By Damien O’Carroll
The current Mazda BT-50 is arguably a better ute than the Ford Ranger, particularly when it comes to value for money. But it has always been the Ford’s more traditional and truck-like looks that have seen it win out over the Mazda.
With the recently facelifted BT-50 Mazda New Zealand decided on a change of direction in where it wants to compete in the utility market. The company has abandoned the high-end ute segment (an area where the Ranger holds the high ground), making the $57,295 4WD automatic GSX you see here the top model in the BT-50 range.
The company reasons that it is easy enough to option a GSX up to Ranger Wildtrak-levels, so a fully-kitted model wasn’t necessary. Neither was the $70K price tag that the top spec utes are starting to exceed these days.
On the road, the GSX is, as you would expect very much like the old model, as minimal changes have been made to its essential underpinnings. And neither did there need to be, as the BT-50 (alongside the Ranger) was easily one of the best in its segment for handling and ride quality with one of the roomiest and most comfortable cabs available.
And so that stays, with the BT-50 proving to still be a very all round ute that handles in a whole unexpected nimble fashion when called upon to do so. Tipping the BT-50 into a corner a bit faster than you intended it handles it with remarkable grace and ability by the well-sorted chassis, while it still somehow remains effortlessly good off the road as well.
The big 3.2-litre five-cylinder diesel engine is every bit as powerful and torquey as it is in rival Ford products, while the six-speed automatic transmission is equally as good
Inside the changes are subtle as well, meaning the BT-50 still has one of the best and most car-like interiors in the ute segment. The Bt-50’s interior is comfortable, roomy and well laid-out, although the tiny colour screen for the infotainment system is starting to look a little small and dated by today’s standards.
In terms of standard equipment, the GSX comes well-endowed with 8-way driver’s seat adjustment (including lumbar), a lockable tailgate, an illuminated lockable glovebox, 17-inch alloy wheels, side steps, an automatic day/night rear view mirror, an in-mirror reversing camera, satellite navigation, automatic headlights, rain sensing wipers and a centre rear seat armrest.
Then we come to how it looks.
While still not to a lot of people’s tastes, Mazda has given it a great nose job, introducing stronger horizontal lines in order to reduce the worst of the swoopy, smiling face of the previous model. Most of the chrome has been replaced by matt black, while the grille shape is far more horizontal and forward-thrusting. New headlights, with a strong horizontal chrome element also help flatten things out, while clear indicator lenses improve the headlights. To my eye, it works well, bringing a strong, more masculine look to the nose, but it still lacks the square-jawed tough truck look of the Ranger.
Unfortunately, while Mazda have uplifted the nose rather well, the weird and awkward horizontal tail lights still blight the rear.
This is the single worst visual aspect of the BT-50 and I think it is best that we all agree that horizontal tail lights just don’t work on utes and move on.
Of course, one of the bigger advantages the BT-50 has over the competition is Mazda’s “CommercialCare” programme that brings fixed price servicing for 3 years (or 100,000km, whichever occurs first) meaning the owner only pays $200 including GST per service at scheduled service intervals. Along with this you also get 3 years of Mazda On Call Roadside Assistance plus an industry leading 3 years or 150,000km (again, whichever occurs first) Mazda Warranty included in the entry price.
While Mazda haven’t followed Ford’s lead and treated the BT-50 to a comprehensive mid-life update, what they have done has made significant improvements to an already-excellent ute. The underlying characteristics of the BT-50 are as good as they ever were, with the big diesel engine providing heaps of power and quite remarkable amounts of torque and the chassis being remarkably capable and civilised on the road.
The fact that they have done it without an equally significant price increase is particularly impressive. Just like the BT-50 itself, really.
Engine, Drivetrain and Chassis 17/20
Price, Packaging and Practicality 16/20
Safety and Technology 16/20
Behind the Wheel 18/20