Report on 25,000 bush km driving a new Mazda BT50

Submitted: Friday, Oct 05, 2012 at 09:27
ThreadID: 98391 Views:20435 Replies:11 FollowUps:17
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I have recently moved from Nissan GU Patrol wagons (had two) to Mazda and thought I'd share the experiences of driving a few bush Km - well, actually 25,000 bush km in the 2011 built BT 50 auto XL.

I bought a dual cab as I have had a dual cab previously and liked the concept/practical nature of this format. A dual cab has twice the storage space of a wagon. The significantly greater load carrying capacity (vs wagon styles) was also a major factor in swapping.

The sums I did showed me changing to a new BT 50 would actually be cheaper over the next 3 years than retaining my 2002 Patrol. A significant component of this cost is the fuel saving - the Mazda halves the fuel cost of the old Patrol. Currently I am getting 11L/100 km - you'll see why this is so as you read on.........

My requirements are for a practical and comfortable 4 to 5 seater, diesel formatted 4WD, capable of carrying a load of up to 1 tonne and being able to tow a 1.4 t trailer easily. Due to limited availability of tyres in remote Australia, I did not want 17” wheels. Nor did I want alloy wheel rims. My original plan was to order a cab/chassis but they are only available in manual. Test driving the new BT 50 in manual and auto, with & without my trailer led to the utterly inescapable conclusion that the auto was the only one to order, despite the extra $2K. After the first 25,000 km, I am still glad I chose the auto.
The Ford variant was never in the race, principally due to extra $ 5 K price and a crappy towbar offer. Toyota was only considered in the 70 series format with a custom made tray to effectively create a dual cab. But a Toyota badged heavy duty 4WDcosts at least $ 20 K more. I did not even inspect the Hilux dinosaur.

So, I ordered a newbie Mazda BT 50 with window tinting, towbar (with aftermarket Philips plug for trailer battery connection), floor mats, snorkel, auto trans, white XL ute (as mentioned cab chassis is n/a in auto. I have thus foregone my plans to have an integrated body/canopy/roof rack unit fabricated onto the chassis, and will cope with the tub of the ute as best I can). Happy enough with the deal offered by Paradise Motors, but it was obvious that I knew more about the vehicle than the dealer staff did – be they service or sales staff.

I then traded up to 265/70 Bridgestone 697 LT tyres (very hard to fault this tyre & it’s predecessors for value, performance & reliability). Fitted an aftermarket ute liner. Fitted dual merit plug 12 volt power outlet to tub. Had custom designed & built aluminium roof rack made + 2nd spare wheel holder + UHF aerial mount. Fitted GME UHF in behind dashboard ventilation controls(it’s out of sight) and have mike/speaker sitting on centre console. Fitted a Redarc electric brake unit. Installed an aluminium tool box against the front wall of the ute tub, which must weigh >100 kg with tyre gear, tools, compressor, spares, etc. Custom made soft tonneau goes over the tub. Transferred my Lightforce Genesis HID spotties to a new ARB steel Bull Bar. The total after-market spend has been about $ 10 K.; another $ 2.5 K is required for a 2” lift.

A bush ready beast, indeed. Due to exorbitant costs of long range fuel tanks and current mounting of tool box, I’m happy to use jerry cans for extra range. I deferred the decision about clearance until I saw how it coped. More on this issue later. All up weight without passengers is 2.7 tonne.

Recently I fitted mudflap chains after ripping off both rear flaps in a bog - only one flap was recovered. I did not order side steps but the dealer offered them at no cost, so I accepted. After the first 2,500 km I removed the side steps to enable better clearance. While this has worked, I now have a seriously stone chipped exterior on the rear leading edges from the front doors backwards. Interestingly, I find the vehicle easier to enter & exit without the side steps. We'll see what a suspension lift does and if I can refit the side steps. The vehicle, IMHO, looks dorky with them on.

I live in Adelaide and principal routes from there have up until now included the Strzelecki, Birdsville & Oodnadatta tracks; Alice Springs to Kiwirrkurra to Kunawarritji to Punmu to Marble Bar; Talawana Track; Gary Highway; Great Central Rd; Heather Highway; parts of the Gunbarrel Highway; Uluru; Alice Springs to Old Andado to Oodnadatta; Flinders Ranges; Broken Hill to Cobar to Bourke. In summary, approx 60 % of the 25,000 km have been off bitumen.

