By James Stanford
Meet the Mazda BT-50, another “ute” from Australia, closely related to the new Ford Ranger. Both come out of the same lines of the same factories, but they have unique interiors, exteriors and suspension tuning.
While we hear a fair amount of criticism from frustrated Americans who would love to buy a Ranger, the BT-50 doesn’t bring out the same kind of passion, partly because Mazda isn’t as well-known for its commercial vehicles, but it could also have something to do with Mazda’s styling as well.
The BT-50 is not your average-looking ute. Mazda gave it all the curves of a futuristic coupe, and it’s a little confronting. But it would be foolish to dismiss the Mazda for its looks because it is a lot tougher than it looks.
This platform is new from the ground up, and the BT-50 has instantly become one of the best work trucks around. It’s one of the bigger ones in its class. The dual cab is 211 inches from nose to tail and 71 inches tall, but it is relatively narrow, at 73 inches wide, so it also appeals to many Asian customers who need to get it through narrow spots. You can get it as a chassis cab if you want a flat tray or go with the steel box, which measures 61 inches wide, 61 inches long, 20 inches deep and 45 inches between the wheel arches.
You can get it as a regular cab, extended cab, and dual (or crew) cab, the latter of which has room for five. There is a choice of two- and four-wheel-drive models with an on-demand system four-wheel drive system with low range and an electronic rear-locking differential.
The ground clearance is 9.3 inches for the 4x4, and it has 31 inches of wading depth, which we tested out through a creek near the Australian capital of Canberra. It made it through easily. As for the 4x4 capability, the BT-50 easily handled some steep and slippery tracks with ease.
A gas four-cylinder is available in some markets; the Australian BT-50s are diesel-only, and buyers can choose from a 2.2-liter four-cylinder or a 3.2-liter five-cylinder. Both are common-rail units with a variable-geometry turbocharger and are available with a six-speed manual or a torque converter-type automatic with six speeds.
We didn’t get to try the small engine, but we do know it makes 147 horsepower at 3,700 rpm and 277 pounds-feet of torque between 1,500 rpm and 2,500 rpm. The 3.2-liter manages a more respectable 197 hp at 3,000 rpm and 347 pounds-feet of torque between 1,750 rpm and 2,500 rpm. Like the Ranger, these engines come from the Ford Transit family with some revisions.
Our utes were empty, but this engine handled 1,540 pounds in the Ranger without a worry. The BT-50 has a payload capacity of up to 2,802 pounds and can tow a very respectable 7,385 pounds. For the full specs on the three cabs and their capacities in pdf format, click here: Download BT50 Specs-1 (1).
The suspension is a rigid axle with leaf springs at the back and double wishbones and coilovers at the front. Combine that with a far stiffer ladder frame and new liquid-filled chassis mounts, and the BT-50 can handle big loads, yet it is also relatively civilized on the road.
As to ride, it's not quite as comfortable as the Ranger’s. Mazda says its engineers opted for alternate bushings, anti-roll bars and shock absorber damping rates to give the truck a sportier and firmer feel — some might even call it more car-like. As a result, the truck handles a little better on smooth surfaces, but it feels more jittery and slightly less controlled on rougher surfaces as it picks up all the bumps and imperfections from the road. It does handle extremely well for a workhorse ute, though, and the rack-and-pinion steering feels sharp and precise.
Mazda decided to make the interior more car-like as well. The cabin looks every bit as good as a premium Mazda passenger car, and the quality is top notch. It is extremely quiet in there, too. Sure, you hear some diesel clatter, but it is still quite serene, and there is no need to raise your voice to chat with backseat passengers.
Like the Ranger, the BT-50 has heaps of headroom and legroom for all occupants, and there are tens of cubby holes for all your gear, including spots beneath the floor in the rear passenger footwells, much like the full-size Ram 1500s. We especially like that the rear seats fold up and down to allow for extra practicality.
Safety was given a high priority, and the BT-50 comes standard with front and side curtain airbags and electronic stability control. Mazda Australia also offers two approved bull bars that work with the airbag sensors. It proved their strength with footage of a test in which the BT-50 hit a specially made kangaroo crash-test dummy at 60 mph. There wasn’t much left of the hefty dummy, which weighed the same as a male adult kangaroo, but the bull bar and front end of the Mazda was in perfect condition.
Will buyers in the U.S. see the BT-50 anytime soon? Not likely, but it’s good to know there is a little truck out there that could be imported by Mazda if the small-truck segment in the U.S. were to surge.