ROAD TEST: Mazda BT-50 ute is the consummate all-rounder
THREE surfboards loaded within minutes. Four mountain bikes tossed across the rear tailgate. Pesky palm fronds ousted to the dump.
It's easy to see why five-seater dual-cab utes have become family favourites.
Toyota's HiLux has led the ute market and has been the nation's top-selling vehicle for the past three years, closely followed by the Ford Ranger.
And while Mitsubishi Triton is also another consistently high performer, the Mazda BT-50 is often left in the shadows.
Sharing its underpinnings with the Ranger, the BT-50 attacked one of its major criticisms head-on last year. The front was redesigned for a tougher look courtesy of a squarer bumper - in short, less like a hatchback and more like a truck.
Growing competition has produced some impressive deals available on the BT-50, especially this top-shelf GT variant that has been selling for $47,990 drive-away.
Initially starting at more than $50,000, there are currently 2018 plate top-shelf BT-50 GTs available for $47,990 drive-away (manual, the auto is $2000 more) with 12 months' rego and insurance.
Black leather trim, tinted glass, tray tub, sports bar, power mirrors and electric adjustment of the driver's chair set this variant apart from the second tier XTR, and both models come with 17-inch alloys, dual-zone aircon, eight-inch Alpine touchscreen six-speaker stereo with digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity as standard.
Servicing intervals are annual or 15,000km (this model up from 10,000km), while along with most other key brands Mazda has extended its warranty from three years to five. Capped price servicing is available at a cost of $2307 for five.
It has five-star safety that comes courtesy of a 2015 test - it wouldn't get the same rating now because of more stringent requirements. The GT comes standard with six airbags, rear camera, trailer sway control and emergency brake assist. Some rivals now have autonomous braking that can help avoid or mitigate a collision, radar cruise control, rear cross traffic and blindspot warning.
Having the leather trim adds an element of class.
The Alpine touchscreen stereo system can be clunky to operate when not using the smartphone mirroring apps, but simply plug your phone into the USB port on the dash to engage Apple CarPlay or Android Auto and everything becomes more cohesive.
Those in the back go without aircon vents, and with the BT-50 working, it cools down the cabin fast even after baking in the summer sun.
While initially a twin under the skin with the Ranger, changes to engine, steering and suspension a few years back weren't emulated in the Mazda. The BT-50 maintains a 3.2-litre turbo diesel which is burly and smooth. When cold it can feel sluggish, although once up and running it feels muscly and shifts well through the six-speed automatic.
Almost silky on the highway, the ride borders on refined. Below average bitumen exposes bouncy performance unladen but the BT-50 is not alone. It's difficult to balance ride and payload of more than one tonne.
Adept on and off-road, the new look expands the appeal of Mazda's ute. Steering can be challenging around town yet it proves super-capable when the going gets tough, while maintaining high ride standards around town and on the highway.
AT A GLANCE
MAZDA BT-50 GT
PRICE $49,990 drive-away auto (big saving)
WARRANTY/SERVICING 5-yr unl'td km, services 1-yr or 15,000km, $2307 for five (good)
ENGINE 3.2-litre 5-cyl turbo diesel, 147kW/470Nm (strong)
SAFETY 5 stars, 6 airbags, reversing camera, trailer sway control and emergency brake assist (not bad)
THIRST 8.9-9.2L/ 100km (OK)
SPARE Full-size (awesome)
TOWING 3500kg, 1039kg payload (among best)