Well, that’s all background: what’s the vehicle really like?

Likes

Cabin comfort after a long day – at the end of the day’s driving, I find I am less tired than in the Patrol. Leg room, head room & seat comfort in front & rear (with two not 3 people) is fine. I like the 3 x live power outlets also. iPod functionality & blue tooth for the phone is appreciated, (Bluetooth is new to me).

Roadholding is excellent and it hangs on in dirt & on the blacktop like you would not believe. It's a point & shoot vehicle and that makes it very easy to drive. It's a torquey beastie, but with so much power on tap that aspect is not immediately noticeable. Believe it or not, the Mazda has more torque than the 76 series Toyota (workmate wagon & troopy) & about 5 Kw less power !!!

DSC certainly works and is so smooth that it’s usually only by the flash of the orange light coming on & off that I know it’s working. On rougher conditions I have occasionally felt it work.

Hill Descent – only tried it once & was very impressed at how slow & how controlled it was.

Electronically lockable rear diff is fantastic. A seriously good feature. In rough, slow, rocky going I now have it on all the time. It automatically disengages over 35 kph, which is handy. You can just let the 4WD idle along and the push from the rear means the front trans does not have to be engaged.

The Mazda tows well. Has plenty of grunt but if you let the revs die too much the turbo lag kicks in which can cause a loss of momentum There is a auto trans clunk or kick as well, which is surprising as the rest of the vehicle is so well engineered. Perhaps a remap of the ECM could remedy this?

Highway cruising economy with an empty roof rack @ 110 kph gives between 10 and 11 Litres/100 km, depending on weather conditions. Fully loaded for 11 day outback trip, weighing 3.1 t, incl 4 people + swags on roof + 1.4 t trailer with roofrack, driving on dirt at speeds up to 80 kph gets up to 17 L/100 km. I estimate the roof rack sucks about 1 to 2 L/100 km.

Dislikes

Turbo lag – I still find it annoying and it’s very hard to drive the 4WD smoothly, especially at low speeds.

Gearbox clunk or kick as mentioned above is a downer. Sometimes, at lower speeds, it’s a jolt through the seat into your back.

Seat belt chime is very annoying. The dealer told me it could not be disabled. However, in the last week I found a way to disable the chime

Dust ingress around tailgate is a serious issue. I filled as many gaps with door sealer tape + other foam tapes as I could and that helped. But it is still bad. I have to cover the tub contents with a tarp under the tonneau to be thrown back when un-packing. This gets 90 % of the red dirt off the contents. It’s easy to see where the dirt floods in – it’s not from the tonneau seal. I have just ordered on ebay a seal kit and am hoping that may address the issue. This is a design flaw that is a real negative.

Duco seems to retain dirt/dust stains. The dealer told me it might be soft paint and nothing could be done! I’ve since used truck wash and polish to good effect.

The parking lights come on if all the doors are not shut hard. I't's quite annoying - I should put a big sign on the windscreen to save those with good intent advising me that my lights are on. Again, the dealer says this feature cannot be modified.

I’d like a carpet dash mat but the owner’s manual says the airbag function may be compromised.

Future

Before I get underway again in 2013 I will fit an ARB suspension kit. I’ve chosen ARB due to the design & testing work done and reputation in the market place. This suspension upgrade delivers only 100 Kg extra to the GVM, so it’s an un-economic to upgrade on that basis. I am looking for a bit more clearance on sandy & rocky tracks, as I do very occasionally scrape – no damage done. But I’m also after extra clearance to avoid gathering spinifex underneath. In certain conditions I am currently stopping twice daily to hook the built up spinifex out. It gathers badly around (1) the exhaust as the pipe travels over the chassis cross member by the transfer box (2) the fuel tank and (3) the rear universal joint/mini flywheel & muffler. I’m anticipating a lift will help to reduce the spinifex collection issue, but I reckon I might need to build a deflection shield or two over summer to prevent the blasted stuff collecting.

