Volkswagen Amarok VS Mazda BT-50
- Great V6-manual combo
- Superb ride and handling
- Genuine off-road chops
- Short on key safety gear
- Old multimedia set-up
- Expensive to service
- Great safety on all models
- Decent fuel economy and grunt
- A big step forward from the old BT-50
- Cup holders are an issue
- Top spec missing some gear
- Feels a bit 'badge-engineered'
They say good things come to those who wait, and perhaps this is the best demonstration of that truism… in the automotive world, that is.
Aussies have asked for it for years, and Volkswagen has finally delivered. Yep, the Amarok is available with a V6 engine and a manual gearbox!
Now, we all know the Amarok has made waves since it became available with a bent six, but that didn’t stop some people from asking, ‘What if it came with a clutch pedal?’
Years later, they don’t need to wonder anymore. Let’s get shifting.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
This is the biggest change in the history of Mazda utes. Not just because this is the all-new Mazda BT-50, which takes massive leaps forward in terms of safety and technology over its predecessor.
Nope, it's a dramatic departure from the roots of the Mazda ute - this is the first pick-up or light commercial utility vehicle not to be built alongside a Ford equivalent for almost 60 years. Since 1965 there has been an intrinsic link between Ford and Mazda utes, but now all that heritage is done with, as Mazda has instead teamed up with Isuzu for this new generation BT-50 model.
Is that a bad thing? In the scheme of things, the answer is a resounding 'no'. This third-generation BT-50 is an all-new ute; the existing PX series Ranger will soldier on for a while yet, and the now-defunct BT-50 that shared a lot with the current Ranger was always behind it in terms of tech and, well, if we're honest, attention from the brand.
But now, the new BT-50 is here. It's more thoughtful, better equipped, offers class-lead-equalling safety tech alongside its fraternal twin the D-Max, and it also takes a different tact to the rest of the ute market. It has a bit of plush up its sleeve.
Let's get to it - in this review we'll cover off cabin space, presentation, safety tech, pricing and specifications for the BT-50 range, and we'll even drive it on-road and off-road.
|Engine Type||3.2L turbo|
Can you believe Australia is the only market in the world that gets access to the manual Amarok V6? Given how good the automatic version is, it should come as no surprise that the manual adheres to the same high standard.
Yes, the Amarok V6 is getting a little long in the tooth, and that means it falls well short on the safety and multimedia fronts, but it’s still the best drive in the ute segment. Needless to say, those Aussies that cried out for a manual version have been rewarded for their patience.
Is the manual Amarok V6 the best dual-cab pick-up on the market? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
Note: CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer, with travel and meals provided.
The Mazda BT-50 is certainly an impressive ute, one that stands apart from some of its main rivals. It is still something of a badge-engineered exercise, though the brand deserves credit for changing up the exterior look and pushing up the perceived quality of the cabin, too.
Having only driven the GT, it stands up as a solid offering - but on paper, and depending on what you plan to do with the ute, the XTR could well be the pick of the range if you don't want or need the luxuries of the top-spec.
The Amarok might be nudging its 10th year in market, but it’s still a boxy but muscular looker, which is something you can’t say about many dual-cab pick-ups.
Picking the manual out from the Amarok V6 crowd is a little tough, though. Trainspotters will notice its 17-inch 'Posadas' alloy wheels, and let’s not forget its rims are shared with its automatic entry-level counterpart. Either way, that’s it.
Okay, there is more to it than just that. Buyers can add the no-cost 'Enduro' options package, which bundles in a bonnet protector, black side decals and a black sports bar. And why wouldn’t you tick that box? We would, if signwriting wasn't on the agenda.
Despite the drivetrain change, dimensions are the same as any Amarok V6, measuring 5254mm long (with a 3095mm wheelbase), 1954mm wide and 1834mm tall.
Inside, heavy-duty rubber floor coverings and hard-wearing cloth upholstery are giveaways you’re dealing with an entry-level Amarok V6, ready to work hard.
