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Volkswagen Crafter


Mazda BT-50

Summary

Volkswagen Crafter

The person who delivers your new golf shoes or stretch denim jeggings isn’t just a nameless delivery driver – they’ve got families and friends to go home to, as well.

Their offices are often exposed to more danger than most, though, so Volkswagen decided to build its all-new Crafter commercial range to offer the same level of safety – and similar levels of comfort – as its passenger car range.

Safety rating
Engine Type2.0L turbo
Fuel TypeDiesel
Fuel Efficiency—L/100km
Seating2 seats

Mazda BT-50

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.

Safety rating
Engine Type3.2L turbo
Fuel TypeDiesel
Fuel Efficiency9.7L/100km
Seating3 seats

Verdict

Volkswagen Crafter7.6/10

The medium commercial space is set to heat up in the next few years, and Volkswagen’s uncompromising approach to the Crafter should stand it in good stead. It’s a bit hard to get a read on the car after such a brief test, so we’ll add to our knowledge base in the coming months.

There’s a Crafter option for every application, though, and VW claims its service network will stand behind the product right across the country… which it will need to do if it’s to take the fight to arch-rival Mercedes-Benz.

Which Crafter grade would you pick for your business? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.


Mazda BT-508.1/10

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.

Design

Volkswagen Crafter8/10

Despite the Crafter looking like the easiest car in the world to design – draw straight lines and join them up – it actually shares a styling language with the sixth generation Transporter van range.

It’s available as a cab-chassis and a van, which comes with a side door on one or both sides, a rear step, rear barn doors and in a high roof version.

VW will also sell the Crafter with an optional Trendline styling package, but it won’t include a body kit, rear spoiler, side skirts or front spoiler. Instead it offers chrome garnishes for the interior, an additional 12-volt socket and hub caps.

Interior dimensions are vast even in the medium-wheelbase version, with familiar controls across the dash and steering wheel plucked from VW’s passenger car range. The van can be ordered with a regular or high roof, as well as with a so-called super high roof version.

The rear barn doors can also be upgraded to versions that open to 270 degrees on the medium- and long-wheelbase versions. They come standard on the biggest version.


Mazda BT-508/10

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

Length

5280mm

Wheelbase

3125mm

Width

1870mm

Height

1785mm-1800mm

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

1571mm

Width at top rail

1530mm

Width between wheel arches

1120mm

Depth

490mm

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-chassis

Dual cab Pickup

Payload capacity

1195kg-1220kg

1055kg-1090kg

Gross vehicle mass (GVM)

3000kg (4x2) / 3100kg (4x4)

Gross combination mass (GCM)

5850kg (4x2) / 5950kg (4x4)

Towing capacity

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-chassis

Dual cab ute

Ground clearance mm

235mm (XT)

235mm (XT), 240mm (XTR / GT)

Approach angle 

29.6 (XT)

30.0 (XT), 30.4 (XTR / GT)

Break over/ramp over angle

23.9 (XT)

23.3 (XT), 23.8 (XTR / GT)

Departure angle

25.3 (XT)

23.9 (XT), 24.2 (XTR / GT)

Wading depth

800mm

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.

Practicality

Volkswagen Crafter7/10

The Crafter comes in two styles, three lengths and three powertrains, and will eventually expand to a range of 59 variants by the time all models come on stream by early 2019.

The van comes in a three-seat single cab chassis style, while the dual cab is only offered in a seven-seat dual cab version.

A variety of roof heights is also offered, and it’s worth noting the higher roofs lower the roof rack load limit of 300kg on the standard height van.

VW is making a lot of the fact that it has worked the Crafter over from the ground up with feedback from real tradies, right down to making sure that there’s enough light in the cargo area for parcel couriers to read labels in the dark.

The interior, too, is festooned with storage compartments small and large right across the dash and through the cabin.

The new FWD version offers a 100mm lower loading area than the AWD and RWD models, too.

Load capacity, of course, varies from model to model. In the medium wheelbase van line, it’s the more powerful TDI410-powered rear-drive model with dual rear wheels that can carry the most across all vans at 2024kg, while the entry level Runner can carry 1384kg.

In the cab-chassis line, single-cab dual-wheel TDI410 takes the overall crown with 2392kg of payload ability.

If you want to add a towbar, the Crafter can tow up to 2500kg.

Overall, the ergonomics are quite good. It goes without saying there is a load of headroom, and there are small storage containers above the driver and passenger area.

The windscreen is massive, though the sealed off driver compartment does restrict visibility through the rear vision mirror. The Crafter also features aids like hill-start assist as well as hill-descent assist.

