Mazda BT-50 on test: utility sports vehicle
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Mazda BT-50 GTX
- Looks like an SUV
- Safety equipment
- Handles well
- Still sounds like a truck
- Less model choice than D-Max
- Aggressive Lane Keep Assist
Once upon a time, a ute was exclusively for those who needed a practical vehicle capable of hauling heavy loads. As buying trends have shifted over the decades, we’ve seen utes enter the mainstream to the point where it they hold the top three spots in New Zealand’s new-vehicle sales. But how did they get here?
I believe that it has something to do with the global shift that we’ve seen to SUVs, bigger is perceived as safer - and who doesn’t want a tray at the back to throw all manner of things into? That’s exactly how we’ve landed on modern utes: they’re safe, practical, have room for the whole family and look great. Mazda’s new BT-50 has all of those traits down perfectly, especially the latter.
For its first two generations, the Mazda BT-50 had a lot in common with the Ford Ranger. But Mazda has teamed up with Isuzu for this new BT-50, which is essentially a rebodied D-Max built by Isuzu Motors in Thailand.
The Isuzu brings with it the title of “NZ’s safest ute”. The BT-50 shares that five-star rating (although it’s shy a couple of ANCAP percentage points overall, so the Isuzu is still technically top), which is helped by the addition of a centre airbag that will stop heads clashing over the console in the front row.
It’s obvious that the Japanese brand spent a lot of time sculpting the aesthetics of the new BT-50, which shares the same design language as its SUV lineup. This was one aspect that Mazda NZ is very proud of, explaining that it’s the ute that you’d be proud to park outside a restaurant when you go out for dinner.
Looks aside, this ute is a bona fide workhorse thanks to the Isuzu-sourced 3.0-litre turbo diesel engine. It’s the only engine that’s offered across the BT-50 range, and does the trick with 146kW/450Nm on tap. A six-speed automatic is also the only transmission available, although buyers do have the choice between 4x2 and 4x4 models.
Three trim levels are available across the BT-50 range, which include GSX, GTX, and Limited. Prices start at $47,490 for a two-wheel drive GSX, and go through to $60,990 for a range-topping four-wheel drive Limited with leather seats. Double-cab wellsides made up the majority of ute sales in NZ and that’s the only style this BT-50 is offered in.
The GSX gets 17-inch alloy wheels, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto as standard. Moving up to the GTX gets you a flashy set of forged wheels and keyless entry. At the top of the range, the Limited adds heated leather seats and a remote engine start feature.
The BT-50 makes no secret of being a ute, with its turbo diesel soundtrack. But the interior makes it feel more like an SUV.
We’ve tested both the GTX and Limited trims. Personally, I prefer the cloth seats of the GTX, but can see how the classy look of the black leather interior would appeal to some.
On the road, this BT-50 is a dream to drive, and handles itself well in the wet; the chassis gives plenty of warning when it’s near the limit. Adaptive Cruise Control is a nice touch that comes standard on every model, and will even allow you to stop in traffic with the system engaged.
My only gripe came in the form of a couple of over-protective safety systems. The Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) system would sometimes grab the brakes when approaching a car slowing down to make a turn in your lane, and the Lane Keep Assist system would alert you to the slightest movement towards road markings. Some tweaks might be required there, although the latter can be switched off.
You’d buy this BT-50 over its rivals because of price in my eyes. For the most part, the Mazda is a fair chunk of change cheaper than the Isuzu-badged equivalents. Granted, you can still get the D-Max in a range of body styles and have the option of manual or auto, but statistics suggest that most buyers will end up in a double-cab auto anyway.
On top of this, the MazdaCare programme is pretty hard to beat, with the brand offering a five-year/150,000km warranty, five years of roadside assistance, and five years of fixed-price servicing.
ENGINE: 3.0-litre turbo diesel four
GEARBOX: 6-speed automatic, 2WD or part-time 4WD