I'd love to hear from you in the comments section about what you think of the new look BT-50. It really is a vast improvement over the predecessor, and certainly looks a bit more masculine than before, too.
But is it good looking? Hmmm. I'm not so sure. It has those trademark Mazda looks we have come to know so well - the broad shapely grille, the squinty LED headlights, and from there back it's pretty much all D-Max (well, to the untrained eye). But it's the front bumper that gets me - it's just a bit… chinny. Of course a bullbar or nudge bar will fix that.
Mazda's designers apparently wanted that sloping look, which they say helps plant the front end to the ground and shows the plantedness of the vehicle - they even showed how they drew inspiration from the stance of a sumo wrestler. I honestly can't see it, but there you go.
I also am not a fan of the fact the XTR and GT models get the same alloy wheels. Why? How hard can it be to specify a different alloy for the top-spec? And don't you want your ute to look different if it's the most expensive one? But in reality, buyers will probably get rid of those rims quick smart anyway!
The exterior styling is one thing, but I do like what Mazda has done inside the cabin to differentiate it from the D-Max. More on that below.
Now, the new BT-50 - being based on the D-Max and not the Ranger - is a bit shorter now than it once was, but it gets a longer wheelbase. And yes, things are about to get data heavy.
First, here's a table of the body dimensions for dual cab models:
Dual cab ute and cab-chassis
The height varies depending on the model, but the stated length and width are identical if you choose cab-chassis or pick-up.
Next up, load space dimensions - and while we don't have figures for the cab-chassis models (your tray size will depend on the tray you fit), here are the figures for the dual cab pick-up models, which are identical in 4x2 and 4x4 guises.
Dual cab ute
Cargo floor length
Width at top rail
Width between wheel arches
The Mazda BT-50 isn't unusual in that it can't fit an Aussie pallet between the wheel arches (they measure 1165mm by 1165mm) but if you really need that capability and want a pick-up bodystyle, the Amarok has you covered. Or you can rip off the tub and custom make a tray. Lots of people do.
Next up we'll look at dual cab payload capacity for the models in the range. And every single version is a genuine one-tonne ute.
Dual cab Pickup
Gross vehicle mass (GVM)
3000kg (4x2) / 3100kg (4x4)
Gross combination mass (GCM)
5850kg (4x2) / 5950kg (4x4)
750kg unbraked / 3500kg braked
Right, now let's take a deep dive into the off-road dimensions and angles you probably want to know about. We're just covering off the 4x4 models in terms of off-road specs below:
Dual cab ute
Ground clearance mm
235mm (XT), 240mm (XTR / GT)
30.0 (XT), 30.4 (XTR / GT)
Break over/ramp over angle
23.3 (XT), 23.8 (XTR / GT)
23.9 (XT), 24.2 (XTR / GT)
We know that's a lot of design DNA and intel to digest. We'll see how it translates to reality in the driving section below.
Indeed, the manual Amarok V6 is a rough and tough ute, so you won’t find much in the way of luxurious finishes. Granted, its steering wheel, gearshift and central armrest are trimmed in leather, but hard plastics abound for most other major touchpoints.
The cabin is well-designed, with plenty of space for loose items (see the cut-out in the middle of the dashboard and the cubby hole in front of the gearshift), and then there’s the more secure glove box and central storage bin, both of which are decently sized.
A pair of cupholders is predictably located between the front seats, while all four door bins are large enough to house drink bottles. There isn’t a flip-down rear armrest with cupholders in the second row, though.
Once a class leader, the multimedia system looks and feels old in 2020. It doesn’t help that it powers a 6.33-inch touchscreen, which is very small these days.
The first row features a 12-volt power outlet, a USB port and an auxiliary input, while the second row misses out on all three.
Don’t expect a lot of legroom in the rear. Behind my 184cm driving position, my knees brush up against the front backrests (which have map pockets). That said, the Amarok V6’s width means there’s more than enough shoulder room, even with three adults abreast.
