The answer is yes! Behind the steering wheel, these two utes are in fact twins, the exterior sheet metal body style and interior fit-out are the only thing separating the Mazda BT-50 from the Isuzu D-max. They share the same Isuzu running gear components like; engines, chassis, gearbox, differentials and a few other components.
They are both made by Isuzu in their Thailand factory, just different body panels and interior components.
So, where do they differ exactly? And what has changed since the previous models?
In this article, we’ll dig into precisely this.
Are Mazda and Isuzu in a partnership for their Utes?
When developing new platforms it can be mutually beneficial to collaborate with another manufacturer. The reasoning behind this could be production costs, manufacturing speed, or simply the cost of the final product.
Mazda BT-50 was previously partnered with Ford Ranger and was quite successful for many years. Much like Isuzu had an agreement with GM for the Holden Colorado.
When these four companies separated, all (or most) ties were cut, including proprietary information and mutual parts sharing.
This made way for new partnerships, and one such partnership is the Mazda BT-50/Isuzu D-Max collab.
This means that both vehicles share identical chassis, suspension, engines, and running gear.
Mazda have been known for their driver assistant technology like radar, adaptive cruise control etc. So Isuzu will definitely benefit from this, the 2018 Isuzu D-Max were very technology thin, so to speak. They were very simple utes.
Where these two utes come into their own is through model differentiation and available upgrades.
What to expect with the new 2021 Mazda BT-50 & Isuzu D-Max Partnership
With over 20 years in the same house as Ford, Mazda benefited greatly in the engineering department and support. The Mazda BT-50 cab chassis was almost entirely a Ford Ranger except for body panels and interior.
Isuzu D-Max cab chassis was every bit of a work-horse and kept it simple. Not a lot of frills and because they knew their intended clientele. The tradies loved the previous years Isuzu D-Max because it was reliable, simplistic and affordable.
Moving into this new partnership, it is not a sibling’s quarrel in the slightest. Both utes will be tech-heavy, including upgrades such as rear cross-traffic alert, steering wheel media controls, emergency braking, hill descent control system, reversing camera, lane departure warning, traction control, and much more.
Mazda has given just about every option known to man straight from the showroom floor while Isuzu D-Max maintains a less is more approach they have been known for, at least in the accessory department.
This is not to say either is better than the other, it’s the accessory catalogue that sets these twins apart.
Engine and Transmission Details
Both the Isuzu D-Max has retained its 3.0 Litre Turbo Diesel, which we are very happy about. Sadly many manufacturers are being forced to reduce the capacity of their diesel engines thanks to emissions control and regulations. For example, the Hilux went from a 3.0 Litre Turbo Diesel to a 2.8, and the Navara is now a 2.2 Litre. The Triton used to be a 3.0 Litre, and now it’s a 2.4.
So it’s refreshing to see a 3.0 Litre stay in these utes, outputting 140kW and 450 Nm of torque. Depending on the model, both vehicles share the same 6-speed automatic transmission, which has seen improvements. And they even managed to get more power out of the engine while reducing fuel consumption.
What sets them apart?
While these utes share common core running gear, each brand has made them unique in their own way.
Both the D-Max and the BT-50 are bringing plenty to the table in terms of optional extras that you can upgrade the vehicle with.
Mazda is throwing the book at us! Mazda didn’t hesitate to give you, the consumer, everything you could think of as optional extras.
In this world of Thailand manufactured utes, Mazda is getting all the love and aiming to be a top-tier work-horse. Unlike the previously shared platform with the Ford Ranger, Mazda is now the premium option in terms of tech, price and we believe in styling as well (but that’s subjective).
Previously, when Ford Ranger & Mazda BT-50 shared the same platform, the Ranger was a more premium option. It was slightly more expensive; it seemed to be a bit more comfort-oriented. When you drove the Ranger, it even performed differently.
But it seems in this new relationship, the Mazda is now the premium option, with more accessories and slightly more tech. You’ll also get some more features as standard included on the base models with the Mazda than you do with the Isuzu.
Although with that said, Isuzu DMax has made leaps & bounds in terms of tech in this generation, no doubt lending to the relationship with Mazda.
Pricing is a significant decision factor for most people in this segment, and with the new Isuzu D-Max coming in at a lower price point+on-road costs. We believe that we’ll be seeing a lot more of them at the Trayon Campers factory.
Another key difference is the manufacturer’s warranty. The Isuzu D-Max comes with a whopping 6 year / 150 000km new vehicle warranty for both the D-Max & MU-X. It can even be transferred between owners.
Whereas the Mazda Comes with 5 year / unlimited-kilometre warranty. So both are very competitive.
Trayon Campers Top 5 Customer Utes:
The Isuzu D-Max is climbing the ranks for the Trayon Top 5 Utes our customers choose.
During DOVID-19, while the old D-Max was getting phased out and the new D-Max was still inbound, the D-Max dropped to 4th place and the Mazda was at 3rd place.
