David Bonnici puts on a fluro vest to test drive the somewhat underrated Mazda BT-50 4WD ute.
There’s myriad 4×4 utes on the Australian market. To the uninitiated they all look the same but for a badge, and they all do their job reasonably well … however, what sets them apart is reputation and brand loyalty.
It’s the latter that probably hasn’t been too kind to Mazda’s stake in the market. While Mazda has achieved the unthinkable in knocking the Toyota Corolla off its perch with the Mazda 3, you can’t see its big-rugged BT-50 ute doing the same to Toyota’s all-conquering Hilux.
That’s not to say the BT-50 isn’t as good. While it’s a big chunky ute with a diesel engine, it’s actually quite refined in terms of interior styling, ride and comfort.
The suspension is a little springy, as you’d expect for a true 4WD, but the handling is smooth, and the 3.2-litre five-cylinder (yes, five) turbo diesel gives it plenty of grunt – it’s surprisingly nimble from a standing start.
The automatic transmission in the XTR model I test-drove was excellent, and made off-road driving a lot easier.
It’s also pretty fuel efficient, giving you around 10 litres/100kms combined driving (a bit less or more depending on payload), which is great going for a two-tonne ute.
The interior finish manages to balance blue-collar ruggedness with the quality you’ll find in Mazda passenger cars. It feels like an SUV, but you won’t feel compelled to take your work boots off before climbing in.
The front seats only have basic adjustments, but are comfortable, with good back support – important if you spend much of your working week behind the wheel.
The rear seats in the Freestyle 4X4 cab are rudimentary, and you wouldn’t want to sit in them for a long drive. They feel like a park bench and have minimal leg room … okay for apprentices, but forget about taking the family to Kakadu.
Of course, the BT-50 does come with a dual cab version that’s one of the roomiest in its class, but this is another story.
PHONE PIC OF THE REVIEW CAR – INSTAGRAM.COM/STAR_WEEKLY
The rear seat cushions lift up to give extra storage. I must admit I had the car a few days before realising they were accessible via small rearward opening doors – the fact I didn’t notice them says a lot about the design and build quality.
There are plenty of features for a work vehicle, despite a concerted effort to keep the cost down. There’s a touch screen, with the usual phone and entertainment options, a trip computer, and you can install urban and off-road satnav, which is included in the top-spec XTR.
The screen doesn’t display the reverse camera image; this shows up in the mirror. I like this concept, but the image is pretty small.
The side mirrors, however, are huge. I remember my driving instructor telling me to live in my mirrors – you could almost take him literally with these … they’re excellent.
The off-road driving was fun. There’s plenty of clearance and you can be helped in particularly rough terrain with hill-descent control and hill-start assist.
On-road safety features include an emergency stop signal (to help avoid rear-ending someone) and trailer sway control, not that you’d often need a trailer – the rear cargo area is huge and will carry around 1400 kilograms.
The BT-50 ticks all the boxes, with the added benefit of being cheaper than its Toyota Hilux.
Prices for the 4×4 freestyle cab start at $40,990 drive away, while the XTR will set you back $47,990.
By comparison, the base model Hilux 4×4 extra cab will cost you $49,246 to drive home, with the model up commensurately more.