Used car review: Mazda BT-50 2011-2015
MAZDA'S BT-50 has been a staple on the Australian ute scene since 2006, securing a loyal following among owners combining work and pleasure.
For the updated BT-50 that sold from late 2011 until a facelift in September 2015, there is good news - you can choose from 19 variants based on two diesel engines, three body styles, three grades of trim and rear or all-wheel drive.
Many owners praise BT-50s as roomy and practical with a strong engine and excellent off-road and towing ability.
The not so good news is reliability. Mazda has a reputation for screwing its cars together well but the BT-50's gearbox in particular has proved a weak point.
Numerous owners report gearbox failures in their BT-50s, whether manual or automatic. Worryingly, many failures in the six-speeders are reported early in life, often at about 50,000km.
But if you seek out a well cared for BT-50 and have a specialist mechanic check and approve its transmission, it will be well worth a punt due to its all-round talent.
Mazda BT-50s have strong Aussie accents as they were engineered here, as were the Ford Rangers with shared underpinnings.
Even the visually impaired will note that Ford wins in body styling - the BT-50's looks are at best polarising.
As a work vehicle, the cab chassis comes with a practical tray though the biggest seller and all-round lifestyle choice was the dual cab ute with tub. The freestyle cab went without a door pillar and its front doors locked on to the rear-hinged back doors.
Specification was impressive for the time and buyers chose from XT, XTR or full-of-fruit GT. Standard on all grades were cruise control, Bluetooth, power windows and mirrors and aircon. Crash rating was five stars.
The XTR added 17-inch alloys, front fog lamps, dual-zone climate control, satnav and leather shift knob and steering wheel.
The plush flagship GT added leather seats (electric from June 2012) and automatic headlamps and wipers.
Look out for XTR and GT dual cab 4WDs with desirable Boss Sports or Boss Adventure factory accessories. These included distinctive 17-inch alloy wheels, airbag compatible bull bar, Lightforce driving lights, side steps, sports bar and tonneau cover.
BT-50s with the four-cylinder engine could tow 2500kg but the rest managed 3350kg, rising to 3500kg for models sold after February 2013.
Buyers of 4WD versions scored an electronic locking rear differential and could select 2WD or 4WD on the move via a cabin switch. For trickier terrain, they could move into 4WD low range. Without question, the 4x4 BT-50 was a hugely capable off-road tool.
Owners speak highly of the BT-50's on-road nous too, praising the five-cylinder engine's power and, for a ute, the handling and ride quality.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
There are many reports of transmission dramas - so walk away from any automatics that have trouble selecting gears or make strange noises. If it's a manual version, it's a red flag should it jump out of any gear when driving.
It would be a wise investment to have a transmission specialist check over any potential purchase.
Common sense suggests any BT-50 that's done heavy work is more susceptible to gearbox or engine wear. Favour those that haven't been used for towing, regular off-roading or as work trucks. There are plenty of town-only BT-50s in the classifieds.
Some owners grumble about poor paint quality and even rust at this early stage. There are a few reports of aircon failures, intake hose splits, driveshaft failure, sagging rear suspension and fuel pump issues.
A few have experienced complete engine failures, so watch for black smoke coming from the exhaust, oil in the radiator or mayonnaise-type gunk under the oil filler cap.
There are complaints about seat comfort too, so go for a long test drive to judge this for yourself.
The potential problem list may be long but don't be too alarmed. Many BT-50 owners are hugely satisfied, so find a good one and you'll score a talented all-rounder.
BT-50s of this era were recalled in October 2012 and again in September 2016 for a seat back latch (dual cabs only) and in February 2017 for a speed sensor failure in pre-2013 models, which could result in an unintended downshift to first gear.
Tough, capable and practical, find a good BT-50 and it will reward. Questions about gearbox reliability mark it down, however, so buy a used one with caution and expert assistance.
Hamish Miles: I have done about 25,000km in a late 2015 XTR dual cab. It was the only ute with Hema satnav and cheaper than a Ford equivalent. I love the engine and auto but paddle-shifters would be good for on and off-road work. I generally get 9.8L/100km in mixed city, country and paddock/off-road use. I appreciate the steering and ride and the back end's not too bad unladen. There's good space in cabin but some details could be tidier. I still don't trust the rear-view camera in the mirror.
Jeff Gravett: Never mind the horror stories, I'm totally satisfied. Bought my BT-50 in December 2011 and for the next five years it was my everyday runabout and my grey nomad truck, towing a 2.4-tonne van, with 3.5m tinny on a rack plus outboard and generator in the tub. In mid 2016, Mazda covered the entire cost of replacing inner door panels. When the auto went in June, more than two years out of warranty, again Mazda came to the party with a new gearbox, new oil cooler and all labour covered.
Peter Sutton: We bought a 2012 GT demonstrator for the Big Trip and hit trouble with an intermittent fault in the wiring loom. (It was diagnosed almost accidentally - not before we spent 35 days off the road as dealers in the northwest and Top End tried to fix it.) We haven't had a bit of trouble since and we're up to 110,000km. It regularly returns 10L/100km, or about 10 per cent thirstier on mud tyres. The original rear springs needed upgrading for towing. I've got big wraps on it.
THE EXPERTS SAY
In four years, the T6 series BT-50 tallied about 50,000 sales, with nearly 14,000 sold during its best year, 2013.
Among current used listings, dual cab and freestyle (with jump seats in the rear) variants account for four out of five examples. Five-cylinders outnumber the fours by a greater ratio but there are marginally more automatics than manuals. Two out of three are 4WDs and among these the most common variant is the XTR.
A 2011 base model, the single-cab XT four-cylinder manual (from $25,490 new) is valued at $14,800 in good condition with about 100,000km. A dual-cab GT with five-cylinder/auto from the same year ($52,710 new) is valued at $30,800.
Retained values for 2015 range from $21,000 for the single cab ($25,570 new) to $43,800 for the GT ($53,140 new).
Vehicles to cross-shop against the BT-50 include the Toyota HiLux, Holden Colorado, Mitsubishi Triton, Nissan Navara and Ford Ranger. Among those rivals, only the 2011 HiLux has better resale value than the Mazda. The BT-50 sold new in 2015 outperforms that year's HiLux on resale.
MAZDA BT-50 2011-15
PRICE NEW $25,490-$53,140
SAFETY 5 stars
ENGINE 3.2-litre 5-cyl turbo diesel, 147kW/470Nm; 2.2-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel, 110kW/375Nm
TRANSMISSION 6-speed man, 6-speed auto; RWD/AWD