 litre cubic capacity unmatched in class. Its 147kW of power (at 3000rpm) is equalled only by Holden’s 2.8 litre Colorado and its 470Nm of torque (at 1750-2500rpm) is only 30Nm shy of the Colorado’s class-leading 500Nm.

This proven hard worker is matched with a smooth-shifting and intelligent six-speed automatic also shared with Ranger. It features a well-matched close set of ratios tailored to the unique torque characteristics of the engine, plus over-drive on fifth and sixth gears with lots of torque converter lock-up to ensure effortless and economical highway cruising.

Its Active Adaptive Shift (AAS) is designed to optimise gear selection for different driving styles and automatically downshift to generate additional engine braking when the middle pedal is applied. Its Sequential Shift Control (SSC) offers Normal mode, Performance mode (for better acceleration) and Manual mode (sequential manual shifting) which is handy when the AAS needs to be over-ridden, particularly on long climbs and descents. The part-time dual range 4x4 transmission features on-the-fly shifting from 2WD to 4WD mode plus a locking rear differential.

Practicality

The Ranger and BT-50 share the same class-leading 3200kg GVM but the Mazda’s lighter kerb weight of 2105kg results in a class-leading payload of 1095kg, which is almost 100kg more than the Ranger XLT auto and 175kg ahead of the Hilux SR5 auto.

The BT-50 is also rated to tow up to the category benchmark of 3500kg braked, which is matched by the Ranger and is a substantial 300kg higher than the auto Hilux. However, to legally tow such a big load, the BT-50’s GVM has to be reduced by a whopping 700kg (even more in Ranger) to avoid exceeding its 6000kg GCM.

In other words, towing 3500kg leaves a payload capacity of only 395kg, which is not practical if you need to carry a full crew, luggage and equipment. Best solution is to base your towing limit on the BT-50’s GVM. That way your maximum trailer weight drops from 3500kg to 2800kg, but you get to keep all of the BT-50’s impressive 1095kg payload without exceeding the 6000kg GCM. Much better.

The floor of the cargo box, which towers 840mm above the ground, is 1549mm long and 1560mm wide. The 1139mm between its wheel arches won’t take a standard 1160mm pallet, but will fit some mountain and motor bikes diagonally with the tailgate closed.

The spacious car-like interior provides good comfort for all occupants and lots of storage options, with deep pockets and bottle holders in each door plus pairs of cup-holders in the centre console and back seat fold-down centre armrest. There’s also overhead sunglass storage for the driver.

Fuel consumption

Mazda claims an official combined figure of 9.2L/100km. Scrolling through the trip meter at the end of our test revealed an average of 11.8L/100km which differed again from our own figure taken from a real fuel bowser reading of 12.9L/100km. This was achieved as always in real-world conditions with a variety of loads and roads which varied from city and suburban streets to dirt roads, open highways and freeways.

Driving

With 650kg in the cargo box plus another 150kg for the crew, our 800kg payload was still 295kg under its maximum rating. The rear leaf springs compressed only 60mm and the nose rose just 8mm.

The Mazda displayed a low stress load-hauling ability at highway speeds with the big 3.2 litre turbo-diesel ticking over in its peak torque range, with just 1750rpm at 100km/h and 2000rpm at 110km/h on cruise control.  The heavy-duty suspension feels tailor-made for big loads, combined with low tyre and wind noise that makes for comfortable cruising. On dirt roads it displayed impressive composure in its handling and ride quality, particularly over big bumps and wash-outs.

Although the Ranger PX II has moved to new electric power-assisted steering, Mazda has retained the original hydraulic system. Although it’s more linear than the Ford, with less variation in steering effort between low and high speeds, it still offers excellent feel that is direct and responsive without being too heavy.

The BT-50’s 3.2 litre diesel flattened the hills with 800kg on board, powering up long steep gradients in fourth gear with a ‘you call that a hill?’ attitude about it. The benefit of its large cubic capacity also showed in engine braking on several steep descents when it easily stuck to the 60km/h speed limits in second gear, with 0.8 tonne in the boot and without touching the brakes.

These results were consistent with another BT-50 XTR 4x4 we recently trialled, averaging 11.6L/100km (bowser figure) at a constant 110km/h on the freeway with around 800kg of empty car trailer in tow. That total trailer weight increased to 2000kg when loaded with a 1200kg car, which it towed with consummate ease at freeway speeds, and averaging just over 15L/100km. This figure was also calculated at the bowser, and is mighty impressive given the load, aerodynamic drag and cruising speed involved.

Safety

Maximum ANCAP five-star rating with front/side airbags for driver and front passenger plus side curtain airbags front and rear. There’s also a comprehensive Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) menu including trailer sway control, plus two (non-ISOFIX) child restraint anchor points on the rear seat and reversing camera (XTR & GT only).

Ownership

Two year / 100,000km warranty. If 100,000km is not reached within two years, warranty cover extends to three years or 100,000km whichever comes first. Roadside Assistance is available at extra cost. Scheduled servicing every 10,000km with alternating capped prices of $395 and $532 for each service up to 160,000km.

With Ranger outselling BT-50 by three to one, clearly a lot of dual cab ute buyers are overlooking a stand-out bargain here.

Fact is, the BT-50 offers just about everything its Ford twin does but with a superior and class-leading GVM and a much lower price. If the overt frontal styling is the stumbling block, just remember that the thousands of dollars you’ll save on purchase price will more than cover the cost of a good-looking factory or aftermarket bull bar/driving light package and still leave you with a chunk of change.

We see lots of BT-50s dressed like this, which suggests their smiling owners have reached the same conclusion.

Could the BT-50 put a smile on your face? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Click here to see more 2016 Mazda BT-50 XTR Dual Cab 4x4 pricing and spec info.

$25,950 - $45,988

Based on 29 car listings in the last 6 months

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

Daily driver score

4/5
Price Guide

$25,950 - $45,988

Based on 29 car listings in the last 6 months