Plastic Surgery

Mid-life styling and specification changes should make the Mazda BT-50 more appealing to 4x4 buyers who want a stronger-looking ute.

WORDS MATT RAUDONIKIS

MAZDA has given its BT-50 a facelift to address the concerns that turned many potential buyers away from the original model.

The primary changes centre around the onetonner’s styling, namely the toning down of the unpopular grinning grille. A new grille, headlights, bumper and tail-lights are stand-out changes in the mid-life model’s incremental makeover, while inside, a new and more functional centre-stack on XTR and GT models is a practical step forward.

The new, stronger-looking face of the BT-50 does away with the orange indicator lenses that previously exaggerated the swept-back look of the ‘eyes’ and replaces them with clear lenses over dark housings, with darker finishes on the new grille.

The changes are designed to give a more horizontal look than that of the old model, which had the appearance of a girl’s face with her ponytail pulled too tight.

Other exterior changes include new taillights with darker-red lenses and no chrome trims; new alloy wheel designs; and tubular side-steps on XTR and GT models.

The top-spec variants are the ones to benefit most on the inside. The XT retains the old centre-stack with its plethora of fiddly small buttons and lack of A/V screen, but the XTR and GT get a new stack featuring a 7.8-inch HD touchscreen with all the controls you need, including the sat-nav that, in a first for a production vehicle, is available with full HEMA offroad maps as a $295 option.

Unfortunately, the reversing camera’s display screen is small and situated in the rear-view mirror, where it is subject to glare. It would have been better to incorporate it into the 7.8-inch dash screen.

Mazda BT-50 4x4 range and prices

Model MLP 3.2L SINGLE C/CH XT 4X4 - man $36,850 3.2L SINGLE C/CH XT 4X4 - auto $38,910 3.2L FREESTYLE C/CH XT 4X4 - man $40,815 3.2L FREESTYLE C/CH XT 4X4- auto $42,815 3.2L FREESTYLE CAB UTILITY XTR 4X4 - man $47,675 3.2L FREESTYLE CAB UTILITY XTR 4X4 - auto $49,675 3.2L DUAL C/CH XT 4X4 - man $42,815 3.2L DUAL CAB UTILITY XT 4X4 - man $44,615 3.2L DUAL CAB UTILITY XT 4X4 - auto $46,615 3.2L DUAL CAB UTILITY XTR 4X4 - man $49,700 3.2L DUAL CAB UTILITY XTR 4X4 - auto $51,700 3.2L DUAL CAB UTILITY GT 4X4 - man $51,790 3.2L DUAL CAB UTILITY GT 4X4 - auto $53,790

The BT-50 4x4 range continues as before with XT, XTR and GT specifications; single-cab, freestyle-cab and double-cab bodies; and the choice of ute or cab-chassis. There are 13 4x4 models in the range. The engine remains the 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbodiesel backed by either a six-speed manual or auto transmission.

The engine makes 147kW at 3000rpm and 470Nm from 1750 to 2500rpm as it did before and is unchanged, unlike the similar engine in the Ford Ranger that has benefitted from some improvements to refinement. The drivetrain continues to employ part-time 4x4 with low-range, plus a rear diff lock that’s standard on all 4x4 variants. The 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel is only available in the 4x2 BT-50 models.

Another area where Mazda’s BT-50 differs from the Ford Ranger is power steering, which remains hydraulically assisted. Ford switched to electric power steering with the facelifted Ranger, but whether this is a better option is debatable. Many people prefer the traditional feel and feedback of hydraulic power steering, while others are attracted to the light feel at parking speeds of electrically assisted systems.

Like Ford, Mazda has also improved the shift quality of the six-speed manual behind the 3.2. The new short-stroke shift is much more direct and positive than the vague shifter in the old model, making the manual more enjoyable to drive and ensuring it is the transmission of choice for those who enjoy the control and connectivity of rowing your own ratios.

It also benefits those who prefer a lower crawl ratio for off-road use.

As more manufacturers switch to smaller capacity engines, the 3.2-litre engine used by Mazda and Ford will find favour with buyers who like the feel of bigger engines and the way they deliver torque. In the BT-50, the engine is happy to lope along at a relaxed gait, only breathing heavily if you put your foot down. It’s well-matched to both the manual and auto transmissions, whatever your choice.

The updates to the interior of the XTR and GT also make the BT-50 an easier car to live with. The new dash is far more practical, usable and more in-line with the high-specification levels of utes these days.

The BT-50 has always been a great-valuefor- money package, but many would-be buyers couldn’t get over the styling. The value continues with only an incremental rise in price for some variants, which is made up for with the added features on the XTR and GT models. We’re confident many buyers will make the most of the value now that the car has a fresh look.

The mid-spec XTR should appeal to most recreational 4x4ers. In its standard kit, it includes a rear diff lock; trailer sway control; 17-inch alloy wheels; and dualzone climate control. It now comes with a reversing camera, tubular side steps, auto dimming mirrors, rain sensing wipers and auto headlamps. The top-of-the-range GT also gets heated exterior mirrors that fold and include embedded indicators, plus privacy glass on the rear windows.

Even in GT trim, the Mazda doesn’t have the refinement and features of some other top-spec utes, but it doesn’t have the $60K price tag, either. This leaves room for Mazda to introduce a higher-spec model to cater to the lucrative top-of-the-range ute buyers. As it is, the BT-50 range is modest and targeted at mainstream private and fleet markets – with the fleet segment the area where Mazda hopes to pick up sales.

The BT-50 was the tenth top-selling 4x4 for the year to September, 2015.

MAZDA BT-50 4X4 XTR DBL-CAB

ENGINE Inline 5-cyl, diesel CAPACITY 3198cc MAX POWER 147kW @ 3000rpm MAX TORQUE 470Nm @ 1750rpm GEARBOX 6-speed automatic or manual CRAWL RATIO 52.5:1 (man) 42.3:1 (auto) 4X4 SYSTEM Part time 4x4 with low range CONSTRUCTION Body on frame FRONT SUSPENSION Independent with coil springs REAR SUSPENSION Live axle on leaf springs WHEEL AND TYRE SPEC 17 x 8in alloys with 265/65-R17 tyres KERB WEIGHT 2105kg GVM 3200kg PAYLOAD 1095kg TOWING CAPACITY 3500kg SEATING CAPACITY 5 FUEL TANK CAPACITY 80L ADR FUEL CONSUMPTION* 9.2L/100km *Australian Design Rule ‘Combined-Cycle’ claim