Three top tether and two ISOFIX anchorage points are on hand for installing child seats, making the Amarok V6 a viable option for parents, although the lack of rear air vents might prompt complaints from the smaller members of he family.
And being a dual cab pick-up, you can expect a large tub. In this instance, it measures 1555mm long, 1620mm wide (including 1222mm between the wheelarches, which is enough width to accommodate a standard Australian pallet) and 508mm tall.
There's a bit to like about the cabin of the GT grade of the BT-50 - and that's even if you're not a fan of brown leather (what's wrong with you?!).
That's because the GT grade gets some of the things we wished were in the D-Max X-Terrain, including heated front seats and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. Both of those are luxurious additions that add a bit to the feel of the BT-50's interior, and the brown leather - standard on GT - just adds to the plush vibes. The silver metallic-look trim that runs from the doors across the dashboard is very Mazda, while the buttons, screens, dials and controls are all common with the D-Max.
The interior trims on the doors and dashboard have been adjusted and the vents have been redesigned to add just a little bit of visual intrigue compared to the D-Max. It's a nice looking cabin, and the big 9.0-inch media screen (in XTR and GT models) is a sight to behold.
This is a class-leading size for a ute media screen, and it incorporates Android Auto (via USB) and both wireless and USB-connect Apple CarPlay. The same phone mirroring tech is also fitted in the entry-level XT, which runs a smaller 7.0-inch screen but still in the 9.0-inch bezel. And yes, it's all touchscreen operated - no MZD Connect rotary dial getting in the way here.
As with the D-Max, our complaint about that screen is that instead of dials and knobs for volume/channel, there are buttons, which can be hard to hit correctly if you're driving. The media system's native menu systems are okay, but do take some learning. It's a big step up from the aftermarket updated unit fitted to later BT-50s of the last generation.
The cabin materials and finishes are mostly very impressive, with soft sections on the dash and doors in the XTR and GT models, and there's good adjustment for the driver to get their correct position as well - rake and reach adjustment for the steering, height adjust for the driver's seat, and lumbar adjustment too. The driver's electric seat adjustment in the GT is eight-way, but there are no memory settings and no passenger seat electric adjustment, either.
Plus one thing worth noting - the seats (both in BT-50 and D-Max) are very comfy.
As mentioned above there's a 4.2-inch digital driver info screen that has a digital speedometer, and you can configure it a few different ways. That screen is also where you access the safety system settings (by way of the buttons on the steering wheel).
There are some clever storage options including a double glovebox, but unlike D-Max there's no dash top storage bin, and while you do get cupholders between the seats, they're more like bottle holders and you will lose a smaller coffee cup down there, and it'll be messy to retrieve it. Sadly, the BT-50 doesn't get the clever pop-out cup holders near the outer air-vents, which means you're going to be caught out on the coffee front unless you order the largest you can get.
Elsewhere there's a decent centre console bin with armrest, and bottle holders in the front doors with pockets alongside.
The rear of the XTR and GT models includes a pair of cup holders in a flip-down armrest, and there are door pockets with bottle caddies in all dual cab models. There is a USB port in the second row of all double cab models as well as rear directional air vents.
The rear seat space is good - not class-leading, but comfortable enough for me to sit behind my own driving position (I'm 182cm / 6'0" tall) with adequate knee room, headroom and toe space.
There is enough room for three adults to fit across, and for children there are two ISOFIX and two top-tether loops that allow you to collect to a centre attachment point. That means you can only fit two child seats in the back legally.
Price and features
Priced from $49,590, before on-road costs, the manual Amarok V6 appears pricey. But when you consider it’s the most affordable way into a V6 dual cab pick-up in this market, it starts to make a lot more sense.
In fact, all of its rivals in the same price range (Toyota HiLux, Ford Ranger, Mitsubishi Triton, et al) make do with four-cylinder engines that fall well short of it in the power and torque stakes, but more on that in the next section of this review.
