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Mazda BT-50 SP 2023 review: off-road test

Since its launch in late 2020, Mazda’s BT-50 has become a much more popular model than the ute it replaced, recording the nameplate’s best ever sales in 2021.

Two years later it is still doing well for Mazda - it is the third best-selling model behind the CX-5 and CX-30 - but now it has much more fierce competition in the shape of the new-gen Ford Ranger.

There is nothing new with the 2023 BT-50, but we headed to K’gari (Fraser Island) to test the Thai-built ute in a different setting. Mazda is showcasing its range of genuine accessories and options packs that are designed to aid towing and off-roading and are a perfect fit for the big mound of sand that is K’gari. 

So on sand and off, is the BT-50 still one of Australia’s top ute picks?

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

Given the fact there are no changes to the BT-50 for the 2023 model, there are no pricing changes either. 

It ranges in price from $33,950 for the base 4x2 XS single-cab chassis and tops out at $71,290 for the 4x4 Thunder dual-cab pick-up.

When it comes to its rivals, the Mazda represents solid value for money. It is more expensive than models like the older Mitsubishi Triton and Nissan Navara, but it is on par with its twin, the Isuzu D-Max.

The BT-50 ranges in price from $33,950 for the base model and $71,290 for the top of the line. The BT-50 ranges in price from $33,950 for the base model and $71,290 for the top of the line.

It is more affordable than the new-gen Ranger that runs from $35,930 to all the way up to $85,490 for the Raptor.

Across the model range, standard gear varies greatly depending on the grade, but starting from the XS, equipment includes power adjustable mirrors, power windows, black cloth trim, LED headlights, a 7.0-inch colour touchscreen multimedia system, Apple CarPlay (wireless) and Android Auto, Bluetooth, digital radio, and a reversing camera.

Higher up in the GT you’ll get an eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat, leather trim, heated front seats, remote engine start and front parking sensors.

Across the model range, standard gear includes LED headlights. Across the model range, standard gear includes LED headlights.

The Thunder tops the range with 18-inch alloy wheels, a 20-inch lightbar, a roller tonneau cover, black side steps and fender flares and more.

Mazda offers no fewer than 12 accessory options packs for the BT-50, with each one available on selected grades and body styles. They include basic offerings like the Boss Protection Pack ($1152) that includes rubber floor mats, bonnet and headlight protectors and scuff plates.

There’s also mid-range packs like the Boss Touring Pack (from $10,386) with a tow bar kit, canopy, a polished nudge bar and Lightforce driving lights.

The mid-range Boss Touring Pack comes with a very useful tow bar kit. The mid-range Boss Touring Pack comes with a very useful tow bar kit.

If you want to spend a bit more and really trick out your BT-50, there is the Boss Adventure pack (from $14,145) that includes black steel bull bar with hoops, Lightforce driving lights, electric roller tonneau cover, a black sports bar with an adaptor kit for the tonneau cover, tub racks and more.

You can buy individual accessories, of course, like the tow bar, bull bar, suspension upgrade, canopies, lighting, tub-liners and more.

Is there anything interesting about its design?

While Mazda was criticised for the design of the previous-generation, Ford Ranger-based BT-50, the current version has enjoyed a much more positive reception.

Two years in, it still looks box fresh. It’s challenging for designers to create a unique look for a ute, given the restrictions and requirements to ensure it is a useful workhorse. 

So at the rear, there’s not much to talk about. Vertical tail-lights and a boxy tub for the dual-cabs. But at the front, Mazda’s familiar design is on show and it gives the BT-50 a softer edge compared with its D-Max twin, as well as the new aggressively styled Ranger.

Looking at it from the front you’d be forgiven for thinking you were looking at one of Mazda’s large SUVs, the CX-8 or CX-9.

At the rear, there are vertical tail-lights and a boxy tub for the dual-cabs. At the rear, there are vertical tail-lights and a boxy tub for the dual-cabs.

Inside, the BT-50 marks a big improvement over the model it replaced, but it’s not exactly the last word on interior design.

There’s a horizontal theme to the dash and the overall look is somewhat generic but, being a workhorse, the focus is on functionality, and on that front it’s hard to fault – more on that in a bit.

The leather three-spoke wheel of the SP grade adds a premium touch to the cabin, as does the dual-tone black and driftwood leather trim.

It’s maybe a step behind that fancy new Ranger, but well ahead of most other rivals – including the top-selling Toyota HiLux.

