Car reviews - Mazda - BT-50 - SP Pro
Strong and economical engine; sweetly calibrated transmission; well-presented interior with quality materials; excellent ride and handling for ‘lifted’ vehicle; fluid steering feel
Room for improvement
Highly invasive ADAS technology; fiddly human-machine interface; weak AM radio reception; ultra-deep cupholders no good for the morning coffee; manual-only roller tonneau
Good looks and polished performance are let down only by intrusive ADAS technologies
12 Oct 2023
By MATT BROGAN
FROM the middle of this year (2023) Mazda Australia made two accessory packs available for its BT-50 utility range – the SP Pro and Thunder enhancement packs priced at $7668 and $9046 respectively and available to order from dealerships nationally.
Tested here, the SP Pro enhancement pack adds Nitrocharger suspension (upgraded springs and twin-tube dampers) with two inches of lift, exclusive 18-inch alloy wheels, a Lightforce LED light bar set behind the grille, and SP Pro decals on the doors.
The enhancement pack may be fitted retrospectively to BT-50s – with a two-year warranty – or from new with the factory-backed five-year/unlimited-kilometre deal.
At $68,510 plus on-road costs – and $7668 for the pack – the SP Pro arrives at $76,178 +ORC. The figure places the BT-50 SP Pro in contention with the likes of the Ford Ranger Wildtrax X (from $75,990 +ORC), Nissan Navara Pro-4X Warrior (from $70,765 +ORC) and Toyota HiLux GR Sport (from $73,990 +ORC) offering comparable off-road capability and equipment levels.
The BT-50 SP is available as a dual-cab 4x4 fitted with Mazda’s (Isuzu-sourced) 140kW/450Nm 3.0-litre turbo-diesel engine and offered with a six-speed automatic transmission. Braked towing is listed at 3500kg.
The SP sits above the GT dual-cab in the BT-50 range and is distinguished by a suite of black and grey exterior features, including 18-inch alloy wheels, door handles, grille, lower bumper garnish, roof rails, side steps, signature wing and sail-plane sport bar, roller-style tonneau cover, tub liner, wheel arch flares, and wing mirrors.
Inside, it features black and Driftwood leather upholstery combined with synthetic suede interior trim. A 9.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay, USB Android Auto, Bluetooth, DAB+ digital radio, rear-seat USB charging point and native satellite navigation is included on SP variants.
Other equipment items include dual-zone climate control, LED headlights, fog lights and DRLs, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear knob, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, centre armrest for rear occupants and advanced keyless entry eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats, remote engine-start on automatics and front and rear parking sensors.
Safety equipment mirrors that of the Isuzu D-Max (on which the Mazda BT-50 is based) and includes eight airbags, anti-lock brakes, attention assist, automatic high beam, autonomous emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, traction control, dynamic stability control, emergency lane keeping, emergency stop signal, hill descent control, hill launch assist, lane departure warning, lane departure prevention, lane-keep assist, rear cross-traffic alert, rollover protection, secondary collision reduction, speed assist system and turn assist.
Mazda backs the BT-50 range with a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty with included roadside assistance. Service intervals are set at 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first. The first five (annual) service costs total $2404 ($443, $409, $699, $524 and $329).
There’s a grown-up-ness to the cabin of the BT-50 that doesn’t really seem to be offered anywhere else in the dual-cab segment. It’s not trying to be sporty, and it’s certainly not Spartan. It’s more SUV-like… sophisticated if you like. And for the list price, that’s a good thing.
And on paper, at least, it certainly ticks a lot of boxes. The equipment list alone shows Mazda has thrown a lot into the BT-50 – even before adding the extra touches that come with the SP Pro package. Add to these quite generous five-seat accommodation – yes, even in the second row – and more storage cubbies that you can poke a stick at, and it’s obvious the BT-50 is as much about work as it is play.
While the console cup-holders are too deep for the morning coffee, they’ll swallow a large drink bottle without an issue, adding to those already found in the door pockets front and rear. Further back, the fitment of top-tether and ISOFIX anchorages for the kids’ seats is a bonus, so too the USB charging outlet, vents and centre armrest.