Cheers.
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Reply By: outback epicurean - Friday, Oct 05, 2012 at 09:41

Friday, Oct 05, 2012 at 09:41
Hi

Excellent report on this new vehicle. I am also looking but don't like the small fuel tank. What was the cost you were quoted?

thanks
AnswerID: 496180

Follow Up By: Rick (S.A.) - Friday, Oct 05, 2012 at 09:56

Friday, Oct 05, 2012 at 09:56
Not quoted but looked on line - approx $1200.

The range is not bad - how many times a year does one need over 650 to 800 km range? There are not a huge number of drives in Australia with re-fuelling opportunities greater than this distance. So for that reason, I can compromise.

Cheers
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Follow Up By: Mazdave - Friday, Oct 05, 2012 at 14:20

Friday, Oct 05, 2012 at 14:20
My long Ranger tank 150 litres was $1500 fitted. Had problems with the float arm not measuring properly whereby it would only use 120 litres of fuel. After many emails and some further testing by Long Ranger in conjuction with Ford, they supplied a retro fix to the float arm to allow it to bottom out in the tank. (and effectively use 150 litres of fuel). I believe this is now fixed in new tanks being fitted. Agree about the range, but the longer range gives you peace of mind and driving around town I only have to fill up once a month!



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Reply By: Rockape - Friday, Oct 05, 2012 at 10:12

Friday, Oct 05, 2012 at 10:12
Rick,
good to see an honest opinion in a review. Both good things you found and the not so good things.

Have driven both the BT50 auto and the 2 Rangers, 2.2l manual and the 3.2 auto. We have a Ranger 3.2l auto spacecab on so I will see how it goes.

Even though I haven't done many K's in any of the vehicles I did notice the difference between the manual and auto immediately and know why you chose the auto.
On another note I do think the ecm can be adjusted to stop the auto problem. When testing both the BT 50 and the Ranger there was a big difference in how they drove and changed gear. In my case the BT50 was flawless and the Ranger drove like yours.

Did notice the gaps around the tailgate as well. When I looked at a D-max and Colorado they had similar gaps so I will definitely be doing something about it and installing a vent in the canopy.

I decided to keep the 17" wheels as over the years there has been a gradual change from 15/16" to mostly 16" and now many more 17" tyres getting around.

Good report,
RA.
AnswerID: 496182

Reply By: Member - Geoff M (VIC) - Friday, Oct 05, 2012 at 10:22

Friday, Oct 05, 2012 at 10:22
Hi Rick,

Good report - its always good to hear a real-life report on a vehicle that has been through it's paces and tell things "as they are".

As an ex-BT50 owner, I can relate to many of the things you highlighted. Unfortunately my vehicle didn't meet our needs and I had to purchase something different, but at the end of the day any vehicle is a compromise and there are many things to consider. The most dissappointing thing to me was the lack of understanding and support from Mazda (dealer and Mazda Australia).

Hope you get many more great trips from your vehicle, and maybe we'll cross paths somewhere in this great country of ours.

Cheers, Geoff
AnswerID: 496183

Reply By: Mazdave - Friday, Oct 05, 2012 at 11:01

Friday, Oct 05, 2012 at 11:01
Rick,
Great report, I too have a new 2012 BT50 and whilst I have only done 8000kms, with about 2500 of those on dirt, I am finding the same. Mine is a freestyle cab chassis thus being a manual. I too would have preferred the Auto, but wasnt available. My 2 previous vehicles were also Patrol wagons a 2008 CRD and a 2004 3.0 litre and prior to that Landcruisers. I agree the performance and economy is vastly superior in the Mazda. I have upgraded mine with OME suspension with a 50mm lift, 150 litre Long Ranger tank, custom tray, ARB bar and winch etc etc. I find the best investment out of the lot was the suspension. The ride and stability is superb. I have also fitted airbags as when i load my carry me camper with all gear, it helps. Long Ranger tank is also great as I can get about 1400km range. Cant find any faults as yet, but still early days.



AnswerID: 496185

Follow Up By: Rick (S.A.) - Friday, Oct 05, 2012 at 21:15

Friday, Oct 05, 2012 at 21:15
Mazdave,

I have used airbags, bump stop riders and poly airs in other vehicles.