Inside has all the functionality of a workhorse, with its horizontal theme to the dash. Inside has all the functionality of a workhorse, with its horizontal theme to the dash.

How practical is the space inside?

Spending an extended amount of time in a ute is no longer the chore it once was. Comfort levels are now as close to a regular passenger car or SUV as they ever have been, and the BT-50 is no exception.

I spent most of my time in the second-from-top-spec BT-50 SP which is priced at $66,390 in automatic guise. It included a heavy-duty tow pack ($2142) and premium paint ($695), which brought the price up to $69,227 before on-road costs.

This grade comes with the lovely two-tone leather trim and the seats offer excellent levels of support and comfort on road and off. 

It is not a complex car to navigate - the dials and controls on the steering wheel are clear and logical, as are the air-con controls.

  • The seats offer excellent levels of support and comfort. The seats offer excellent levels of support and comfort.
  • The air-con controls are easy to navigate. The air-con controls are easy to navigate.

The 9.0-inch touchscreen in the SP – up from 7.0 inches in the XS and XT – is also relatively simple to navigate, but it won’t win any awards for tech innovation. It’s slow to respond to inputs, features dated graphics and feels about a generation old already. And this was a new system when the D-Max and BT-50 launched two years ago.

The BT-50 is let down by this outdated multimedia set-up, especially when you consider the new Ranger’s system.

Elsewhere up front you get a USB-A and 12-volt outlet, powered driver’s seat and strong air con.

  • The rear-seat backrest is upright, like in most dual-cab utes, but the flat pew is comfortable enough. The rear-seat backrest is upright, like in most dual-cab utes, but the flat pew is comfortable enough.
  • Rear passengers will find another USB port and rear air vents on XTR grades and up. Rear passengers will find another USB port and rear air vents on XTR grades and up.

It has two gloveboxes – a regular one and a smaller one above – a deep central storage bin, two large cupholders in the centre console and extra push-out holders on the dash, and more than enough space for large bottles and folders in each front door.

The rear-seat backrest is upright, like in most dual-cab utes, but the flat pew is comfortable enough. Rear passengers will find another USB port, rear air vents on XTR grades and up, and a central fold-down armrest.

Overall, it’s a well-executed cabin that is in need of a tech upgrade.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

There are two powertrain options for the BT-50, with the entry-level XS grade the only version that comes with a 1.9-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine that outputs 110kW and 350Nm

It is available only with a six-speed automatic transmission but buyers can opt for two-wheel or four-wheel drive.

All other BT-50s come standard with a 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel unit, offering up a beefier 140kW and 450Nm. A six-speed manual gearbox and six-speed automatic are available with 4x2 and 4x4, depending on the grade.

The two powertrain options include the entry-level's 1.9-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine or a 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel unit, on all other grades. The two powertrain options include the entry-level's 1.9-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine or a 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel unit, on all other grades.

What's it like as a daily driver?

Our time on bitumen was limited to the BT-50 SP and there are plenty of things working in this ute’s favour.

The 3.0-litre unit is punchy and responsive enough for a diesel workhorse, with loads of torque for towing and overtaking. It gets away at the traffic lights with ease.

The six-speed auto is a good match for the powertrain, changing gears at the right moment and without fuss. 

The main problem with the engine is that it is rowdy, especially when it’s being pushed hard. Isuzu worked hard to address complaints directed at the previous D-Max that it was agricultural.

There is no noticeable vibration through the BT-50’s steering wheel. There is no noticeable vibration through the BT-50’s steering wheel.

While the new D-Max and BT-50 have quieter cabins than the previous Isuzu ute, it doesn’t feel like enough. Once again the new Ranger is the new benchmark here.

However, there is no noticeable vibration through the BT-50’s steering wheel, so the work done to ensure a more refined drive experience isn’t for nothing.

The BT-50’s steering is much lighter than the old model, so it feels less truck-like on urban roads. 

The ride quality of the BT-50 when driven unladen is also impressive. Granted, there weren’t any challenging road surfaces during our on-road test but, nonetheless, the BT-50 impresses. 

What's it like for touring?

If you haven’t been there yourself, you may have seen images of the long white sandy beaches of K’gari (Fraser Island), which act as a highway for off-road adventure seekers.

Given it was my first time on the island, I expected rock-hopping four-wheel driving, before discovering the whole thing is sand – it is the world's largest sand island, after all. That made things a bit more comfortable for an off-road novice like me.

