We put the all-new Mazda BT-50 XT through its paces in the pristine heritage-listed rainforest of tropical Far North Queensland to see how it really performs. Read on to find out if the BT-50 really is “The Complete Package”.
With rugged underpinnings from Isuzu and a sharp suit courtesy of Mazda’s design team, the all-new BT-50 is here to carve a name for itself in the cut-throat dual cab ute market. Mazda tells us it’s a premium offering for the thinking man (or woman!) who has some work to do, but can it take the fight to the competition?
Drivetrain and Chassis
The new BT-50 is a twin under the skin with the new Isuzu DMax – both are assembled at the Isuzu plant in Thailand. All models come with an Isuzu 4JJ3-TCX 3.0 Turbocharged Inline 4 cylinder Diesel that generates 140Kw @ 3600 RPM and 450Nm between 1600 and 2600 RPM. This engine was “all-new” for 2020 debuting in the BT-50/DMAX twins, however in reality it is a ground-up rework of the previous Isuzu 4JJ1-TC engine that has been a reliable workhorse within Isuzu vehicles for many years, so hopefully, this latest version will achieve a similar reputation for reliability.
The new engine sends its torque through a 6 speed Isuzu manual or optional 6 speed automatic from Japanese supplier Aisin. 4×4 models utilise an electronically selected low range transfer case geared 2.482:1 and have an electronic locking differential that can be activated when low range is engaged. Tyres are 255/65R17 or 265/60R18 and our vehicle came with Dunlop Grand Trek Highway Terrain Tyres and a full-size spare on a steel wheel.
The suspension consists of an independent double-wishbone with coil spring struts up front, with a leaf-sprung live axle carrying the load at the rear. Cab chassis variants get heavy-duty rear leaf springs for additional load-carrying capacity. Braking is provided by 320mm ventilated disc brakes up front and 295mm drum brakes at the rear.
Equipment and Safety
The 2021 BT-50 has an excellent 5-star ANCAP rating from 2020, meaning it has achieved a high level of proven safety under the latest and most stringent standards. It scored 83% for adult occupant protection, 89% for child occupant protection, 67% for vulnerable road user (pedestrian) protection, and 84% for safety assist. This places it near the top of the class under the latest testing regime, second only to Toyota’s latest Hilux. The full testing report can be downloaded from the ANCAP website here. Note that this is applicable for all models except the top-spec Thunder, which is presumably because Thunder comes equipped with accessories such as a bullbar that could impact the test results.
We were out in the entry level 4×4 dual cab XT trim of the new BT-50, which has all the basics covered but lacks some of the desirable features found in the more expensive XTR and GT models. A basic equipment run down as follows.
The XT comes with:
- 17 inch Alloy Wheels
- LED Healights, but Halogen for every other light.
- Locking Rear Differential
- Manual Air Conditioning – set your own fan speed like it’s the 1990’s!
- Power Windows
- Adaptive Cruise Control
- Safety aids such as airbags all around, autonomous emergency braking, blind spot monitoring and lane keep assist.
- Reverse camera and reverse parking sensors
- 7 inch screen with Android Auto and Apple Carplay, however no inbuilt Sat Nav and while the Apple Carplay is wireless you need to connect your device via USB to utilise Android Auto.
The XTR is $4090* more and adds:
- 18 inch Aloy Wheels
- Power fold mirrors
- Side Steps
- LED Fog Lamps
- LED Headlamps with signature illumination and auto levelling
- Dual Zone Climate Control
- Leather steering wheel and shift knob
- Auto dimming interior mirror
- Rear bench centre armrest
- Advanced Keyless Entry
- 9 Inch Infotainment screen with in built Sat Nav, same Apple Carplay and Android Auto functionality as the XT though.
The GT asks another $2347* but adds:
- Brown Leather interior with 8 way power adjustable driver seat
- Heated front seats
- Remote Engine Start (For automatic equipped models)
- Chrome heated exterior mirrors.
- Front Parking Sensors
Thunder is a GT with a bunch of accessories and asks a further $4620*:
- Black Painted 18 Inch Alloy Wheels
- Black Single Hoop Bull Bar
- Black Alloy Sport Bar
- Black Sidesteps
- Black Fender Flares
- Electric Roller Tonneau Cover
- Lightforce 20 Inch Dual Row LED Light Bar
- Thunder Decals
- Tub Liner
* Cost differences are based on official Mazda website, talk to your local dealer to confirm.
Cost of Ownership
The dual-cab range opens with two-wheel drive offerings from $49,525 on the road, however the most affordable 4WD dual cab BT-50 is the XT you see here, priced from $54,934 on the road before options. From there you have XTR from $59,024., GT from $61,370 and Thunder from $65,990. All those prices are for manual transmission with the automatic costing an additional $2500-3000. Pop on the Mazda website to get the most accurate pricing for your region.
