BIG TRUCK, BUILT TOUGH

Mazda’s BT-50 shares a lot with the Ford Ranger – but not as much as it once did.

4 x 4 Australia - - Driven -

LOAD TEST

THE Mazda BT-50 and the Ford Ranger were de­vel­oped side-by-side; both de­buted late in 2011 and they share most of the ba­sics. But where Ford car­ried out a sig­nif­i­cant re­make of the Ranger in 2015, Mazda tweaked lit­tle more than equip­ment, aside from – like Ford – fix­ing the awk­ward shift of the man­ual ’box when fit­ted to the 3.2 en­gine. Ap­par­ently Mazda and Ford haven’t been see­ing eye-to-eye on a few things and word is that Mazda will look to part­ner with Isuzu for its next-gen­er­a­tion ute. But that’s a few years off yet.

What we have here is the MY16 BT-50. As be­fore and like the Ranger, it has six solid tiedown hooks to help to se­cure the 800kg pal­let. With that load in the tub the rear of the BT dropped around 65mm, a lit­tle more droop than the best on test man­aged but cer­tainly not a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence.

Even with the weight of the to­tal pay­load (driver, ob­server and tow bar), the BT-50 is left with a hand­some 200kg pay­load to spare on the light­est BT 4x4 dual-cab pick-up, or 100kg of ex­tra ca­pac­ity on the heav­ier top-spec GT. Along with the Ranger, the BT-50 has the high­est GVM, which is the rea­son why it has pay­load to spare beyond most of the oth­ers.

With its big 3.2-litre five-cylin­der en­gine at work the Mazda had lit­tle trou­ble haul­ing the weight of the pal­let up our test hill.

Com­pared to the Ranger, the Mazda’s en­gine isn’t quite as re­spon­sive at low revs – its peak torque comes in a lit­tle higher than the Ford’s

re­vamped ver­sion – and the en­gine is also a lit­tle gruffer and nois­ier.

No com­plaints, how­ever, about the Mazda’s gear­box; although, like most of the oth­ers, it seems re­luc­tant to down­shift au­to­mat­i­cally on the de­scent even when prompted by the driver via brake ap­pli­ca­tion.

With the load in the back the BT isn’t too nose-up and feels pos­i­tive in the steer­ing. It lacks the elec­tric power steer­ing of the Ranger and Colorado – some­thing you re­ally no­tice at park­ing speeds – although, the steer­ing weight once you get go­ing is re­as­sur­ing, as is the BT’S gen­eral sta­bil­ity and hand­ing with that 800kg in the tub.

What took us by sur­prise, how­ever, was its ten­dency to bot­tom out on some of the test hill’s bumps – we cer­tainly didn’t ex­pect that.

TOW TEST

THE BT-50 hasn’t al­ways shared the sales spot­light with its Blue Oval blood brother and, while run­ning changes have been made re­cently, it’s me­chan­i­cally pretty close to where it was when first launched.

The en­gine is a lit­tle more rau­cous un­der load and the power comes in just a lit­tle later than the Ranger. That said, the BT still felt con­fi­dent with the 3500kg trailer in tow and the five-cylin­der pow­er­plant has more than enough grunt to pull a de­cent load.

The hy­draulic power steer­ing re­tains its de­cent feel, though it comes across as a lit­tle more old-school than the Ford. It also feels a lit­tle twitchy in com­par­i­son; it’s a big ask to put this kind of weight be­hind an empty truck at the best of times. Clearly, it was never go­ing to han­dle like a go-kart.

How­ever, the Mazda’s leaf-spring rear end still feels sta­ble enough, and you don’t get a sense that the load is push­ing you on de­scents.

As with the trans­mis­sions in most of the ve­hi­cles put to the test, you still have to in­ter­vene man­u­ally to force a down-shift on a long de­scent to save the brakes. But, as with the Ford, the big­ger cu­bic dis­place­ment of the 3.2-litre helps share the me­chan­i­cal strain when bleed­ing off speed.

The ver­dict: the BT-50 is a wor­thy con­tender when it comes to big tow­ing.

It may have missed its twin’s en­gine re­vamp, but the BT-50 re­mains strong.

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