Crafters also feature a bench seat arrangement in the single row versions that can seat three people. The centre seat back can be folded down to form a tray table with two cupholders as standard. There's also an additional pair of cupholders on the dash, and huge door pockets on either side that can accept large bottles or Thermos flasks.

Other hidey holes for day-to-day gear are scattered through the cabin, including small trays in the doors and on the dash itself.

The steering wheel is polycarbonate, as is the gear shift knob. Don't forget these vehicles are built for hard work, not necessarily for luxury. A higher brake and accelerator pedal placement is quite a common feature of vans, and it places the foot at a slightly unusual angle if you're used to driving a regular car.

It's a more upright seating position, and does take a little bit of finessing to get the best fit. The sealed driver's compartment in our medium van tester allowed the seat to be ratcheted back to suit this 187cm driver, although we wonder if an XL-sized owner would be able to comfortably fit behind the wheel given the restriction of the rear bulkhead.

An 8.0-inch multimedia system has Apple CarPlay or Android Auto as standard, and it can be controlled from the steering wheel. You can also have two phones connected at the same time via Bluetooth. If you’re hanging onto the 1990s, unfortunately there’s no CD player any more, nor is there a DVD player… but the DAB radio is pretty good.

VW claims the Crafter’s 'App Connect' is a first for the category. Volkswagen also fits a 'Customer-Specific Functional Control Unit' (CFCU) to each Crafter. For example, the lights and siren on an ambulance can be controlled through the on-board CFCU, or if you have a digger unit on the back, the car can be programmed not to move while the digger arm is in motion.


Mazda BT-508/10

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

Volkswagen Crafter8/10

Sitting above the Transporter in size, the Crafter will actually become the single most complex range in VW’s local line-up, with up to 59 variants set to go on sale by January 2019… so there’s a lot to look at.

In basic terms, it’ll come in three main chassis types, comprising medium, long, and long-with-rear-overhang (basically, there’s more van behind the rear axle). That’s then divided into unibody vans and cab-chassis variants, while the latter is divided further into single- and dual-cab models.

The price list starts at $48,490 for a six-speed manual-equipped medium wheelbase van, and covers 36 price points all the way through to a long-with-overhang high roof van with dual rear wheels, a twin-turbo 2.0-litre diesel and eight-speed ZF auto, as well as range-topping 5.5-tonne GVM (gross vehicle mass, or maximum weight of Crafter and cargo) limit, at $71,490.

Of those 36 price points, seven are offered with a single-turbo EA288 Nutz (VW’s designation for commercial engines) 2.0-litre, four-cylinder diesel, while the rest feature a twin-turbo version of the same engine. Seven are also offered in six-speed manual guise.

All models are equipped with single-zone climate control, tilt- and reach-adjustable steering column, daytime running lights, an 8.0-inch touchscreen multimedia system with digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, voice control, a four-speaker sound system and Bluetooth.

There is also lots of USB and auxiliary connectivity, rubber floor mats, cruise control, heated and powered external mirrors, power lumbar support for the driver seat, and front power windows.

There are also a host of options for the driver’s compartment, including upgraded multimedia, automatic wipers, better seats and more driver aids, while LED headlights, GPS sat nav, wooden floor coverings and plywood panelling for vans are also on the long options list.

If you’re looking for accessories like a nudge bar, bullbar, awning or a light bar, you’ll need to source them yourself, and the same goes for leather seats.

When it comes to colours, there’s a surprisingly wide variety on offer, including black, blue, white, orange, silver, red and grey.


Mazda BT-508/10

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

Drivetrain

Body type

Transmission

RRP

 

4x2

Dual cab-chassis

Automatic 

$44,090

Dual cab Pickup

Automatic

$45,490



 

4x4

 

Dual cab-chassis 

Manual

$49,360

Automatic

$51,860

 

Dual cab Pickup

Manual

$50,760

Automatic

$53,260

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

Drivetrain

Body type

Transmission

RRP

4x2

Dual cab Pickup

Automatic

$49,470

 

4x4

 

Dual cab Pickup

Manual

$54,710

Automatic

$57,210

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

Drivetrain

Body type

Transmission

RRP

 

4x4

 

Dual cab Pickup

Manual

$56,990

Automatic

$59,990

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

Volkswagen Crafter8/10

Two specs of the same engine size are offered in the Crafter. The (EA288 Nutz) 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel comes in both single and twin-turbo configurations; the single spinner is known as the TDI340, puts out 103kW/340Nm, and the TDI410 twin huffer grunts out 130kW/410Nm.