Servicing is required every 12 months or 15,000 kms (whichever comes first) and is capped price through Mazda with costs as follows:
- 1st Service: $421 and includes replacement of Engine Oil + Filter, Front + Rear Differential Fluid and an inspection of everything else.
- 2nd Service: $393 and includes replacement of Engine Oil + Filter and Cabin Filter, along with inspection of everything else.
- 3rd Service: $679 and includes replacement of Engine Oil + Filter, Air Filter and Brake Fluid. Inspection as usual.
- 4th Service: $500 and includes replacement of Engine Oil + Filter, Front + Rear Differential Fluid and Cabin Filter. Inspection as usual
Pricing and contents of servicing follow a similar pattern beyond the 4th service, with no particularly expensive service items apparent. Maintenance costs for the first 4 years or 60k kms of ownership amount to $1993.00
Fuel consumption is listed as 8.0 L/100Kms combined for automatic 4×4 models. On test, we achieved a slightly higher value of 9.55 L/100Kms on a mix of highway, urban and slow speed offroad use, which is still very respectable for a vehicle of this size.
As commercial vehicles have surged in popularity over the past decade, so has the pressure for manufacturers to provide a more cosseting driving experience, including the same features and conveniences previously reserved for luxury-oriented passenger vehicles. This has perhaps been most clearly manifested in the interior of such vehicles, with the manual wind-up windows, FM radio, rudimentary HVAC, and vinyl seats of yesteryear giving way to electric actuation, digital infotainment, climate control, and premium fabrics and leathers.
The BT-50 XT seen here is the most basic trim of the 4×4 range, so while its features would shame a similar vehicle from 2011, it’s not particularly plush by 2021 standards. What it does deliver in spades is a feeling of rugged durability, with supportive and comfortable seats shod in a hard-wearing fabric and synthetic leather, good fit and finish with no rattles or flexing components, and minimal hard plastics in visible areas. .
The infotainment screen in the XT is a 7-inch unit, whereas XT-R upwards receives an upgraded 9-inch unit. While the 7 inch screen is perfectly sufficient, the 9-inch unit will better fill the dash and would be worthwhile for those buyers who can stretch to the more premium models. Both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are catered for, however the latter is only available via a wired connection. Device charging is wired only in the new BT-50 so you’ll be plugging your devices in regardless to keep them topped up with energy.
We were not able to test Apple Carplay but utilised the Android auto over several days with a Samsung S21 and an S21+, finding it to be responsive and efficient with a quick boot up and short loading times. The necessity for a wired connection was fine as you’re plugging the device in to charge regardless, though provision for wireless charging and wireless android auto would be a great addition. There is only one USB port in the front portion of the vehicle, so the front passenger must use the rear USB port to charge their device. We also found that when driving, the passenger is unable to connect and set up a device, requiring the vehicle to be fully stopped to complete this, ostensibly as a safety measure but in reality this can be frustrating. The sound system proved itself up to the task with deep bass and minimal distortion even at high volume, so extra points for the Mazda if you’re an audiophile.
The dash layout and instrument panel are legible and easy to understand, with a conventional tachometer and speedometer flanking a full colour LCD information screen. There is some good information available cycling through that LCD screen with one amusing feature being a graphic of the vehicle displayed on startup, with equipment such as parking sensors highlighted green where they are working as intended. It’s a neat idea but falls a little short on the XT model as some of these symbols are still present but greyed out as they are not fitted.
The Heating Ventilation / Air Conditioning setup in the XT model is old school, with a manual selection of fan speed and temperature along with a toggle on/off A/C function. Seats are conventional with no heating or cooling function. Full climate control is fitted to the XTR model while GT also scores heated front seats.
There are two cup holders provided in front of the centre console, however they are located quite close together resulting in larger bottles or coffee cups interfering with each other. Piano black has been utilised for the gear surround and looks sharp, just be wary it can attract scratches and marks so be careful if you’re using the BT-50 for work and adventure.
As a taller driver (at 190cm tall), I found the vehicle to be a comfortable place for long drives with supportive seats and good ergonomics. The one caveat to this would be that while the depth of the footwell is good and pedal placement fine, the window switch block on the door is mounted very low and occupied the space where my right knee should be, leading to discomfort especially bumping my knee regularly off-road. This issue may be peculiar to myself, so make sure you take a seat and try it out before making a judgement.
Comfort and legroom for passengers front and rear was otherwise good, with excellent seats and some hefty grab handles should the going get rough. The rear bench can be raised and fastens via straps and hooks to stow it away and free up some storage space, simple but effective. With the bench in this position, the rear storage room is good and there are under-floor compartments opening up further storage, though note there is no liner within these so this would best suit bulky and soft goods storage.