One cause of my reticence to use an airbag on this vehicle is that I have witnessed first hand what happens to overloaded vehicles with less flexible suspension components: they can crack and break the chassis.

Because an airbag device can accomodate extreme loads - extreme from the perspective of original design and manufacturer's specs - vehicles tend to get overloaded. Probably not an issue on bitumen, but when these overloaded vehicles hit rough conditions, the continual pounding, bashing, thumping and vibrations find or create weak spots.

My current solution is to take less not more gear (prevention Vs cure). That applies to fuel as well - why load up with another 70 litres when for the sake of a tiny amount of flexibility and forward planning, you can get fuel en-route. (I recognise there are exceptions). This is why, within practical limits I empty my ute out when not on tour.

However, today I ordered an ARB suspension upgrade, so it will be interesting to see if I can replicate your positive experience.

Cheers
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Follow Up By: Member - Geoff M (VIC) - Saturday, Oct 06, 2012 at 09:32

Saturday, Oct 06, 2012 at 09:32
Hi Rick & Dave,

Smart move regarding load and airbags. Last year my BT-50 broke its chassis on the CSR even though I believe I did everything possible to keep the weight down (no airbags, load below GVM, majority of load between axles, etc).

If you must have airbags, make sure you reduce the pressure in them when you hit the rough stuff.

Good luck and happy travels.

Cheers, Geoff
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Reply By: tim_c - Friday, Oct 05, 2012 at 11:17

Friday, Oct 05, 2012 at 11:17
Thanks for the comprehensive report Rick. I also looked at the BT50 as an option but was deterred a little by the small fuel storage capacity (an issue with most utes) - you might have more load storage capacity but if you have to use the additional space with jerries, why not just get a wagon with a decent fuel tank capacity?

Even without considering cost (for the moment), I ruled out aftermarket fuel tanks after doing some searching through the forums - there is not a single manufacturer of aftermarket fuel tanks for which I didn't find reports of them breaking/rupturing or dropping out completely - and most of them in a place where that's the last thing you'd want to have to deal with! Since you opted for a diesel-powered vehicle, carrying extra fuel in jerries is not so bad.

I am curious however about your reference to the "Hilux dinosaur" though - I don't have a strong opinion on these either way (though they are probably approaching an extra $10k over the BT50 for a similar spec vehicle), but it seems you do!

I'm also curious as to whether you'd looked at the VW Amarok - there seem to be a few getting around, even in the outback.
AnswerID: 496186

Follow Up By: Member - Geoff M (VIC) - Friday, Oct 05, 2012 at 12:38

Friday, Oct 05, 2012 at 12:38
Hi Tim,

My brother-in-law who is a mechanic had a VW Amarok in his workshop a few weeks ago that needed its rear brake pads changed. However he soon discovered that this is only possible to be done by a Volkwagon service centre as you need a 'special tool' to extract the electric parking brake. So the result was towing the vehicle to the nearest VW service centre to change brake pads.
He asked - what if there was a problem in the outback? The answer (as expected) was - take it to the nearest VW service centre!

A lot of the new electronic gadgets on the current crop of utilities are great - until you have a problem in a remote location.

Cheers, Geoff
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FollowupID: 771830

Follow Up By: Patrol22 - Friday, Oct 05, 2012 at 15:21

Friday, Oct 05, 2012 at 15:21
G'day Tim-c....

Re you comment: " there is not a single manufacturer of aftermarket fuel tanks for which I didn't find reports of them breaking/rupturing or dropping out completely - and most of them in a place where that's the last thing you'd want to have to deal with! "

I find that very interesting as I've now had an Opposite Lock long range (160 ltr) tank in my D40 Navara for 4 years and 100,000 km and travelled on some of the harshest roads in Aus.....including the Gary and Gunbarrel Highways. I've not experienced any issues at all with the tank. I've a friend who has a LongRanger in his HiLux and that's been there since 2007 without issue as well. Are you able to point me to the discussions on the problems so I can keep an eye out for potential problems. Thanks Pete.
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Follow Up By: tim_c - Friday, Oct 05, 2012 at 17:14

Friday, Oct 05, 2012 at 17:14
I remember I first got concerned about after-market tanks while watching a documentary of a team of people who took a couple of Hiluxes to one of the poles (I think it was north, but I can't really remember). These vehicles were quite comprehensively kitted out, I think by ARB. One of them had a tank fall out of the bottom of the vehicle while on the expedition. Since then, I'd also read a thread or two on ExplorOz, and since I was considering a LR tank at the time, I did more digging. I seem to remember reading about problems with each major manufacturer (and wasn't even going to contemplate a no-name one!).