However, not all is as it seems… the infotainment system in the BT-50 is clunky to operate and feels very outdated when compared with the model’s immediate rivals.
The Isuzu-based system is difficult to wrap your head around and near impossible to use on the go. We also found the wireless Apple CarPlay connection would ‘drop out’ at times, and the AM reception weak – not great when you’re in the back country waiting for weather reports.
We also found the instrumentation screen dated and the menu system a painstaking process, with a click-and-confirm series of steps most time consuming to navigate. Again, many of the features can’t be used on the go (for good reason), which means you’ll really need to be on top of your game when altering settings at the ‘lights.
And believe us when you say, you will need to alter settings. The BT-50’s ADAS technologies have a habit of jumping at shadows, chiming in when you’re a kilometre per hour over the speed limit, or an inch too far from the middle of your lane.
BING someone is alongside you. BING someone is in front of you. BING you’re going too fast. BING don’t swerve for that pothole. BING mind the cows. Honestly, it will give you the Jimmy Britz.
The speed sign recognition is also well off the mark. We had it recognise a 100km/h sign as 10km/h and an 80km/h sign as 30km/h. Both were very clear, facing the road, and undamaged. You would not want to rely on the vehicle to set its own speed…
Turning the settings off or adjusting the sensitivity is possible, but most will default to ‘on’ each time the ignition is switched off. It’s thoroughly annoying, and distracts from what is otherwise a terrific ute to drive and ride in.
As utes go, it is reasonably quiet with little intrusion from the (4JJ3-series) 3.0-litre engine until you really open the taps. There’s a little wind and tyre noise, but no more than we’ve experienced anywhere else in the category, and nothing the eight-speaker audio system can’t compete with.
The 140kW (at 3600rpm) and 450Nm (from 1600-2600rpm) is more accessible than the numbers might suggest, the torquey unit and well calibrated Aisin-sourced six-speed automatic providing steady progress on even the steepest grades.
The transmission, which also features in the D-Max and Toyota’s HiLux, is able to eke out impressive economy from the BT-50, even when trudging around town. A week in mixed conditions saw a figure of 8.1 litres per 100km on the dash – not too shabby at all, especially for a dual-cab ute.
Cruising the open highway, and the BT-50 is quite relaxed. Even with the additional lift and off-road focused suspension tune the ride is reasonable, though clearly tuned for a load in the back. With coil-sprung double wishbones up front and a leaf-sprung live axle at the rear, the BT-50 follows a familiar recipe to many in the class, and offers up to 892kg of payload, placing it close to the HiLux and Ranger.
The tub, which is fitted with a sail and (manual-only) roller cover is also comparable with others in the segment, and measures 1570mm from front to back and 1120mm between the arches. It is 490mm deep and sits 830mm from the ground – a stretch for the vertically-challenged among us, but again no different to any competitor in the segment.
We love the electrically assisted steering in the BT-50 and would almost go so far as to say it is one of the best in its class. Effortless and low speed, and sweetly weighted on the open road, it’s an honest system that provides a sense of connection needed when piloting the vehicle off the beaten track – and/or when towing. The turning circle of the BT-50 is listed at 12.5m.
The BT-50 runs (320mm) disc brakes up front and (295mm) drums at the rear, all assisted by a decent pedal stroke and appropriate levels of assistance. Like many other aspects of the BT-50 driving experience, the braking is remarkably SUV like – even if the rear axle’s drums seem like they’re from another time.
While we didn’t get to sample the BT-50 SP Pro with a load in the back, a trailer on the hitch, or off the beaten path, we dare say we’re not alone. Dual-cab utes are increasingly purchased as city trucks, all for some reason required to have the requisite amount of ‘gear’, even if the intention to head off-road is far from front of mind.
Given all of that, we think the BT-50 SP Pro is a pretty good fit for prospective buyers, provided of course they can live with the dreaded BING.
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