Closing thoughts on the interior are that it’s an enjoyable place to reside and proved comfortable even over several hours of driving over highways, back roads and off road tracks. The XT trim certainly gets the job done but is light on several “nice to have” features that are fast becoming the norm in mainstream cars. With this in mind the additional outlay to XT-R or GT spec would pay dividends in the daily experience and may well be worth consideration for any prospective buyer.
On the Road
The modern dual cab utility sells the promise of an all-singing, all-dancing peoples’ car for the 21st century. Few other vehicles can carry your family and their belongings along with a pair of dirtbikes, a few sheep, or a full set of tools and transport you all across the rough country in relative comfort. This “Jack of all trades” ability, combined with certain Australian tax benefits associated with “work vehicles”, has seen the dual-cab market share absolutely soar over the last decade. The result is that vehicles that have traditionally been spartan and built for pure functionality are now expected to emulate the comfortable, quiet, and amenable living quarters of a family sedan.
With all this in mind, Mazda’s new BT-50 needs to deliver a composed, quiet and comfortable ride along the pockmarked country roads and congested urban centres where it will spend the majority of its life. It also needs to be user-friendly and imbue confidence to a full spectrum of drivers, as comfortable on the school run as it is on the worksite. This is not an easy set of requirements to satisfy, however, Mazda deserves credit for developing a BT-50 that does a pretty good job at most tasks, most of the time.
The suspension tune in BT-50 delivers a smooth and predictable ride even with an unladen tray. We covered all manner of environments the average owner is likely to experience, from the urban and rural tarmac, unsealed roads to beach sand and river crossings (see Off-Road section below) and the vehicle never felt flustered or reacted unpleasantly. The highway comfort and predictability, in particular, was a highlight, and while it’s won’t be bothering BMW or Porsche owners on the tarmac, the big Mazda BT-50 delivers a predictable transition from grip into gentle understeer if you push it beyond its comfort zone.
The steering delivers minimal feedback through the electrically assisted column, and while this is relaxing it does lead to a sensation of disconnect between your hands and what’s occurring on the road. It should be said that the relaxed steering is actually a benefit when off road, however more on that later. The lane keep assist technology aims to centre you in the lane, but in practice seems to either nudge you about within the lane or delivers visual and audible warnings that you’re not holding the wheel even when you are. I’m a strong supporter of technology that increases situational awareness and driver safety, but that particular feature has missed the mark in my opinion and needs some more work. Mercifully, it can be turned off.
Engine performance is perfectly adequate, with a broad spread of torque that usually delivers quiet and effortless progress. From inside the cabin noise suppression is good at all speeds, with the characteristic Diesel clatter only really intrusive at low speeds with the windows down, or from outside the vehicle at idle. Overtaking performance was brisk on the highway, and even though the transmission cascaded down to third or fourth gear for uphill sections the vehicle was able to maintain the national speed limit of 110 Km/hr up steep climbs.
An unobtrusive automatic transmission normally shuffles through the gears smoothly and efficiently. This 6 speed Aisin unit has been around in one form or another for nearly 15 years so while it is not cutting edge technology, it is tried and tested and should provide a long and problem free service. Ultimately it falls short of newer 8, 9, and 10-speed transmissions in terms of efficiency and performance, however many of it’s competitors are similarly equipped so the Mazda is in good company.
Overall road performance was impressively smooth and refined, matching or exceeding most key segment rivals and certainly eclipsing it’s predecessor across the board.
Off the Road
After our highway stint up through the Lower Daintree Rainforest to Cape Tribulation, it was time to see how how the new Mazda performed off the bitumen. Quick fun fact, the name Cape Tribulation was coined by Captain James Cook in June 1770 after his ship was badly damaged here by a collision with the Great Barrier Reef. Hopefully our journey will not face such trials and tribulations, as it is here that we start the track that winds from the Cape up to Bloomfield. While it’s not particularly challenging, there are some steep climbs and shallow river crossings providing a great environment to test the capabilities of an unmodified 4×4.
The BT-50 comes equipped with a part time four wheel drive system, meaning that on sealed surfaces the system must only be operated in rear wheel drive. Four wheel drive (high range) can be engaged on loose surfaces and four wheel drive (low range) is best for situations requiring additional torque at low speeds, such as steep hill climbs. As is common place in recent times, these various modes are selected by an electronic dial, so no old school mechanical lever here. The Mazda BT-50 also comes as standard with a rear differential lock on all 4×4 models.
Shifting from two wheel drive into four wheel drive high and low range is conducted smoothly and easily, which is a dream for those of us who remember wrestling with a stubborn mechanical lever in older vehicles. Low range does restrict the automatic transmission to gears 1 through 4, so you won’t be breaking any land speed records in 4L but that is not what it’s designed for. You also need to be stationary and in neutral for the vehicle to allow selection of low range.