I'm not sure that I've got the full set here now, but here are a few references for your info....
Thread 77537 Reply 9 of 10 - Brown Davis
Thread 77537 Reply 10 of 10 – Opp Loc (I assume Opposite Lock)
Thread 80706 Reply 3 of 10 – Brown Davis
Thread 80706 Reply 5 of 10 – 4WD Systems (no details given)
Thread 80706 Reply 10 of 10 – Long Ranger
Thread 89730 Reply 3 of 6 – LRA, Long Ranger, Brown Davis
Thread 92278 Reply 2 of 7, Follow up 1 of 3, Brown Davis
Thread 92278 Reply 2 of 7, Follow up 2 of 3, LRA
Thread 92278 Reply 3 of 7, LRA, Long Ranger, Brown Davis (repeat)
Thread 74592 Reply 4 of 9, Follow up 4 of 7 – Brown Davis
Thread 74592 Reply 8 of 9 – LRA
Thread 84451 Reply 5 of 8 – ARB
(There were several more references to LRA, Long Ranger and Brown Davis but I omitted them as 'repeats' posted by the same person and having viewed some of his blog videos, I can't really say I'm surprised that he's had a few LR tanks fail!)

If that's not enough, have a chat to the mechanic up at Drysdale River Station - last I heard, he reckons he's repaired more than his fair share of aftermarket fuel tanks and didn't seem to want to see another one. Ever.
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Follow Up By: Bazooka - Friday, Oct 05, 2012 at 18:10

Friday, Oct 05, 2012 at 18:10
Yes, thanks Ric. Some of the negs are pretty big ones. Saw an Amarock in the flesh for the first time last week. It stood so tall I had to ask if it had been lifted (it was standard). Don't know what the underside is like though.

A question for Geoff re the brake pads. Is there any reason why non-VW dealers couldn't get hold of 'the special tool' ?
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Follow Up By: ian - Friday, Oct 05, 2012 at 19:01

Friday, Oct 05, 2012 at 19:01
I was talking with the mechanic at the roadhouse on the Anne Beadell Hwy who put me off aftermarket tanks when he told me how many people limp -in with their aftermarket tank rogered. Decided to stick with jerry cans.
Ian
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Follow Up By: Rick (S.A.) - Friday, Oct 05, 2012 at 21:20

Friday, Oct 05, 2012 at 21:20
Dinosaur in terms of engine performance, rear seating, safety ratings and value.

I recognise they are a Australian best seller, but that doesn't mean they offer what I want in a NEW vehicle. I see them as an ageing model, hanging on by minor upgrades - as the Pajero does. And Mazda did with the previous BT and Bravo models; Patrol; Navarra, etc, etc .
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Follow Up By: Member - Geoff M (VIC) - Saturday, Oct 06, 2012 at 09:42

Saturday, Oct 06, 2012 at 09:42
Hi Bazooka,

Not sure why VW won't sell or provide the special tool, maybe they just want the extra business.

I suppose my point is that many of the new vehicles on the road now are not easily fixed if a problem develops in a remote location. Something to consider when purchasing a vehicle.....

Cheers, Geoff
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Reply By: Candace S. - Friday, Oct 05, 2012 at 16:18

Friday, Oct 05, 2012 at 16:18
Great write-up! I'd love to see some photos of your rig (hint!).

