Dual-cab ute’s massive transformation
Mazda's 2021 BT50 one-tonne ute marks the end of a 28-year relationship with Ford that began with the 1992 Bravo - a rebadged Ford Courier - and segued into the first Ford Ranger/BT50 twins in 2006.
The new BT50 is no longer a reskinned Ford Ranger. Instead, Mazda has turned to Isuzu and it's new D-Max. This brings major benefits in reliability, safety and fuel efficiency, but de-Rangering the BT has its downsides, too.
Given that most one tonners are bought by people with an ABN number, Mazda is spruiking big drive-away discounts for business owners.
ABN holders, for example, pay $59,990 for the top of the range BT50 GT automatic dual cab pick-up we're testing today. A wage earner will (according to Mazda) pay $65,574 - an extra $5584.
On the volume-selling XTR automatic, ABN holders pay $56,490 and enjoy an even heftier discount of $6169.
If you don't have an ABN, ask the dealer why you should have to pay thousands of dollars more for the same truck. If the dealer is serious, he'll tell you the truth. You don't.
Under the bonnet, the new BT offers lazier performance from the 140kW/450Nm 3.0-litre Isuzu turbodiesel compared with the previous BT/Ranger's 147kW/470Nm 3.2-litre five-cylinder engine.
BT50 GT isn't quite as blinged up as its $58,990 drive-away (to all comers) Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain rival - and it misses out on the Isuzu's roller-style tonneau cover and tub liner - but it does include luxurious heated, leather-faced front seats, walk away central locking, remote engine start, dual-zone airconditioning, satnav, digital radio, voice control (though not for address entry in navigation), two USB connectors (one in the back seat), self-levelling LED headlights and 18-inch alloys.
Driving position adjustability and seat comfort are excellent by ute standards, there's plenty of storage and the slim, stylish dash is similar in design and execution to Mazda's cars and SUVs. Fit, finish and materials quality are at the premium end of ute world. Not sure about the GT's chocolate brown trim, though.
Back-seat passengers don't have it quite as good. Legroom is OK, but the seat is low so adults sit knees up. Vents are provided.
As with many utes, the ride is absorbent on big bumps but firm springs also transmit smaller imperfections so you're constantly jostled in the cabin. The ride would improve with a load on board.
Safety is best in class for all variants. Other utes have some elements of the BT's (and D-Max's) driver-assist safety tech, but none has the full package and a few, notably the Amarok, have pretty much zip. If carrying kids and safety are high priorities, this is the obvious choice.
Mazda's autonomous emergency braking and lane departure warning/lane keeping systems are aggressive, though, and sometimes intervene unnecessarily. This can drive you nuts. You can turn both off (not advisable for AEB) but they default to on every time you restart.
On the move, the Mazda feels old school. There's enough grunt there to do the job, but $60K can buy a lot more - a 165kW/550Nm Amarok 3.0 V6 or a 150kW/500Nm HiLux 2.8. Acceleration is leisurely.
That said, the Isuzu engine is smoother than the Toyota's, acceptably quiet, and delivers great fuel economy, especially compared with the Ranger's thirsty 3.2-litre five-cylinder. On the highway it can do high sixes; around town you'll rarely get into double figures.
In part this is because of tall gearing and the six-speed automatic's calibration to take full advantage of it. At 100km/h in sixth it's pulling just 1400rpm; at 80km/h in fifth, the same. It will chug around all day on the low side of 2000rpm.
Cornering ability is typical one-tonner: unremarkable and predictably ponderous. Off road, tackling tricky terrain in low range, the drive-by-wire accelerator is a touch too sensitive, the transition from off to on boost can be abrupt and shift paddles would be useful. Otherwise, there are no problems. A locking rear diff, appropriate low-range gearing, 240mm of clearance, a claimed 800mm fording depth and hill descent control are all standard.
As with most utes, the BT's claimed maximum towing capacity of 3500kg is a meaningless number. At gross vehicle mass (GVM) of 3100kg, your trailer can weigh no more than 2850kg in order to keep within the legal gross combination mass (GCM) of 5950kg. An auto transmission cooler is fitted.
The previous BT looked way too weird. This one is stylish, conservative and, yes, even a little bit classy.
I want a one-tonner to use as family transport as well as work, so I'll go for the safest kid carrier. This wins by a mile.
BT50 is no longer a bargain-priced Ranger, so it has, as a deal and a drive, slipped back a little in the pack. It's moved to the front, though, for reliability, fuel efficiency and safety.
Isuzu D-Max All Terrain, from $58,990 drive-away
Isuzu's hero model is the same ute in most respects but you save $1000, get a bit more gear and an extra year's warranty: 6 years/150,000km.
Mitsubishi Triton GSR, from $52,740 plus on-roads
The best value one-tonner on the market. Runs a 133kW/430Nm 2.4-litre turbodiesel. Will tow 2985kg at GVM. Ten-year warranty applies only with dealer servicing.
MAZDA BT50 GT VITALS
Price: $59,990 drive away
Warranty/servicing: 5 yr/unl'td km; $2288 for 5 yrs
Engine: 3.0-litre 4-cyl turbodiesel, 140kW/450Nm
Safety: 5 stars, 8 airbags, auto emergency braking, adaptive cruise, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keep assist
Spare: Full-size alloy
Originally published as Dual-cab ute's massive transformation