The manual Amarok is only offered in one entry-level specification, dubbed Core. For the spend you get a part-time transfer case with low range, a rear mechanical differential lock, underbody protection, fender flares, ventilated disc brakes, mud flaps, power-adjustable side mirrors (with heating), power-operated windows, a full-size steel spare wheel and a matt-black rear step bumper.
Inside, a six-speaker sound system, a monochrome multi-function display and single-zone air-conditioning feature.
Auto headlights and rain-sensing wipers are extra-cost options alongside the six paintwork options: 'Candy White', 'Mojave Beige', 'Indium Grey', 'Reflex Silver', 'Starlight Blue' and 'Deep Black').
As you’d expect, there’s also a plethora of dealer-fit accessories available.
Progress doesn't come cheap, and pricing for the BT-50 range is up compared to its predecessor.
Just note, Madza hasn't announced all the pricing and details for every version of the BT-50 just yet - only the dual cab models are covered in this 2021 range review as that was all that came to Australia at launch.
So when you see the cheapest 4x2 dual cab XT kicks off at a rather high $44,090 (MSRP/RRP) and the range-topping GT 4x4 auto is $59,990 (MSRP/RRP), you might think that's a lot for a Mazda ute - but funnily enough, the existing range-topping BT-50 Boss was a $63,250 proposition. So there's headroom for a more enthusiast-focused ute as a flagship… watch this space.
Now, there are three grades - XT, XTR and GT - so let's break it down and see what you get. The XT comes with the choice of cab-chassis or Pickup (ute) body styles, while the rest are the pick-up well-back tub design.
The XT badge is stuck on more BT-50 variations than any other. As a dual cab, it comes in 2WD/RWD/4x2 (as a Hi-Rider - there is no low-ride model anymore) or 4WD/4x4. And no matter the grade you choose, the BT-50 is fitted with the same engine and a choice of six-speed manual or automatic transmissions depending on the derivative. Here's a table to make it easier to understand the XT dual cab line-up.
MAZDA BT-50 XT
Dual cab Pickup
Dual cab Pickup
Standard equipment for the XT comprises: 17-inch alloy wheels (most vehicles at the base level have steel wheels), LED headlights (often halogens - including the D-Max in base grade), power-adjustable mirrors, a 4.2-inch driver display with digital speedometer, black cloth interior trim, carpet flooring (most work focused models have vinyl flooring), and there's a 7.0-inch multimedia touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay, wired Android Auto, digital radio and four-speaker sound system in 4x2 models and 4x4s get a six-speaker sound system.
The XT comes with manual air-conditioning, power windows, power mirrors, automatic wipers, tilt and telescopic multi-function steering wheel, and body colour bumpers (including a rear step bumper). Dual cab models have a USB port and rear seat directional air vents.
From the XT up there's a reversing camera - both for the cab-chassis and pick-up models - but the cab-chassis misses out on rear parking sensors that the Pickup model gets.
The second tier up the BT-50 range is the XTR. Here are the parameters of this variant:
MAZDA BT-50 XTR
Dual cab Pickup
Dual cab Pickup
Thinking you need your XT to be a bit more R rated? The XTR gets you a few nice extras, such as 18-inch alloy wheels, LED front fog lights and daytime running lights to complement the LED headlights, and there are different headlight inlays, as well as chrome horizontal bars for the grille. Plus you get side steps as well. That's it for exterior differentiators.
But inside there are a few more notable changes, including dual-zone climate control with rear directional air vents, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear selector, an auto-dimming rearview mirror (which you can't get on any grade of D-Max or HiLux), a fold-down rear-seat armrest, keyless entry, push-button start, and the media screen upsizes to a larger 9.0-inch multimedia system with satellite navigation and there's a six-speaker stereo.
Seems a pretty good option, the XTR. But if you want a bit more luxury, the 4x4-only GT is for you.
