THE growing popularity of dual-cab utes means that manufacturers that wish to carve themselves a sizable piece of that pie need to be right on the money with price-point, capabilities and inclusions.
It is hard to believe that the dual-cab considered the poor cousin only a few short years ago has risen to such prominence yet it is easy to see why that is so.
It offers an almost unparalleled versatility in turning a work vehicle in to a family car and a family car into an adventure machine. It is tough and capable and now well equipped.
Mazda's BT-50 is a prime example of what can happen when practicality meets comfort and performance all wrapped up in quality.
Manufacturers have done much to ensure that dual-cabs now share most of the creature comforts of modern-day sedans and Mazda is no exception here.
The old twist towards frugal practicalities has now been tempered with some style and a blend of softer touch materials that blunt the edges. Funnily enough despite the dimensions of the BT-50, the cabin while comfortable is not as large as you would think.
Still there is commendable room for taller passengers even in the back where space is usually at a premium. Seats are on the firm side but remain supportive and it was good to see that the rear pew, too, offered some luxury. Dials, gear levers and buttons are chunkier than normal befitting the ute status but seem strong and durable.
The cabin layout is easy to live with and there is plenty of storage for your incidentals.
On the road
Beneath the BT-50's gleaming hood is a powerful 3.2-litre diesel engine that is quick to impress.
It lacks for little in drive and efficiency easily finding its range both on and off the bitumen.
This dual-cab, like most others in its class, is noisy especially at start-up. But to be honest we don't mind that - it is nice for a beast to sound like a beast.
The noise eases to a hum at speed as the BT-50 rollicks along keeping pace on the highway without breaking a sweat.
It behaves well both into and out of corners and while the ride is comfortable it can get a bit bumpy but it is a ute after all. This is a big machine and at more than 5.3m it is long too yet it remains nimble while negotiating inner city intricacies even tight traffic circles and just-on regulation parking garages. Reverse parking can be a little tricky but the camera helps.
This dual-cab ute more than holds its own off the bitumen too. With good ground clearance, approach, departure and ramp angles you would feel comfortable putting it to the test.
Traction is good on rocky and slippery surfaces and even when precariously balanced it seems to be able to right itself.
Wading depth is an impressive 800mm which may not seem amazing but just try driving through it...you'll gain more respect.
What do you get?
There is little doubt that the inclusions list on dual-cabs have been considerably lengthened and even though they may not boast as extensive an array as seen on SUVs, they certainly are heading in the right direction.
Our mid-range XTR featured 17-inch alloys, cruise and climate control, leather-trimmed steering and gear knobs, six-speaker audio with USB input and Bluetooth connectivity, fog lamps, chrome mirrors and handles as well as a chrome rear bumper and sidesteps. Safety is five-star and included six airbags, ABS with EBD and brake assist, stability and traction control, load adaptive control and trailer sway control.
Rivals include the Toyota HiLux (from $53,490), Nissan Navara (from $53,240), Ford Ranger (from $55,390), and the VW Amarok (from $45,990).
We were surprised with the BT-50 using close to the claimed 9.2 litres/100km despite shorter trips and that powerful engine.
The Mazda BT-50 is ideal for those people needing a work vehicle to transport the family or a family vehicle to take away on adventurous weekends and holidays.
It can tow 3500kg, which is hard to beat and the tub (1560mm wide, 513mm deep, 1139mm between arches) has dimensions that convert into real usefulness. Our BT-50 was happy to accommodate a short camping trip, a visit to the council dump as well as transporting a mower and a fridge.
There are no points to tie off to outside the tub and while a tonneau cover is optional, it is disappointing that a soft tonneau is not standard.
Another small complaint, we searched high and low, underneath and behind the seat, even consulted the manual, and still could not find the anchor points for the kids' car seats. We eventually made it work and Mazda says they are there so perhaps get someone to show you during your driving demo.
Our littlie who usually sits behind the driver's seat was a tad bit cranky that once again her sister got the seat pocket to put her colouring stuff into. Surely it can't cost that much to have a seat pocket on the back of the driver's seat too.
The exterior of the BT-50 has found some firm critics who argue that it does not present a formidable enough face for a rugged dual-cab ute.
We are taking the middle road here so while it's not our favourite look we can appreciate that Mazda has done some work with the chrome features, chunky sidesteps, curved wheel arches and dominating Mazda grille.
What matters most
What we liked: Versatility, keen drive, creature comforts.
What we'd like to see: Soft tonneau as standard, keyless entry.
Warranty and servicing: Two-year, unlimited kilometre warranty. If you haven't reached 100,000km at the end of two years, your cover extends to three-years or 100,000km. Servicing is annual or every 12 months. Capped price servicing will apply from July.
Model: Mazda BT-50 Dual-Cab XTR 4x4.
Details: Four-door four-wheel drive dual-cab ute.
Engine: 3.2-litre common-rail direct-injection in-line five-cylinder diesel generating maximum power of 147kW @ 3000rpm and peak torque of 470Nm @ 1750rpm- 2500rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
Consumption: 9.2 litres/100km (combined average).
Bottom line plus on-roads: $48,810.
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.