New car review: Mazda BT-50 XT Dual Cab 4x4 Pickup
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Isuzu should feel suitably chuffed about Mazda’s new ute.
Mazda’s previous-generation BT50 ute shared its essentials with the popular Ford Ranger but for this latest iteration of its durable workhorse Mazda has partnered with Isuzu, which last year released the all-new D-Max.
That means the new Mazda ute, like the new D-Max, sits at the leading edge of safety in the segment, thanks to the host of advanced safety and driver assistance features found on all variants.
Every model from both car makers scores an impressive five-star safety rating, achieved against the latest and most stringent test regime from independent testing authority ANCAP.
The comprehensive suite of safety and driver assistance features on the new BT extends to eight airbags, including a centre front airbag (to prevent contact between front seat occupants in a side impact).
Other standard features include AEB with turn assist, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring, forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition, lane-keep assist, lane departure warning, emergency lane keeping, driver attention alert, mis-acceleration mitigation (auto models), auto high-beam, post-collision braking, intelligent speed limiter and a reversing camera.
Model for model, buyers of the new BT-50 need to shell out more moolah than for the D-Max, although there’s some additional standard equipment to help compensate for the price rises.
In the case of the popular XT 4WD dual cab pickup with auto transmission tested here, versus the equivalent SX D-Max, the list price difference is $3360.
Mazda’s additional equipment includes 17-inch alloys (four) in lieu of the SX’s 17-inch steel wheels, six audio speakers up from the Isuzu’s four, LED headlights instead of halogen, lumbar adjustment for the driver’s seat, rear parking sensors, left front passenger vanity mirror and carpet floor coverings instead of the D-Max’s easy-clean vinyl matting.
Mazda charges $2500 to option up from the manual to the six-speed auto on all 4x4 models (it’s standard on Mazda 4x2 versions), unless you are buying the top-spec GT, where the auto costs an additional $3,000. Over at Isuzu you can have the same auto transmission on any model (where it isn’t already standard) for $2000 extra.
With the arrival of this new model, Mazda has consigned the old five-pot 3.2-litre turbodiesel to the history books in favour of Isuzu’s four-cylinder 3.0-litre 4JJ3-TCX engine.
Though promoted as a new engine, it is in fact a heavily re-engineered and more powerful version of the proven 4JJ1 used in the superseded D-Max.
In the BT’s case, the engine change means power and torque outputs have fallen somewhat compared with the old five-cylinder – down 7kW and 20Nm.
On the upside, fuel consumption is significantly improved with official combined-cycle consumption dropping from 9.2L/100km to a more frugal 8.0L/100km.
The upgraded engine is also cleaner and meets Euro 5 emissions compliance.
On the road it’s noticeably quieter and more refined than the old Isuzu unit on which it’s based, offering solid low and mid-range response. There’s a strong 450Nm kicking in from 1600-2600rpm with around 90% of that still on offer up to 3250 RPM.
Road manners are quite agreeable, too, with the new electric speed-sensitive power steering feeling well-weighted both around town and on the open road.
Ride comfort is also reasonably civilised, at least by ute standards, while handling is capable.
A rear diff lock and tilt-and-reach steering adjustment are among the new model’s standard features with the latter helping the driver achieve a more comfortable driving position.
Seat comfort is improved across the board with rear passengers now subjected to a slightly less than bolt-upright seating position.
Like the D-Max, the BT’s fresh new interior looks more contemporary and is neatly finished, albeit with quite a bit of hard-looking plastic.
However, unlike the exterior, where Mazda’s designers have been allowed to deploy the brand’s own styling signature, most obviously with the large familial grille design, the interior of the XT doesn’t say “Mazda” emphatically enough.
We have come to expect a premium look and feel from Mazda interiors in recent years and in our view the BT-50 XT sails a tad too close to the D-Max for comfort.
There is at least a narrow soft-touch trim with stitch detail running across the edge of the dash pad, providing some point of difference.
The new BT also scores a new and easier-to-use infotainment system with a 7.0-inch colour touchscreen on XT (9.0-inch on higher grades), Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay (wireless and USB), Android Auto (USB) and DAB+ radio as standard, plus a rear USB charging port. Standard navigation doesn’t kick in until buyers stump for the better specified XTR and GT models.
Continuing the comparisons, Mazda’s new vehicle warranty is shorter at five years than the D-Max’s better-than-average six-year offering.
However, Mazda’s coverage extends to unlimited kilometres where Isuzu caps its at 150,000km, so we’ll call that a draw.
The new and vastly improved BT50 puts Mazda right back in the fight in the ultra-competitive ute class.
While it’s more expensive than its Isuzu dopypelganger, the brand does have a fair bit of “fizz” about it which may translate into better resale value.
Mazda also has a more extensive network of dealers and various nice-to-have features could well make it a slightly more appealing package than the more work-horse oriented Isuzu.
MLP: $53,260 (auto).
ENGINE: 3.0-litre turbodiesel, four cylinders.
ANCAP CRASH RATING: Five stars (2020).
FUEL CONSUMPTION (combined cycle, litres/100km): 8.0 (207g/km CO₂).
FOR: Class-leading safety, improvements including lower fuel consumption, capable on and off-road.
AGAINST: Engine outputs lower than old model, not enough Mazda differentiation from cheaper Isuzu.