The Ford Ranger hasn’t generated the hype of its competitors, yet it has proven a worthy opponent in terms of performance and value for money.
In recent times, out of all the vehicles we see rolling through the Trayon shop, the Mazda has numbered surprisingly high. More so, in fact, than rivals like the Toyota Hilux!
As a result, our Trayon team have developed an intimate understanding of how a BT-50 suits a Trayon slide on camper, and how the vehicle copes with the rigours of the Australian Outback.
Our understanding is two-fold, because we also have a Mazda BT-50 in out fleet of Trayon rental rigs. So this combined knowledge and first hand experience puts us in good stead to review the BT-50 and pass on our learnings to those currently browsing the mid-range four wheel drive ute market (which these days is an ever-expanding beast!).
The Mazda BT50 came out in 2006 to replace the previous Bravo range. The striking looks of today’s BT-50 came from the later 2009 model. However its reputation for being a value for money off road weapon developed around 2012 onwards.
Now, we’ll let you in on a little secret. The present day freestyle cab BT-50, is basically a Ford! Don’t believe us? Have a look under the hood, or on the chassis, and you will notice the following capital letters stamped all over the place – FOMOCO – Ford Motor Company! In fact, the Mazda has been based on the Ford for the better part of 20 years!!
Everything from the running to the engine is almost identical to the Ford Ranger. What sets it apart from the Ford Ranger Ute, is the aesthetics (i.e. the panel styling), and it’s tuning. For a full review of the Ford Ranger, check out our recent article called “The Ultimate Ford Ranger Ute Review: Touring Australia Off Road”.
But guess what – rumour has it they’ve separated, and in a few years time the Mazda will be based on the Isuzu D-Max!! Shhhhhhhh ;). This is quite exciting because Mazda can bring many comfort oriented features to the D-max platform.
Want some more inside intel? The Isuzu used to be in bed with the now discontinued Holden Rodeo series. Isuzu branched off on their own, and then Holden went to a Chevy platform, which is what you get with the latest Holden Colorado models! But we digress….
In this article, we focus on today’s ‘Ford-based’ Mazda, to help you decide whether the Mazda BT-50 is the vehicle for you and you’re Trayon slide on camper.
The 2018 Mazda BT50 has remained fairly similar from 2012 onwards, apart from a few minor cosmetic changes and electronic bells and whistles.
Like most Australian utes, the Mazda BT50 comes in a single cab, freestyle cab (also called an extra cab or supercab by other manufacturers) and dual cab with an automatic Transmission.
On top of this, there are XT, XTR and GT versions available, but not across all cab types. The single cab comes in the XT version only. The freestyle cab comes in XT and XTR versions, and the dual cab comes in all three versions, XT, XTR or GT.
For further info about the usability of different cab and chassis configurations, we wrote a recent article explaining what is best for different situations, called ‘What Vehicle Configuration Should I Get to Go with a Trayon Camper’, focusing on 4×4 touring setups.
The Mazda has one of the more ‘no frills’ interiors on the ute market. Not quite as ‘work ready’ as the more heavy duty 79 Series Landcruiser, but no frills none-the-less. Some might call it plain, while others call it practical. Keep in mind, though, that while it can be upgraded, a simple interior is highly suitable to Outback travel, because the less there is to go wrong, the better. Plus, a nice open and simple interior means an easier time removing the constant accumulation of dust.
In saying that, it isn’t without it perks, coming with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto abilities. So while its simpler than some, it still interfaces nicely with modern technology using the Alpine Infotainment System. Plus you get a USB port in the front, and three 12V plugs located around the cabin.
To cap it off it also comes with a sufficient amount of internal storage space, boasting sunglass slots, drink holders and rear seat pouches.
The biggest downside however, is the lack of steering wheel reach adjustment, something its close relation, the Ford Ranger, comes with.
The 2018 BT50 has been given a facelift, with a more angular nose slapped on by Mazda (most likely a sales-boosting tactic to appeal to customers after snazzy looking rides). And yes, it looks mean, but looks don’t do much 1000 km’s off the beaten path, exploring the far reaches of the continent with a Trayon on its back.
In Australian’s Ute, the BT50 runs the same engine as the Ford Ranger and produces the same torque and power.
The Mazda comes in a six-speed auto transmission, which has proven a very good match to the five-cylinder engine in both the Mazda and the Ford Ranger. In fact, it’s automatic transmission is a huge selling point, particularly because some the BT-50s biggest rivals do not always provide this option.
(The last few Toyota Hilux extra cab models weren’t offered with automatic transmission at all, which is hard to believe when extra cab/super cab utes are some of the most common vehicles we see coming through the Trayon shop!)
