THERE has been noticeable movement in the dual-cab ute segment this year, with Nissan, Mitsubishi and Ford all offering new editions with better levels of comfort and refinement, and Toyota joining that party this week with the much-awaited all-new HiLux (see pages 2-3).
Of course that frenzy has been fuelled by strong interest from those buyers who want a work vehicle that doubles as a weekend family carrier, or those families who are just looking for a more adventurous alternative to the sedan and SUV.
You have to change to keep pace in this fast-moving segment and Mazda is hoping the updates to its BT-50, with improved exterior and interior features, will not only broaden its buyer focus but also continue to present as a value-for-money proposition.
The changes, though, are largely cosmetic with the only mechanical difference being refinements to the shift action of the six-speed manual to improve first-to-second changes.
The interior of this updated BT-50 remains greatly unchanged except for a new infotainment system and 7.8-inch colour touchscreen in the XTR and GT variants.
These upper grades are also equipped with sat-nav and reverse camera, the latter an $820 option in the entry-level XT.
Seats offer support, hold and comfort, with the back pew, too, cushioned and angled for a nicer ride.
Overall the look is quite reserved with function trumping form on most occasions. The steering wheel, while comfortable in the hand, is adjustable for height only. Storage options are varied and generally useful, although bigger door bins wouldn't hurt.
On the road
The BT-50 retains the 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo-diesel engine which has brought much success in the 4x4 dual-cab ute segment and, together with the six-speed auto transmission, remains an able unit.
It is strong and powerful, with the diesel clatter quickly changing to a more acceptable hum at speed. The size and weight of this ute doesn't make for nimbleness around corners but she is steady on her feet, with nicely weighted steering.
But where competitors have improved ride comfort, Mazda has not, with stiff suspension offering up a bumpy ride on imperfect surfaces, especially with an empty tray.
The BT-50 is applauded for its off-road capability and although our launch forest foray was cut short by unexpected tree felling, it still managed to show off its composure and sure-footedness when low-range 4WD is called for.
What do you get?
Aside from that new 7.8-inch touchscreen, the XTR also features leather trim, 17-inch alloys, six-speaker audio system with wheel-mounted controls, dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, Bluetooth capability, leather-wrapped gear-shift knob, sat-nav and reverse camera.
The BT-50 has a five-star safety suite but manages to miss out on things like the active cruise control, lane departure warning and forward collision warning systems we are seeing on so many of its competitors.
Mazda claims fuel figures of 9.2l/100km but in our experience, and as you would expect, it gets up much higher if drives are confined to the shorter variety.
The BT-50 is offered with a two-year 100,000 kilometre warranty but extends to three years if the mileage is not reached.
Servicing costs are fixed and Mazda's Service Select program allows you to schedule intervals according to use.
The Toyota HiLux (from $48,490) and Ford Ranger (from 46,480) head a pack that also includes the Nissan Navara (from $48,490), Holden Colorado (from $48,690), Mitsubishi Triton (from $47,490), VW Amarok (from $49,990) and Isuzu D-Max (from $48,300).
Dual-cab utes are all about versatility these days - hence their popularity - and certainly the reverse camera and sat nav as standard in the upper grades of this BT-50 are two comforts that add to its appeal. Mazda said the BT-50 is also the first in the segment to offer HEMA topographical maps ($295 option), a must for serious off-roaders.
It is the exterior of the BT-50, so polarizing in looks, which has seen the most benefit from this mid-cycle facelift.
The lower front bar and grille have had a slight adjustment to give the BT-50 a flatter nose and more modern look. The back sports a more masculine look and the rear tail light surrounds have been changed from chrome to black with clear lenses.
The BT-50 is regarded as one of the leaders in this dual-cab segment, with its towing capacity and off-road capabilities making it a firm favourite with grey nomads especially.
While it may have been innovative when it was first released four years ago, selling more than 48,000 units since then, the competition has caught up and in some ways surpassed with their all-new offerings.
Whether a few largely cosmetic changes are enough to attract fleet buyers and conquest sales remains to be seen.
What matters most
What we liked: Strong, capable performance, individual looks.
What we'd like to see: More ride refinement.
Warranty and servicing: Two-year 100,000km warranty with fixed-price servicing.
Model: Mazda BT-50 XTR Dual Cab Ute.
Details: Four-door 4x4 dual cab ute.
Engine: 3.2-litre five-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 147kW @ 3000rpm and peak torque of 470Nm @ 1750-2500rpm.
Transmissions: Six-speed auto or six-speed manual.
Consumption: 9.2 litres/100km combined.
Bottom line: From $49,700 (manual) and from $51,700 for the auto (XT manual from $42,815).
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