big truck built tough
The Mazda BT-50 and the Ranger were developed side-by-side for their respective late 2011 debuts and share most of the basics. But where Ford did 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-litre engine. Apparently Mazda and Ford haven’t seen eye-to-eye on a few things, and 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 tweaked MY16 BT-50 and, as before and like the Ranger, it has six solid tie-down hooks to help to secure the 800kg pallet on board. Even with the weight of the default payload (driver, observer and towbar), that leaves up to 200kg payload to spare on the lightest BT 4x4 dual-cab pick-up, and around 100kg to spare 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 over the most of the others here. The rear of the BT dropped around 65mm with the 800kg pallet in the tub – a little more than the best, but certainly not a significant difference.
With its ‘big’ 3.2-litre five-cylinder engine at work, the Mazda had little trouble handling the weight of the 800kg pallet up our test incline. Compared to the Ranger, Mazda’s engine isn’t quite as responsive at low revs (its peak torque comes in little higher than the Ford’s), and the engine is also a little gruffer and noisier.
No complaints, however, with Mazda’s gearbox. Although, like most of the others, it was reluctant to downshift automatically on the descent, even when prompted via brake application.
With the load in the back, the BT wasn’t too nose-up and felt positive in the steering. While it lacks the electric steering of the Ranger and Colorado – something you really notice at parting speeds – the steering weight once you get going is reassuring, as is the BT’s general stability and handling with the 800kg in the tub.
It did, however, feel to bottom out on some of the bumps on the test hill, which was a bit of a surprise.
The Ranger’s blood brother hasn’t always shared the sales spotlight of its blue oval relative. While running changes have been made to the swoopy Mazda during its life, it’s mechanically essentially pretty close to where it was when it was first launched. The BT-50 still retains the turbo of the original incarnation, as well as the Piezo fuel injection system.
As a result, the engine is a little more raucous under load and power comes in a little later. That said, the BT still feels confident at maximum
GCM. The five-cylinder powerplant has more than enough poke to pull a decent load. The hydraulic power steering still retains a decent feel, though it feels 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’s not going to handle like a go-kart.
Mazda’s leaf spring rear end feels stable enough, and you don’t have a sense of the load pushing you on descents. As with the transmissions in most of the vehicles here, you still have to intervene manually on a long descent to save the brakes. But, as with the Ford, the bigger cubic displacement of the 3.2-litre engine helps when bleeding off speed. The BT-50 is a worthy contender when it comes to big towing, and its price point in the market doesn’t exactly hold it back, either.
Mazda’s BT-50 shares much with the Ford Ranger, but not as much as it once did.