The 4×4 BT-50 models run solely with a 3.2L turbo diesel engine. The 2.2L version is restricted to the 4×2 models.
The fact that the Mazda comes with a 3.2 Litre option has serious appeal to the Australian four wheel drive market. Many other manufacturers have downsized, which has resulted in smaller engines which have to work harder, therefore reducing life expectancy.
The Mazda’s 3.2 Litre powerhouse means it can cruise at lower revs while touring, adding to the engines longevity.
The Mazda BT50 wheelbase is 3220 mm in length (from midpoint of the front wheel to midpoint of the rear wheel) which, along with the Ford Ranger, makes it the longest of the current mid range 4×4 dual cabs (and is an advantage when towing).
Its total length is 5124 mm, total width is 1850 mm (excluding mirrors) and height is 1804 mm.
While the BT50 is similar to the Ranger in many ways, it does lack some of the Ragers key driving accessories. But that is no surprise given the Ranger is just about the most feature packed four wheel drive ute going around at the moment.
With the BT-50, you do still get a reversing camera, trailer sway control, traction control and hill ascent/descent control.
In 2011 the Mazda BT50 scored a top five star ANCAP safety rating, and thus its safety format hasn’t been changed.
Despite this, it does not come with all the advanced safety features of the Ford Ranger, for example emergency braking, radar cruise control, lane departure warnings or parking sensors.
Under the shiny exterior, the Mazda is almost identical to the Ranger.
But, interestingly, we have found it doesn’t feel the same. The best way we can sum this up, is that the Mazda feels more ‘sports’ orientated, than the Ranger.
The auto gearbox feels a little more abrupt and responsive. The suspension feels a little stiffer, as the BT-50 missed out on some recent suspension tweaks the Ranger benefited from.
With a 12.4m turning circle, the Mazda is quite maneuverable. It has stable steering, but probably not as smooth as the Ranger.
The Mazda website lists a grocc vehicle mass (GVM) of 3Tonnes, and a max payload of 1.3 Tonnes for the 4×4 Freestyle cab ute, which is as good as any other utes in its mid range 4×4 class. This figure will decrease as you move up through the model range, because more bells and whistles, or a tub instead of a tray, takes away available payload. So a single cab with an aluminium tray will have the best available payload, while a dual cab with a tub will have the worst. A freestyle cab with a tray provides a nice balance of space Vs payload capacity. Here is the Mazda BT50 for sale.
We also recommend upgrading to 3.5 Tonne GVM if possible. A little extra carry capacity never hurts, particularly if you’re carrying a slide on camper (even with a Trayon, which is the lightest slide on camper in its class, your BT50 will benefit from a GVM upgrade!).
The Mazda can tow 3.5 Tonnes, which puts in neck and neck with most of the utes in the same vehicle class.
Just bare in mind, that when the Mazda is towing a trailer at 3.5 Tonnes, you won’t be able to fill the Mazda’s tray to it’s payload capacity, because the GCM (‘gross combined mass’ of the vehicle and a trailer) is only 6 Tonnes.
The Mazda will drink anywhere form 10L/100 km (which the figure claimed by Mazda) up to 13L/100 km in rough country. When carrying large loads, or towing, this will obviously go up.
Overall, efficiency is quite good for a big vehicle. It has an 80L fuel tank, which is around the stock standard for 4×4 utes.
The BT-50 is no slouch off the bitumen. In fact, we think it’s as good, or a touch more responsive than the Ford Ranger. You just lose a little in ride comfort.
Like the Ranger, it comes with rear diff lockers as standard (which can be activated electronically from the cab). The 3.2L engine is a real asset in the rough, providing extra torque and power to move through all sorts of terrain (especially handy when loaded up).
In the stats department, the BT-50 has a ground clearance of 237mm, and a wading depth of 800mm. Approach angle logs in at 28.2 degrees, and 26.4 degrees for departure angle.
The higher end models like the XTR come with undercarriage armour as standard.
At the end of the day, we rate the BT-50 very high off road, but there isn’t a specific feature that it has which would convince us to make it our first choice. What we do know is, that with good off road driving, the Mazda won’t let you down.
For a look into a Mazda’s off road capabilities, check out this Trayon customer review about off road travels with a Mazda BT-50 saddled by a Trayon camper!
The Mazda BT-50 comes in tray back and pick-up tub options.
The Single Cab should have a dealer option for a 2400 or 2500 mm tray, which provides a heap of external storage space. However, there’s also aftermarket options to go up to a 2700 mm tray to maximise storage space behind the headboard.
Freestyle Cabs are best fitted with a 2100 dealer tray, but be careful that the dealer does not try and give you a 1950 mm stubby tray, as is often the case. Freestyle Cabs also provide the best cab space-to-tray space ratio. There is aftermarket options to go to a 2250 mm tray, but you must go through Trayon for this upgrade.
