Top Gun towing Mazda BT-50

By: Matt Wood


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Technical editor Matt Wood tests the towing capabilities of the BT-50 on something other than a national highway

 

The town of Boort in regional Victoria would have to be one of the few places in Australia where you can wake to the sound of gunfire and not think that you are about to be the victim of a home invasion.

Though, my sleep addled and rather disoriented brain didn’t really compute this as I instinctively dived to the floor and rolled under the bed.

It took a couple of seconds for my senses to catch up with the fact that I was rolling around in the dust bunnies for no real reason as what sounded like an artillery barrage rattled the windows of my hotel room.

Clearly I’m hero material.

It was of course, actually the start of duck hunting season. Once I realised this I managed to extract myself from what turned out to be an alarmingly narrow space under the bed.

The dust bunnies however persisted, clinging to my exposed skin, and a glance in the mirror revealed a visage not unlike that of a Wookie with mange.

With the adrenaline from my rude awakening now fading, it was clearly time to hit the shower.

In the past I’ve devoted quite a few unkind words to describing the styling of the Mazda BT-50.

I’ve even indicated it’s something of a value proposition for those who don’t really care what their ute looks like. A purely function over form decision.

Well, during the previous evening, the guys outside the Railway Hotel in Boort seemed to disagree. In fact a couple even used bad words in my direction.

In the face of such vehement opposition I have to admit that was forced to see the Mazda ute in a different light.

This new appreciation for the BT-50 may or may not have had something to do with the proliferation of firearms within the town limits.

Sure, the BT-50 isn’t new. This current generation shares its platform with the Ford Ranger, which must smart a bit for the Zoom-Zoom company.

For over three decades Ford was dependent on Mazda for it’s commercial vehicle platforms.

The one time that Mazda use the Ford platform they’re left looking dowdy while the Ranger looks set to dominate the ute market locally. 

This particular BT-50 XT-R, I have to admit, doesn’t look half bad.

The addition of the blacked out bar, light force driving lights and the blacked out fake beadlock 17-inch rims does give this Mazda a tougher more purposeful look.

Early bar work for the BT-50 tended to make it look like it was wearing grandma’s glasses.

I’d stopped overnight in Boort enroute to Quambatook. The reason being that I was going to be picking up a mini-modified pull tractor to take to the Diesel and Dirt Derby in Keith, South Australia.

I reckoned that this was going to be the perfect opportunity to test the towing capabilities of the BT-50 on something other than a national highway.

The 550hp mini-modified tractor plus trailer, plus race fuel, tools and spares tipped the scales at just over 2 tonnes.

Even though the current crop of 4x4 utes all claim towing capacities of over 3 tonnes I still reckon that they’re not the ideal choice for heavy towing.

Two tonnes however, is just about spot on. A this weight you don’t have to worry about exceeding GCM, axle loadings, how many passengers you can carry or the weight of any accessories.

The fact remains that these are still relatively light utes, not a light truck. The laws of physics still prevail regardless of what the marketing hype says.

That said, the BT-50/Ranger platform does have one significant advantage over the competition. It has the longest wheel base in it’s class which makes for a much more stable vehicle under load.

Without much ado I picked up the tractor, trailer and the tractor’s owner, Jobbo for the haul to South Australia.

These Mallee back roads are a good test of any vehicle loaded or otherwise. These roads take a pounding from heavy grain harvest traffic and feature massive potholes, steep cambers, broken edges and multilayer patches in the road surface.

The Mazda’s 3.2 litre 147kW/470NM 5 cylinder diesel was and is still a cracking unit in a little truck like this.

Its competitors have all upped the output for their updated platforms to match what has become a segment benchmark.

However, they all use 4 cylinder engines. In my opinion there’s no substitute for cubic inches when it comes to towing.

This engine just has a greater reciprocal mass than competing 4-bangers which makes it smoother and less stressed under load.

Regardless of the injection pressures and the amount of turbo chargers you throw at an engine you still can’t go past engine capacity for towing.

This engine is very unstressed when under load and the bigger lump of iron under the bonnet allows for smoother power delivery and engine braking.

With this load on you can manually drop back a cog and the engine’s displacement will help slow you down. 

This saves wear and tear on the brakes of both the tow vehicle and the trailer. It also makes it easier to drive.

As with the bulk of these utes, my BT featured a 6-speed auto which handled the load easily. It smoothly upshifted and downshifted and I rarely had to intervene.

But the standout of the BT on a long trip under load was how it handled. The Mazda took these crappy back roads in its stride.

We’d made sure that the load was secure and well balanced which also helps but this platform is great for eating up a mile at this weight.

We were easily able to maintain the speed limit and even overtake slower traffic without any issues at all. It remained composed, comfortable and easily controlled on the broken back roads.

And fuel economy wasn’t too shabby either, averaging 14.5l/100km.

After a huge day at the tractor pull it was a blessed relief to climb behind the wheel of the BT-50 and point it in the direction of home.

Even after a hard day hauling a load at the track the Mazda was a relaxing drive home.

As the Ranger has become more plush it’s scored electric steering, a new fuel injection system and low-inertia turbo charging.

This makes the driveline in the Mazda seem a little old school. However, I actually prefer the BT-50’s road manners when off the main roads.

The more traditional hydraulic steering of the BT feels more solid and dependable and has more feel in the rough stuff.

I think the Mazda actually handles better under load than the Ford that it’s inevitably compared to.

In all over an 8-day period I clocked up 3,500 kilometres behind the wheel of the Mazda BT-50, with plenty of loaded and unladen kilometres.

We towed a tractor and we used it as a camera car for a Wheels mag photo shoot in the Victorian High Country.

I even attempted (and failed) to keep up with a Porsche 911on a mountain road in it. And it copped everything we threw at it.

As I regarded the setting sun on the shores of Little Lake Boort with distant gunfire echoing off the trees I had to admit that maybe I’ve been a harsh on the Mazda in the past.

There and then I resolved to be a kinder, less judgmental person in the future, at least while there are people with guns around anyway.

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