For a while there the Top 5 were: Ford Ranger, Toyota Hilux, Mazda BT-50, the Isuzu D-Max and the Landcruiser 79 Series. And now the D-Max is in full production, we are seeing a shift mainly because of the price point and the tech gap closing. The D-Max could end up in the top 2 in the coming years! Taking the second spot from the Hilux!
We are even starting to see customers order the D-Max through our Turn Key service.
The 2022 D-Max, set to be released in the first quarter, they are adding another 3 new 4×4 models to the line up with even more electronic features. So that will definitely bolster it’s the position in the podium.
GVM Upgradability for 2021 models
One of the common questions we get asked is, “do I need a GVM upgrade?”
The standard GVM for both the BT-50 4×4 and D-Max 4×4 models is 3100kg with a GCM of 5950kg.
Giving you a payload between 887kg – 1220kg depending on the configuration you choose, and a braked towing capacity of 3500kg.
Prior to the first registration of the new vehicle, you can get what’s called a second stage manufacturing GVM upgrade through Pedders for the Isuzu D-Max & the Mazda BT-50 up to 3450kg, that’s an extra 350kg. In this, they give you offroad suspension and brake upgrades to handle carrying a heavier load.
Pedders was one of the first to bring a GVM upgrade to this generation of Isuzu D-Max, and it’s great to see 350kg right out of the gate. Other common GVM upgrades for other vehicles are usually around the 300kg arena, so that extra 50kg is significant.
So why would you want a GVM upgrade?
Well, we will cover this in a more in-depth discussion in the coming months. However, one thing to keep in mind is that overloading a vehicle is entirely the responsibility of the driver. So if you were to accidentally overload the vehicle and there was an accident, it’s likely that insurance or warranty will be void.
You might think that 1 tonne of the payload is quite a bit, however, you’d be surprised at how quickly that gets consumed when you go camping.
Keep in mind that the Payload includes:
- bull bars,
- the winch,
- the snorkel
- the spotlights,
- the UHF,
- the side rails,
- the side steps,
- the roof rack,
- the secondary spare tire,
- the long-range fuel tank,
- canvas seat covers
- maps in the glove box,
- fluffy dice hanging off the mirror,
- dual battery
- jerry cans,
- extra water,
- extra fuel,
- all of the stuff that you’re going to strap on to the vehicle that is above and beyond what is supplied with it, those things weigh a lot.
- The Missus
- The dog
It really adds up, not to mention if you have a Slide on Camper or a Canopy with toolboxes etc.
So, getting a 350kg GVM upgrade allows you to factor in at least many of the 4WD accessories without eating consuming that precious 1-tone remainder of the payload (e.g. winch & bull bar).
Keep in mind that a GVM upgrade does not upgrade the GCM. That means the more you carry, the less you can tow.
So if you did get the 3450kg GVM upgrade, and you loaded your vehicle to the max capacity, and you decided to tow a caravan. Said caravan would have to be less than 3150kg.
However, if your goal was to avoid towing at all costs, then a GVM upgrade could be wise to account for vehicle accessories.
We have driven the Pedders GVM upgrade as well, it was nice to drive, not too harsh or rough.
Normally on your offroad suspension upgrades, you get a 48mm lift which helps with 4WD clearance, however, with this upgrade we noticed we got closer to 36-38mm, we couldn’t get the exact number from Pedders. That’s still sufficient to protect your shock absorbers from maxing out on the upstroke.
It’s common with GVM upgrades that, when unloaded the suspension has a maxed-out upstroke, mainly because it has been engineered to handle a constant load of 600kg sitting on the back, compressing the suspension. This would typically give you a rough ride, you know, that jarring effect when you go over a bump. So it is refreshing to see that Pedders have done this a different way.
2021 Isuzu D-Max & Mazda BT-50 Major Seating Changes
There is one big change that no one seems to be talking about and almost flew under our radar until we saw both the D-Max & BT-50 in person.
This change applies to the “extra-cab” variants, in the Isuzu, this is called the “Space Cab” and in the Mazda, this is called the “Freestyle Cab”.
So this big change is that these modes have surprisingly been converted to 2-seaters only.
In previous years, the Isuzu Space Cab & The Mazda Freestyle Cab utes had a small but useful second row of seating, like many of the other extra-cab utes on the market.
It seems in order to maintain the 5-Star ANCAP Safety rating, the extra seats have been removed.
This is actually a big blow for many of our customers and could be a deal-breaker.
Most of our customers opt for the extra-cab variants because they provide the following benefits:
- Extra secure storage over a single cab, you can just reach in the back to access it.
- Still fits a full-size single cab Trayon camper on the back (Trayon 1980 models).
- They have the option to pick up their kids or grandkids or take someone to the airport
Although statistically the amount of time they actually carry passengers is probably really low, having the option as a safety net was always a key selling point.