MAZDA BT-50 GT
Dual cab Pickup
The top-end GT model is loaded with gear, including: chrome mirror caps, heated exterior mirrors, an eight speaker stereo system, power-adjustable driver's seat, front parking sensors, remote engine start (automatic only), as well as a brown leather interior with heated front seats (again, which the D-Max doesn't get).
That makes the GT seem pretty compelling - but all models in the BT-50 range have a strong safety story to tell, too - more on that in the safety section below.
Thinking about which accessories you might want to custom build your BT-50? There's a long list of items available, including two different bull bar options, roof rack, roof rail, roof platform, mud flap, nudge bar, canopy, tub liner, body protection, a snorkel, side steps, and - of course - floor mats. There are tray options for cab-chassis models, too.
Trying to figure out which colour you'll choose? There are seven options: Concrete Grey mica, Gunblue mica, Ice White solid, Rock Grey mica, Red Volcano mica, Ingot Silver metallic, and True Black mica. That's right, there's no Soul Red or Machine Grey - and nor is there green, brown, orange or yellow. But thankfully, every single paint option is at no-cost!
Engine & trans
That said, the three-pedal set-up does have one key downside: a 50Nm loss in maximum torque. Indeed, the manual version produces 500Nm from 1250-3000rpm, instead of its automatic counterpart’s 550Nm from 1500-2500rpm.
And while peak power is shared, at 165kW, the manual develops it over a narrower band (3250-4500rpm versus 2500-4500rpm in the automatic), so there’s also that.
Either way, you get up to 180kW on overboost, which is available for 10 seconds when the accelerator is depressed beyond 70 per cent in third or fourth gear, making it ideal for highway overtaking.
So, when it comes to outright grunt, the manual Amarok V6 still blows the competition away, so there’s not much to be upset about here.
Maximum braked towing capacity is also down in the manual, at 3000kg, instead of the automatic’s 3500kg. That said, the former does have the biggest maximum payload of any Amarok V6, at 1004kg, which makes it a genuine one-tonner.
For reference, the manual Amarok V6’s maximum unbraked towing capacity is 750kg, while its towbar load limit is 300kg.
Unlike the previous version of the BT-50, which had different engines available to fit different applications (a 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel in the lower grades, and a 3.2-litre five-cylinder diesel for higher spec models), the new-generation model follows the same path as the Isuzu D-Max that it's based on: one engine for all applications.
That engine is the new Isuzu 4JJ3-TCX unit, which has seen a major rework compared to the previous D-Max with increased horsepower and torque - but the engine specs are actually lower than the previous BT-50 with the 3.2L.
Yep, there's a power output of 140kW (at 3600rpm) and a torque rating of 450Nm (from 1600-2600rpm), which is lower than the old 3.2L's 147kW/470Nm.
And the new 3.0L motor is lower for engine outputs than other rivals - not just the Ranger 3.2L, but also the Ranger Bi-turbo 2.0L (157kW/500Nm), and the revamped 2.8L HiLux (150kW/500Nm auto).
There's the choice of rear-wheel drive (RWD/2WD), and selectable four-wheel drive (4WD/4x4) with high (2H and 4H) and low range (4L). The 4x4 models come with a locking rear differential, too.
Towing capacity? You're covered, with the BT-50's towing rating being 750kg for an unbraked trailer and up to 3500kg for a braked trailer. Tow ball down load - when fitted with the genuine Mazda towing package - is 350kg across all variants.
The manual Amarok V6’s claimed fuel consumption on the combined cycle test (ADR 81/02) is 9.7 litres per 100 kilometres, which is 0.7L/100km more than its automatic counterpart drinks.
During our launch drive, consisting mainly of highway driving and off-roading, we averaged a little less, at 9.4L/100km, but expect that figure to climb above 10.0L/100km in mixed usage.
For reference, fuel tank capacity is 80 litres. There’s also a second tank that stores up to 13.0L of the required AdBlue.
Carbon dioxide emissions are claimed to be 254 grams per kilometre, meaning the manual chugs out 18g/km more CO2 than the auto.