The Dual Cab will come with an 1800 mm tray. Also, when buying a Dual Cab, make sure the headboard is no higher than 890 mm (measured from the tray surface), so it doesn’t impede canopies, slide on campers or general loads which need to overhang the cab.
All Mazda BT-50 trays should be either 1830 or 1880 mm in width (measured from the outside of the tray).
If you can’t get the tray you want through your Mazda dealer, contact us at Trayon and we can organise a custom tray to be sent to and fitted at your Mazda dealer before you drive it out the door.
We don’t make the custom tray here at the factory. We have an arrangement with a large, high quality tray manufacturer to build trays which are perfectly suited to a Trayon camper. We can then have it sent anywhere in the country (i.e. to be fitted at your specific Mazda/Vehicle Dealer).
If you’re planning to carry a Trayon camper with a new Mazda BT-50, a custom tray will help avoid hassles like:
Our custom tray combats all of these issues.
A tub can severely limit what you can use the external storage space for.
A tub will also increase kerb weight, and reduce payload capacity. With an aluminium tray, you can carry more weight, and more awkward items that wouldn’t fit inside a tub. You can always fit sides to a tray to carry unstable loads like soil and green waste, but you can’t take the sides off a tub!
A tray will open up your canopy and camping options as well. When you store gear in a tray, rather than a tub, it provides the following advantages:
For the same reason, canopies and slide on campers made to fit tray back utes, rather than pick up tubs, have better weight distribution, more space to fit in camping essentials, and provide an all round better off road rig.
Here’s a few tips which can help make the 2018 Mazda BT-50 a complete touring package:
As we previously explained. It has big implications for storage flexibility, payload capacity, and off road performance. These days Aluminium trays are super strong and much lighter than steel, so they don’t eat into your payload any more than necessary.
Everyone’s old school tool kit simply involved zip ties (for things which are moving but shouldn’t be), and WD40 (for things which aren’t moving, but should be).
An OBD link adds an extra option to check and solve issues with electronics and computer chip related alerts.
These days, electronics can actually limit driving capability when sensors pick up a problem. If the vehicle senses an issue, the vehicle’s computer may limit driving capacity to prevent further damage, but this can actually prevent you from quickly limping to get mechanical help. The OBD link, synced to your phone, can read the code sent out by the vehicle CPU and tell you what’s wrong.
Then you can use the old duck tape or WD40 to try and fix the issue and limp to a mechanic if you have too!
A GVM upgrade does not involve any serious vehicle modifications. It is simply a 4WD suspension upgrade, coupled with a certificate to say that the standard manufacturers payload limits have been increased to a certain amount.
For a Mazda BT-50, a GVM upgrade to the maximum of 3.5 Tonnes provides a number of benefits:
By doing this through the dealer and before first registration, it is considered a second stage dealer upgrade. This saves you money and also ensures it is legally certified at the same time.
Check out our recent article about 4WD suspension for more information.
The Mazda has a range of upgrades and accessories available to match any ute on the market these days. Mazda genuine upgrades include things like snorkels, nudge bars, bull bars, side steps, fender flares, roof racks, dual battery kits and more.
Note: If you go for a dual battery setup, we recommend asking the dealer to switch on the alternators constant charge mode, to ensure all your batteries on board are fully charged up every time you travel somewhere.
Aftermarket accessories cover just about everything you will ever need!
The Mazda will come with a standard three year/100,000 km warranty (whichever comes first).
Off Road Warranty Implications:
Driving a Mazda BT-50 off road will not impact warranty itself, but be aware that warranties generally only applies to factory defects (in materials or workmanship). So if you incur damage as a result of reckless driving, extreme weather, or any other accidental damage, you’re unlikely to find support through the vehicles warranty.
That’s where your insurance should come in! So, as with any vehicle purchase, make sure you find the right provider who can cover you for the type of driving you will be doing.
Here’s where the Mazda really shines.
For around the $45,000 (mid 2018) you can pick up a Freestyle cab, 4×4, with automatic transmission! That is an outstanding platform to hit the dusty track. It just about pips all other vehicle options available in the value for money race, and provides a good insight into why the Mazda is sharing such a high level of popularity with the Ranger.
Evidently, from a value for money perspective, the Mazda can’t be beaten.
However, in terms of comfort, it can. The Ranger has its measure here. The Ranger also comes with a plethora of helpful driving accessories not available with the Mazda.
But if comfort and convenience is not your biggest concern, a Mazda will serve you well! It doesn’t quite get our pick as the number one vehicle to carry a Trayon, but by crikey, it’ll do a great job!!