We are hoping this is due to the configuration of the shared platform, some technicality, otherwise, this could also mean the new Hilux Extra Cab & Ranger Supercab (top-selling utes) could suffer the same fate (let’s hope not!).
So if you are looking at either the Mazda or Isuzu, and you want to carry more than two passengers occasionally then your only option is dual-cab variants.
As of the latest reports, all of these regulations/rules changes apply to the Mazda BT-50 variants as well but be sure to check with your local dealer to be certain for either manufacturer.
Wheelbase & Tray Changes
The wheelbase of the Isuzu D-Max is longer and wider in this model, and that’s a good thing!
A longer wheelbase is excellent news for people wanting to carry canopies, tools & equipment and slide-on campers because it more evenly distributes the weight over the two axles.
The longer wheelbase also helps with ride comfort overall. Generally speaking the closer the two axles are together the stiffer the ride.
All of these new adjustments provide for a better ride loaded or unloaded. Coupled with the revamped 3.0 diesel engine you’ll get better fuel economy loaded or unloaded.
Adding a Tray
One of the most common changes people do with a ute in Australia is to add a flat tray on the back, as it gives you more workable space that you can utilize.
Typically tray lengths were standardised based on the Toyota Hilux (top-selling ute). For the dual cab, you have a usable tray length of 1800mm, for the extra cab you have a 2100mm tray and for the single cab, you have 2400-2500mm tray lengths.
What do we mean by usable tray length? Tray length is measured from the rearmost protruding part of the headboard back to the back edge of the tray.
The previous model D-Max had a smaller tray size than these standards, which made it very difficult for manufacturers of canopies and campers to build standard solutions to include the D-Max.
This is no longer a problem with the latest generation of D-Max’s with the extended wheelbase! Finally, Isuzu has come to the party and you can now fit these industry-standard tray sizes.
Another key consideration when looking at buying either a D-Max or BT-50 is that if you intend to make it a tray back ute, your only option is to go with the lower spec cab-chassis models. Because removing the tub on a higher spec model will likely void warranty & cause issues with insurance.
So, Ford & Hilux win here, they both offer higher-spec models as cab chassis.
Safety upgrades for these 2021 utes
A Reversing camera and autonomous emergency braking (AEB) seem to be in stock form on most vehicles these days and it’s no different for these twins. Mazda & Isuzu both bring a trailer sway control system to the table that adjusts brake pressure and torque levels to keep the trailer safely tucked in behind you consistently.
A rear cross-traffic alert system allows the Mazda to see where you can’t. Detecting approaching vehicles, persons, and cyclists so everyone on the road or car park remains safe and sound.
If you happen to stray from the lane you’re in, the lane departure warning will sound. Over 60Km/h this warning system activates and keeps you in check so you arrive alive.
We all do our best to believe we are safe on the road but it’s hard to see where you can’t. The blind-spot monitoring system scans blind spots for you and alerts you should an object, vehicle, cyclist, or human enters your blind spot area.
Who here wishes their vehicles were more adaptive and helped us drive more safely? Rest assured these utes are in your corner. The ACC or Adaptive Cruise Control and Hill Descent Control detect your surroundings and give a helping dose of awareness.
We have also seen an infotainment upgrade and apple car play & android auto support which is great to see them catch up.
However, a notable thing that we noticed on the Mazda BT-50 is that there is a protruding part that sort of locks in with the dashboard on the door. Sadly we didn’t think to take a photo of it, but when you shut the door I guess it’s meant to fill the gap between the door and the dashboard. Believe me, it will catch your eye when you see it. We haven’t seen anything like that before.
Anyway, it’s not a deal-breaker or anything like that, and overall we like the Mazda BT-50 styling, it is definitely a bit plusher than the D-Max.
The performance of the Mazda BT-50 and Isuzu D-Max platforms are the same with regards to the running gear and engine setup.
So it boils down to the styling, accessories, and 2/4 door configuration that best suits you. Let us not forget the base price difference between the two and how that might sway you one way or the other.
With the foundation already decided for you, it leaves plenty of time to sit down and figure out which one is best for you and your budget.
Either way, it seems like this new partnership between Isuzu & Mazda is bearing good fruit and healthy competition in the market. Both companies have made leaps & bounds in terms of styling and tech in this generation, and no doubt bringing those looks at a lower price point is going to close the gap between them and their cousins the Ford Ranger & Toyota Hilux.
In terms of reliability, we are yet to see how these new platforms will go in the middle of Australia with no help or towns within thousands of kilometres. Our customers will definitely test these vehicles in some of the harshest environments Australia has to offer, we look forward to finding out how they will hold up over the coming years.
If you do decide to go with a Mazda BT-50 or Isuzu D-Max for your next camping setup, let us know, we can get great fleet rates if you choose to get a Turn-key Camper setup with a Trayon Camper on the back.
We source the vehicle and set it up exactly as you want it, e.g. get the GVM upgrade, build an aluminium tray, add the accessories and build your dream slide on camper.