Wondering how much fuel the new BT-50 will use? The official combined cycle fuel consumption figure varies slightly depending on the model you choose.
There's a span between 7.7 litres and 8.0 litres per 100 kilometres for diesel consumption across the entire range of engine, transmission, body style and drivetrain configurations. That's pretty good - the old BT-50 claimed 10.0L/100km for 4x4 3.2L auto dual cab models, so it's a marked improvement.
On test - in our 4x4 GT automatic - we saw a real world consumption figure of 8.9L/100km, which is better than acceptable considering that included urban, highway, country road, gravel track and serious off-road driving.
Fuel tank capacity is 76 litres for the BT-50, and there isn't a long range fuel tank option available.
All BT-50 models are specced to Euro 5 emissions levels, but the brand hasn't published the exact emissions of the variants (for reference, D-Max models run between 200g/km and 207g/km depending on the configuration). The BT-50 is fitted with a diesel particulate filter (DPF) but it has no Adblue after treatment.
You might be considering future BT-50s and whether there's potential for petrol, LPG, hybrid, plug-in hybrid or electric versions? Don't hold out hope… well, at least not for a few years.
When it comes to sheer driving pleasure, the Amarok V6 sets the standard for utes.
Part of that success is thanks to its previously exclusive automatic transmission, and at long last we’re happy to report its manual counterpart is just as good.
Sure, first gear is short, but the engine produces peak torque just above idle, so it’s easy to come off the line in second if you want/need to, especially when low-range is engaged. But more on off-roading in a moment.
Conversely, the throw is relatively short, which is nice, while the gate is surprisingly smooth – two key characteristics of a good manual transmission.
Even better, though, is the clutch, which is well-weighted. Indeed, in a world where most manual utes feel suitably agricultural, the Amarok V6 does its best impression of a sports car.
Naturally, the V6 helps matters by being the perfect dancing partner. You hardly notice the manual’s aforementioned torque deficit because there’s still so much to play with.
And a brief moment after maximum torque departs, peak power arrives and pushes you towards the redline. Yep, this is an engine that doesn’t really run out of puff.
Now, there’s much more to this Amarok V6’s story than just its manual gearbox. As mentioned, it also ushers in a transfer case that plays a key role in its part-time four-wheel drive system with low-range – a first for Volkswagen’s hardest-hitting ute.
Yep, if you want rear-wheel drive antics (and better fuel efficiency), they’re possible by leaving the manual in 2H. If you want unflappable AWD grip, switch it over to 4H by engaging neutral and pressing one button.
But if you need the capability of low-range to get you out of a sticky situation, press that button one more time and 4L arrives to save the day. And if that’s not enough, there’s still a rear mechanical differential lock on hand, as in the automatic.
Needless to say, our off-road expedition proved this set-up works really well. Again, a lot of this Amarok’s success can be put down to its mighty V6 engine, which serves up more than enough torque to get the job done. Capable, indeed.
But credit should also be sent the way of the 'Off Road' drive mode, which slackens off the ABS and ESP to make braking and accelerating more off-road-friendly, but only in 2H and 4H, of course.
The version of hill-descent control employed here is also brilliant, automatically engaging when tackling a steep decline, with its speed adjusted by the accelerator and brake pedals, instead of buttons on the steering wheel, which can feel unnatural.
Off- and on-road performance is helped by the Amarok V6’s hydraulic power steering, which is a brilliant throwback to the time before the electric revolution. As such, feel is one of its strong points.
The steering is weighty but not heavy, making it great in hand. That said, it is a tad hefty at low speed, and a 12.9m turning circle isn’t exactly tight, but we’re talking about a ute after all.
Suspension-wise, the Amarok V6 and its ladder-frame chassis have double wishbones up front and leaf springs at the rear, the latter dealing with an unladen tub better than you might think. Yep, there’s very little skittishness going on here.
Generally speaking, lumps and bumps are dealt with well on road, while the ride is just as settled off-road. This is a ute that doesn’t feel like a ute – and that’s a good thing.