"The parking lights come on if all the doors are not shut hard"...what on earth?
AnswerID: 496195

Follow Up By: Rick (S.A.) - Friday, Oct 05, 2012 at 21:24

Friday, Oct 05, 2012 at 21:24
" href="https://
" target="_blank">My BT50 on the Hugh River Stock Route
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Follow Up By: Rick (S.A.) - Friday, Oct 05, 2012 at 21:25

Friday, Oct 05, 2012 at 21:25
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Reply By: Member - iijmartin - Friday, Oct 05, 2012 at 20:03

Friday, Oct 05, 2012 at 20:03
Thanks Rick for your great evaluation of the BT 50. I too am looking at buying the same model as yourself.
Could you pls elaborate on the auto transmission clunk - when it occurs etc.
Cheers
Ian
AnswerID: 496202

Follow Up By: Rick (S.A.) - Friday, Oct 05, 2012 at 21:00

Friday, Oct 05, 2012 at 21:00
After becoming mobile from stationary, the gear changes can sometimes be felt as an audible 'clunk' and also as a physical jolt.
The issue appears to happen at low speeds only. At touring speeds it's not a detectable issue.
One possible reason is that the are no gear changes between 1 & 2nd and 2nd & 3rd at higher speeds??
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Reply By: Member - Bucky - Saturday, Oct 06, 2012 at 06:11

Saturday, Oct 06, 2012 at 06:11
Nice write up Rick

Am wondering if a 2 1/2" or ir in your case a 3"exhaust and maybe a injector tweek, will eliminate the turbo lag.

That worked with my 2003 Navara, (which the turbo lag was bloodywell dangerous)

Cheers
Bucky
AnswerID: 496218

Reply By: sjp - Saturday, Oct 06, 2012 at 07:07

Saturday, Oct 06, 2012 at 07:07
Ric and other bt 50 and ranger owners ,you can fix the parking lights /door open problem by flicking the high beam stalk twice ,flick it once and its a home safe light (your light stays on at night for about 30 sec, to get in the house ,flick it twice and it cancels all lights even if your door is open (had the trailer on and everything was lit up like a xmas tree)found this on the ranger forum (thanks to the person for posting it )pity they dont put this stuff in the manuals!
AnswerID: 496220

Follow Up By: Rick (S.A.) - Saturday, Oct 06, 2012 at 08:42

Saturday, Oct 06, 2012 at 08:42
Thanks sjp. I'll give it a go
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Reply By: Member - LargeN - Monday, Oct 08, 2012 at 14:09

Monday, Oct 08, 2012 at 14:09
i'm driving a BT50, 7000k so far and seems to work well.
I selected the XL and had the well body removed and a custom canopy made. This is fully dust proofed and I can carry about 800Kg in the vehicle (specs say 1tonne capacity but the canopy is a bit heavier than the well body)
If you look at the Amarok, it doesnt come anywhere near the Mazda in specs:
120 Kw vs 147 for the Bt50
400Nm compared to 470 for the BT50
2800 towing load compared to 3350 for the Mazda
Amarok wins in the cleance being 30mm higher but the complexity of VW vehicles means you need to be close to a dealer at all times.
AND THEY ARE EXPENSIVE to service and repair.
I owned a Jetta for 3 years, did 140000Ks and althgough it was economical the other operational cost were high.
VW makes all it in Argentina. Gone are the days of German cars made in Germany.
AnswerID: 496298

Follow Up By: Rick (S.A.) - Monday, Oct 08, 2012 at 14:22

Monday, Oct 08, 2012 at 14:22
G'day LargeN,

Good to hear your experiences.

I'm very interested in your canopy - I am still considering taking my tub off & doing what you have done.

Can you please supply any details, such as:
design
features
manufactured by who
materials used (steel/aluminium/etc)
any pictures
cost
............and so on.

If it's easier I can supply an email address

Cheers

Rick
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Reply By: Member - LargeN - Monday, Oct 08, 2012 at 14:49

Monday, Oct 08, 2012 at 14:49
G'day Rick,
I am in Perth so I dont know if my experience will help you, but I am happy to give you information if you supply an email
Cheers

LargeN
AnswerID: 496302

Follow Up By: Rick (S.A.) - Monday, Oct 08, 2012 at 15:53

Monday, Oct 08, 2012 at 15:53
Thanks, LargeN
I'm at r i c k underscore m o o re at bigpond dot com. No spaces - just attempting to prevent unwanted emails by not typing my address.
Cheers
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