It’s best to check your manual for oil type and capacity, while injector problems haven’t been noted as an issue in the Nutz (commercial) version of the EA288. It uses a timing chain rather than a timing belt for longevity. VW has fitted the driveline with an AdBlue system, along with a diesel particulate filter.

No petrol version of the Crafter is available. There are no reports of injector problems.

The AWD version uses a Haldex system, a mechanical diff lock and hill descent assist, and offers a 4000kg GVM as well. It’ll cost $4500 more than the FWD system, which VW claims is a quarter of the cost of similar systems from its key competitors.

A six-speed manual gearbox has been the only option up to this point, but VW believes the market for vehicles like the Crafter will swing from 90 per cent manual to 80 per cent automatic within a couple of years.

The ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission is a key upgrade to the Crafter, and it dates back to 2008. A derivative of the unit used in the Amarok (and the Bentley Continental GT, as it happens), it’s available on all three drivelines. Automatic gearbox problems aren’t an issue with the ZF.

A second battery and/or alternator is also available from the factory, to help power any and all devices you might want to mount.


Mazda BT-507/10

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).

We'll get to how it performs in practice in the driving section below, but there are two transmission options available for your consideration as well - a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic.

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.

Fuel consumption

Volkswagen Crafter7/10

Our drive program was far too brief to comment meaningfully on fuel economy figures, but we noted a figure of 10.2 litres per 100km after a 65km test period around the streets of Auckland aboard an auto TDI410-equipped van.

Volkswagen doesn’t supply fuel consumption figures because of the sheer variance in size and spec across the range. None of its competitors do, either.

All Crafters have a fuel tank capacity which measures 75 litres in size.


Mazda BT-508/10

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.

Driving

Volkswagen Crafter7/10

If you've driven any fairly recent Volkswagen product, or indeed a regular sedan or hatch, you'll be familiar with the operation of the Crafter.

There is nothing aboard that makes it difficult for the average operator to jump in and use it. It's really just like a regular car to drive, except for its sheer size.

Ease of use is vital for a van that's often used on the road for 12 hours a day, or more. And the Crafter has been designed from the ground up to make life as easy for its driver as possible.

Climbing abroad, the ability to adjust the steering wheel for reach, and height instantly gives you the impression the Crafter is going to be a very user-friendly device.

Volkswagen has worked hard to make the standard seats as comfortable as possible, and there is the ability to option them to an even higher level.

The medium wheelbase automatic we tested also featured automatic parking, which, for a large van in an urban environment, is an absolute bonus. And it works amazingly well. There's nothing like a five metre-plus van reverse-parking itself as the driver holds his hands in the air to make passers-by gawk in amazement.

Throttle response is linear and easy to manage, as is the electrically assisted steering, though you have to wind on a bit of lock to get around a corner. Disc brakes all round give the Crafter a good middle pedal feel, too. A brief drive in a manual reveals a light clutch and shift action.

The ride is well controlled even when it’s unladen, if verging on a little stiff – but it’s possible to uprate the suspension to suit loads of up to 2.4 tonnes, depending on variant, so a spin around Auckland’s CBD aboard a Crafter with 500kg of low-slung weight isn’t going to tell us too much.

We can tell you that if you’re looking for a 4x4 with air suspension and off road-ready all-terrain tyres that’s begging for a lift kit, this is not the place. The Crafter only comes with steel wheels, and its 0-100km/h acceleration speed isn’t especially important.


Mazda BT-508/10

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.

Safety

Volkswagen Crafter9/10

VW has taken standard safety for a commercial vehicle to a new high. Front, side and curtain airbags for front-row passengers, 'Front Assist' with AEB, post-crash multi-collision braking, crosswind assist, front and rear parking sensors and reversing camera are all standard. It would be great to be able to turn on the rear view camera just to check what is behind the Crafter without reverse engaged, but that's a minor quibble.

Optional systems include park assist, adaptive cruise control, rear traffic alert, active lane keep assist and sensor-based side assist. You’ll have to leave the youngest tradies at home, though – there are no ISOFIX points in the Crafter.


Mazda BT-5010/10

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.

Ownership

Volkswagen Crafter7/10

Given the Crafter is a brand new build, it’s far too early to look for common faults or problems, but the ZF eight-speed auto, for example, has a proven record of reliability.

Service intervals of 20,000km or 12 months are recommended, and Volkswagen’s fixed service program applies. The first five services to 100,000km will cost $3279 in total; just keep the owner’s manual up to date.

A three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty is offered, along with three year’s free roadside service.


Mazda BT-508/10

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.