Speaking of which, the way in which the manual Amarok V6 shifts its 2076kg frame is remarkable. Sure, it can’t defy physics, but it exudes relative composure when being pushed around a corner with intent.
We gave the D-Max the same score for driving, and because the Mazda BT-50 has seen zero changes compared to that model, it gets the same score.
It is identical in the setup employed for the engine, transmission, steering and suspension. And that means that the BT-50 is a pretty good thing to drive.
Mind you, we're basing that assessment on the GT model only, which is the variant we've driven for this test. As with the LS-U and X-Terrain versions of the D-Max, this model employs a 'non-heavy-duty' suspension setup, where the lower grades get a more work-ready hardcore rear suspension.
No matter which you choose, though, there's a three-leaf live axle rear suspension setup, while the front suspension is independent coils. And the steering is an electric system, which will no doubt come as welcome relief to anyone who owns an existing BT-50, as those models were renowned for their excessively weighted steering.
Now, though, the BT-50 offers light and pretty effortless steering, though it still takes quite a few turns lock-to-lock and the turning circle is 12.5 metres. At least it's easy to do three- or five-point turns, with little effort to turn the wheel at lower speeds. At higher pace the steering offers a nice amount of feel and weight to it, though you can often feel the safety technology tugging at the wheel to correct your line.
The ride is decent, but you can still tell it's a ute. There is a bit of a difference between, say, the D-Max X-Terrain and the BT-50 GT, in that the latter has a higher payload as it doesn't have the additional weight of a rear roller cargo cover, sailplane and body accessories. As such, the GT has a circa-100kg payload advantage, though it is just a touch busier in the rear suspension as a result.
And the engine - while down on power and torque (not to mention a cylinder and some engine capacity) compared to the equivalent predecessor - is refined, offers good urge, and has linear power delivery too. There's some low-rev lag from a standstill, but the engine builds pace nicely and it's reasonably quiet, too.
The thing you'll need to know is that the transmission is a little busy at higher speeds as it aims to keep you in the engine's sweet spot. It's not annoying, but it's something you might take time to get used to. Rather than stick in sixth gear and lug out at low revs, it's more likely to drop a couple of cogs and keep things moving. The engine is reasonably quiet, though, and the gearbox is smooth and pretty quick shifting too.
So on road - be it urban, back road or highway driving, the BT-50 is a pleasant ute to drive. And off-road, it's pretty good, too.
That's no surprise as it's based on the D-Max, which we've already been pretty chuffed with. And as with that ute - and most stock-standard, showroom-spec models out there - the biggest letdown is the tyres, which on this BT-50 GT are Bridgestone Dueler H/T (265/60/18).
If you plan to do serious off-road driving, that's the first upgrade we'd recommend. The other might be removing the side steps, which on the GT saw a bit of bashing over our off-road loop, touching down over mismatched ruts.
The lower edges of the front bumper also copped a bit of a hard time - you might never end up scraping them in sedate off highway driving, but over our low-range, diff-locked, slippery slope of a track, we had a minor issue with the 'sumo stance' front hitting down on offset potholes.
But the hardware all worked great - it was simple to engage low-range, the rear diff lock engaged without fuss, and the hill descent control system kept things to a steady crawl on the way back down our set piece climb. All told, it was impressive - not quite as connected feeling as a HiLux, but easy to manage thanks to its light steering, and with ample grunt and clever gearing to ensure a simple and straightforward session off-road.
The Amarok range was awarded a five-star ANCAP safety rating way back in 2011, but a lot has changed in the nine years since.
For example, while you get dual front and front-side airbags, you don’t get curtain airbags for the second row, making rear occupants more vulnerable in crashes.
These active safety features can be had in many of the Amarok’s rivals, albeit to varying degrees.
You do, however, get cruise control (not adaptive), a reversing camera, rear parking sensors, hill-start assist and hill-descent control as well as the usual electronic stability and traction control systems, with the former even accounting for trailer sway.