Before we set off, the Mazda team reduced the PSI in the tyres from the factory setting of 33 down to 25, to ensure better grip. Mazda recommends lowering the PSI to 18-24 for first timers.

For better grip, the PSI was reduced from 33 down to 25. For better grip, the PSI was reduced from 33 down to 25.

Driving from the island's west coast through varying terrain to the more rugged east coast was a great way to test the BT-50, without challenging the ute or the driver too much.

It rained a good portion of the day but that helped compact the sand further, turning it into a firmer, more stable surface on which to drive. 

The BT-50 4x4 has 240mm of ground clearance, a wading depth of 800mm and approach and departure angles of 27 and 24.2 degrees respectively, with a ramp breakover angle of 24.3 degrees. All 4x4 models have a locking rear differential.

  • The BT-50 4x4 has a wading depth of 800mm. The BT-50 4x4 has a wading depth of 800mm.
  • The BT-50 4x4 has approach and departure angles of 27 and 24.2 degrees respectively. The BT-50 4x4 has approach and departure angles of 27 and 24.2 degrees respectively.

The SP has an extra 6mm of ground clearance compared with a V6 Ranger Wildtrak. 

That clearance helped with the rutted terrain of K’gari – the BT-50 traversed chunky tree roots and other obstacles with relative ease. 

At one point we did a creek crossing that looked a little too deep for my liking, but the BT-50 powered through without fuss. 

  • The BT-50 4x4 has 240mm of ground clearance. The BT-50 4x4 has 240mm of ground clearance.
  • The BT-50 is a comfy ute on and off road. The BT-50 is a comfy ute on and off road.

Of course, being K’gari, the main event is driving at (legal) speed on the western beach. Using the deep rutted wheel tracks of the many tricked-out 4x4s that had come before, the BT-50 in 4H allowed enough slip to have a genuinely good time without feeling like you were going to lose control.

The ride quality on the tough stuff also impressed – the BT-50 is a comfy ute on and off road.

How much fuel does it consume?

Fuel economy in the 1.9L BT-50 is 6.7 litres per 100 kilometres, and for the 3.0L it is 7.7L/100km for the manual and 8.0L in auto guise.

Given our test was almost exclusively on sand, we did not record an on-test fuel figure for the BT-50. 

Both powertrains have a 76-litre fuel tank.

The BT-50 has a fuel tank capacity of 76 litres. The BT-50 has a fuel tank capacity of 76 litres.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

The BT-50 was awarded a five-star ANCAP rating in 2020, covering all variants, including the Thunder.

From the base XS up, it has an extensive safety features list that includes auto emergency braking (AEB), a blind spot monitor, attention assist, emergency lane keeping and lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control with stop and go on auto models, emergency stop signal, lane departure warning and prevention, rear cross-traffic alert, secondary collision reduction and speed assist and turn assist. 

It doesn’t have a front centre airbag, but there is nothing to complain about on the safety front. The fact that all of these features and more are standard across the range is impressive.

The BT-50 was awarded a five-star ANCAP rating in 2020. The BT-50 was awarded a five-star ANCAP rating in 2020.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

When the BT-50 – and its D-Max twin – launched in late 2020, they quickly became top picks in the ute segment.

Two years later, the BT-50 remains hard to fault on many fronts. Ride quality, responsive engine, loads of kit including the latest safety gear, and as we have discovered, genuine off-road capability.

There’s no escaping the dated multimedia tech and lack of refinement, but if you can live with those flaws, you’ll be rewarded with a top quality ute.

$66,390

Based on new car retail price

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

Daily driver score

3.8/5

Adventure score

3.8/5

adventureguide rank

  • Light

    Dry weather gravel roads and formed trails with no obstacles, very shallow water crossings.

  • Medium

    Hard-packed sand, slight to medium hills with minor obstacles in all weather.

  • Heavy

    Larger obstacles, steeper climbs and deeper water crossings; plus tracks marked as '4WD only'

Price Guide

$66,390

Based on new car retail price

Disclaimer: The pricing information shown in the editorial content (Review Prices) is to be used as a guide only and is based on information provided to Carsguide Autotrader Media Solutions Pty Ltd (Carsguide) both by third party sources and the car manufacturer at the time of publication. The Review Prices were correct at the time of publication.  Carsguide does not warrant or represent that the information is accurate, reliable, complete, current or suitable for any particular purpose. You should not use or rely upon this information without conducting an independent assessment and valuation of the vehicle.