Earthmoving Industry Insight, Reviews

First drive: Mazda BT-50 4×2 XT Hi-Rider ute

Matt Wood takes the Mazda BT-50 4x2 XT ute on the road, and says the Hi-Rider is the model he’d go for as a construction or farm-spec hauler

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It’s hard going through life being unattractive. I should know. It doesn’t matter how much you spend on clothing, if you’re a bit funny lookin’, you just end up looking like a well-dressed funny lookin’ person.

And that’s pretty much been the lot of the Mazda BT-50. The launch of the current-generation Ford Ranger and Mazda BT-50 back in 2011 represented the first time that the Mazda used a Ford commercial platform since the two carmakers agreed to work with each other back in the 1980s.

The Ranger looks tough and sturdy; the Mazda looks like it’s having its temperature taken at the vet.

I mean, really, when was the last time you saw a convoy of militia anywhere in the world driving BT-50s. They don’t, coz it makes them look like they should be throwing lollypops to the locals. The Mazda is just too funny looking.

But, in all fairness, the BT-50 makes a pretty good value statement as a work vehicle. The Ranger may be kicking sales goals and turning the screws on Toyota, but the Mazda gives you the benefit of the Ranger’s running gear at, in many cases, a significantly lower price.

The ‘Bitty Fitty’ as the cool kids call it, copped a mild update late last year that saw some suspension tweaks and a cosmetic freshen up. Cosmetically, the most noticeable change was the loss of the orange indicator eyebrows out front, these are now clear.

We got hold of a base spec cab-chassis 4×2 Hi-Rider XT version which was powered by the 2.2-litre, 4-cylinder diesel powerplant rather than the more popular 3.2-litre, 5-cylinder version. The 2.2 makes 110 killer watts at 3700rpm and a respectable 370Nm between 1500rpm and 2500rpm. Our work-spec mule was also equipped with a 6-speed auto trans.

This truck sits above the base single cab 4×2 low-rider, which would probably be the pick for city work duties. The Hi-Rider is essentially the 4×4 without the front diff and, as such, has the same ground clearance and wading depth as its 4×4 siblings. 

The 4×2 Hi-Rider is the one we’d go for as a construction or farm spec hauler.


A couple of hundred kilos of freight in the back settled the ride down.

As with most vehicles in this class the Mazda is equipped with an array of anti-awkward-conversation-with-insurance-company features in the form of electronic stability aids and trailer sway control.

Dual-cab models are available with a pickup tub, but the single-cab variants are cab chassis only, so you have to factor in a tray or body as part of the purchase price.

As the XT sits on heavier springs than its lower 4×2 counterpart it can take an impressive payload of 1533kg and maintains the 3,500kg towing capacity of the 4×4 models. However, it would be nice if the 4×2 models were available with a rear diff-lock to help with traction on site or in the paddock.

The base interior is still well-appointed, all switch gear is easy to reach and the multi-media system is easy to navigate. Storage is provided in the form of a console between the seats and pockets in the doors.

The height-adjustable seats flip forward enough to provide a space to throw jackets, hi-vis vests and other work gear.

The Ford-sourced 2.2-litre engine is quite a flexible little unit and its one that I’ve come to like both on- and off-road. Sure it doesn’t have the all-out oomph of the big 5-cylinder but it still remains torquey enough to haul reasonable well. If you hadn’t already driven the bigger donk you probably wouldn’t complain.

The auto, however, likes a load on its back and tends to fumble at times when empty in city traffic. When you plant the foot you get the feeling that the drivetrain is winding up before it delivers.

The BT-50 steers extremely well, it corners without much pitch and roll and feels planted and stable. And I much prefer the Mazda’s traditional power steering setup to the updated Ranger’s updated electric steering.

Without a load on its back the rear suspension bucks, but then it’s an empty truck. In fact virtually all competitors with this spec ride in a similar fashion when empty.

We went to work as a courier to see how the Mazda was to work with. A couple of hundred kilos of freight in the back settled the ride down and, with a box trolley on board, we set off to do battle with shopping centre traffic. It was a cinch.

The BT-50 is an easy, comfortable drive. Visibility was adequate and the additional $820 option of a rear-view camera was handy when parking and backing into loading docks.

The only downside to this camera when mounted on a tray is that it doesn’t give you a view of the tow hitch, which is really handy if you hook up trailers on a regular basis. Another issue with the camera is the display in the rear-view mirror as it can be very hard to see in bright sunlight.

The rear-view camera is standard on 4×4 variants.

After huffing through the shopping centre under a towering trolley of boxes it was a relief to retreat to the air-conditioned confines of the BT cab. And it was an easy, comfortable ride to the next job.

The dealer-fitted alloy tray also features a lockable under-tray storage box and a water tank and sunscreen holder, which is a nice touch for a working truck.

All in all the BT-50 is a solid well-priced work truck, regardless of looks. I reckon we made quite a team.

The Maxda BT-50 4×2 XT Hi-Rider is priced at $31,085.32  (MLP $28,815 + Hi-Rider standard tray (fit price) $2,177.36 + rubber floor mats $92.96) also add $820 for the rear view camera. Less on-roads.

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