The BT-50 has been awarded the maximum five-star ANCAP crash test safety rating, just like the ute it's based on - the D-Max - which also scored five stars under the strict 2020 testing criteria. It's no small achievement for a big ute.
In this part of the review we're definitely giving the BT-50 the equivalent of five stars in terms of tech inclusions.
All models have a standard-fit reversing camera (even the cab-chassis models, which you don't get if you buy a Toyota HiLux cab-chassis), and all Pickup models are fitted with rear parking sensors, while GT models gain front parking sensors too.
The advanced safety tech includes an advanced auto emergency braking (AEB) system that works at speeds over 10km/h, and there's also mis-acceleration control to lessen the likelihood of very low-speed crashes. There is also pedestrian detection and cyclist detection that work at all speeds as part of the AEB system, and a forward collision warning light, too.
Advanced lane assistance tech includes a lane departure warning system with active lane keeping assistance (between 60km/h and 130km/h), plus a system called turn assist which can stop you from turning in front of oncoming traffic if it deems it unsafe to do so (operational between 5km/h and 18km/h).
And as with the D-Max, all BT-50s get blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and all automatic models get adaptive cruise control (manuals get regular cruise).
There are also auto high-beam lights as well as automatic on/off headlights and windscreen wipers, plus a speed sign recognition and warning system and driver fatigue monitoring and alert.
As with D-Max the Mazda ute gets a new-for-the-segment front-centre airbag to protect those in the front seats in the event of a side impact. Also covered with airbag protection are the driver's knees, dual front (head), front side (thorax) and full-length curtain airbags, for a total of eight airbags in all variants.
Baby seat fitment is possible via dual ISOFIX child seat anchor points and two loop-style top-tether attachments in dual cab models, though the outer attachments hook to a centre mounted brace - meaning only two child seats are legally allowed to be fitted.
The Amarok range comes with Volkswagen’s five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, which is on par with most of the mainstream brands. Some (we’re looking at you, Kia and SsangYong) up the ante to seven years.
One year of roadside assistance is also included with the ute.
Also on par are the service intervals, which are every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first. What isn’t, though, is their cost.
Even with a five-year/75,000km capped-price servicing plan, the average charge per visit is $609. Needless to say, that’s pretty pricey.
This is where you might be swayed towards the D-Max over the BT-50, because Mazda hasn't tried to match Isuzu for ownership prospects - meaning instead of a six year warranty and seven years of capped price servicing and roadside assistance, you're getting a lesser deal if you choose the BT-50.
The company backs the BT-50 with a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty plan. If you do a lot of driving, the unlimited factor may come into play. But Isuzu has six years/150,000km, Ssangyong has seven years/unlimited kays, and Mitsubishi has just announced a huge 10-year/200,000km warranty (if serviced with the brand).
Mazda does give you five years of roadside assistance included with the BT-50 as part of the warranty, which is good. But again, you get seven years if you choose the Isuzu.
As for servicing, the BT-50 requires maintenance every 12 months/15,000km (thankfully not the shorter 10,000km intervals seen on other Mazdas), and the brand is offering a seven-year capped price plan … just like Isuzu.
The service costs are: 12 months/15,000km - $418; 24 months/30,000km - $390; 36 months/45,000km - $673; 48 months/60,000km - $496; 60 months/75,000km - $312; 72 months/90,000km - $750; and 84 months/105,000km - $435. That makes for an average cost per service of $496.28. And that makes it $15 per year more expensive to service than a D-Max, if that matters to you.
However, one thing Mazda offers that many ute sellers don't is a guaranteed future value program for customers who take out finance. You need to agree on a number of kilometres, duration of ownership and other elements, but then you're guaranteed a trade-in value at the end of the agreed period, provided the parameters are met and also the wear and tear of the vehicle. That might be a good thing for leisure customers, but maybe not for ute buyers who plan to put their vehicle to work.