The rear differential lock can only be engaged when in low range and in this configuration there arent many inclines that will stop the BT-50. The rear diff -lock is operated via a button, with an electric actuator in the diff housing doing the rest. Unfortunately we did have some trouble getting it to engage reliably and despite trying the normal tricks of rocking the vehicle back and forth in drive/reverse and neutral on level ground it proved persistently stubborn with the icon flashing away. We did manage to convince it in the end and once engaged the mechanical grip is excellent for a showroom stock vehicle and certainly exceeds the requirements of most recreational drivers.
The part time four wheel drive system is very common within the dual cab ute space and works well, however it is an antiquated layout and has some significant limitations. The most significant of these limitations is that the advantages of four wheel drive cannot be utilised on sealed surfaces as it will cause drivetrain “windup” and significantly wear the tyres and mechanical components. This means in wet weather and slippery situations on the bitumen you only have a rear wheel drive vehicle and limited traction. The driver also needs to be aware of when four wheel drive can be engaged and when it cannot.
The Bloomfield track has several steep climbs that have been concreted in sections to enable use of the track throughout the wet season. The problem encountered was that when starting a climb in the BT-50 we needed to switch back into two wheel drive as it’s a sealed surface, however this steep concrete has slippery sections where the additional traction offered by a full time four wheel drive system would have been advantageous. A full time four wheel drive with a proper centre differential would also be more user friendly, allowing less experienced drivers to hit the trails without needing to consider when to engage or disengage the system.
The Hill Descent Control system on this vehicle is excellent, engaging effortlessly and holding the vehicle speed even down steep descents. Having owned older vehicles with earlier iterations of HDC (Discovery 3 and JK Wrangler) this example is almost silent and works smoothly at all times. It also works in two wheel drive, which could come in handy if you’re manouvering a trailer on a steep sealed road.
Ground clearance is quoted at 240mm which is certainly respectable. The front bumper and subframe present juicy targets for errant boulders out on the trail but you can get the BT-50 to most places with a thoughtful driving line and some care. A 50mm suspension lift and front end protection will be on the list for serious adventurers and should greatly increase the clearance and capability.
The standard fit tyres are Dunlop Grandtrek highway terrains and they actually performed very well on bitumen, gravel, loose rocks and mud. They will serve most buyers well while the more adventurous among us can easily swap them out for something more durable and aggressive for offroad use.
When it comes to watching the sealed road dissappear in the rear vison mirror, the Mazda BT-50 delivers on it’s promise of a competent and capable package. Ultimately the ground clearance and highway tyres will limit it’s abilities but these are easily rectified by those owners wishing to venture far from the beaten track. There is always room for improvement however, and it would be great if Mazda could provide an option for a full time four wheel drive system to simplify and improve the driving experience both on and off road.
The new Mazda BT-50 is an objectively good vehicle. It offers sharp looks, good load carrying capability, will take you and four friends nearly anywhere and use a reasonable amount of fuel to do so. For us it’s strongest virtue is a quiet, comfortable and capable touring ability, likely just as unfussed with a reasonable size trailer in tow.
We’d recommend looking at the BT-50 in GT trim if you want a rugged vehicle with the premium features, fit and finish to match. It does cost about 10% more than the XT tested here, however it’s an attractive offering that feels better differentiated from the competition. For the off road enthusiasts make sure to check out the BT-50 Thunder model, which is an accessorised GT.
The fresh faced Mazda has raised the bar significantly on it’s predecessor and deserves credit for offering a refined alternative to prospective buyers, but with the all-new Ford Ranger, VW Amarok, and Toyota Hilux confirmed for release in the next 2 years only time will tell if Mazda have gone far enough with their all new model.
The Bloomfield Track – Highlights Video
The Bloomfield Track in Far North Queensland is one of the most recognized (some would say controversial) offroading tracks in Far North Queensland. Also known as the Cape Tribulation-Bloomfield Road, it is one of Australia’s most scenic 4WD tracks taking you through the pristine heritage-listed rainforest while following the coastline of the Great Barrier Reef. The track is subject to seasonal flooding, slips, potholes, fallen trees, loss of traction, and ambitious drivers where many a car has fallen victim to the conditions and been left abandoned. We did our research before we took the Mazda BT-50 XT for a test drive on The Bloomfield Track with conditions favourable during our test drive. Take a look below at our highlight video of our experience to whet your appetite for the critical review ahead.
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*Disclaimer: All views and opinions expressed in this review are our own. We were not paid, nor compensated in any way for writing this review. If you would like to obtain any of our photos or further information regarding our test drive of the Mazda BT-50, please don’t hesitate to get into contact with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.