Can a tough 4WD function as a family vehicle?
BY TODD COLE
Let’s get this out of the way: Mazda’s BT-50 top-shelf variant, the Boss, has got a strange, big schnoz. It’s hard to decide if it’s front section is ugly or a stroke of design genius. One thing’s for sure, behind the wheel in the driver’s seat, the large bonnet imbues a feeling of power and dominance.
On the highway the Boss cruises comfortably and quietly, while on dirt roads it skates across light rutting with equal comfort, thanks to some sweet suspension. Put it in 4WD and it handles like a true off-road 4WD vehicle. I’m not sure how Mazda came up with Boss as the badge for its top-shelf BT-50 variant, but it suits it: Like a Boss.
Australian men have a fascination for 4WD dual-cab utes. Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger were our nation’s two best-selling new vehicles in 2019 with sales of 47,649 and 40,960, respectively, according to the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industry. Clearly many an Aussie family man chooses a ute as general family transport/work tool. Can a ute be any good as a family truckster?
I normally putter around in people mover. Dull I know, but it holds Mountain bikes and surfboards, can carry cement and wood from Bunnings; is pretty good on the tip run and can ferry a bunch of kids to Wally World with ease and comfort. Would a dual-cab ute suit my family life any better?
Mazda lent us the Boss BT-50 for a week to see, and the result was surprising. My two teenage boys both love surfing and MTBing, as I do, so transporting boards and bikes was of paramount concern. Thule kindly supplied a Thule GateMate Pro bike rack. Stacking three large mountain bikes (with room for more) was easy-peasy. At the trails, getting them out was a cinch, and a hell of a lot easier than towbar bike racks and a massive improvement on the people mover, which necessitates taking off all the bike’s front wheels. The boys and I took off for the weekend, with the tray brimming with camping equipment and bikes, for some distant trails.
The back seats are spacious and got the double thumbs up from two (nearly) six-foot teenagers, and the rear 12V outlet kept the boys’ devices charged for the two-hour drive. I hooked up Apple play and blared out Nineties hits for two hours on the very crisp six-speaker Alpine audio system. The Boss ate up the highway miles easily in cruise control and its air-con kept the cab nicely chilled from the 40-plus-degree day.
When I put the Boss in 4WD for a gnarly track, it handled it extremely well. The low-range gearing was good and its 232mm of ground clearance made short work of climbing a deeply rutted hillside to the campground. It never felt stressed out and I always felt like there was ample power, which is understandable, as the Boss is powered by a 3.2 litre inline five-cylinder turbo diesel engine, the largest in its class, connected to a six-speed automatic. The Boss has a lockable rear diff if you want to get serious about off-road.
Two days of MTBing fun flew by before we had to return to daily suburban life. This, I reasoned, was when it would fall down as a family vehicle. It’s not meant for the Woolies run or school pick-up. It’s too big and beefy and really should live off-road.
But after a week of running around suburbia, from being Uber-Dad, to just nipping out to get milk, I didn’t feel it was big or beefy at all. It slotted into parking easily, assisted by the reversing camera, and made an absolute meal out of the tip run. Skipping around the shops was no problem and I actually felt like I belonged in the Bunnings carpark.
The downside for me was the bling. The prominent Boss badge and the black styling everywhere made it a real statement and attracted curious glances at lights. Not my cup of tea, but there you have it. Also, the Boss comes in any colour you want, as long as it a pearl white with black trim.
All up though, I can see why dual-cab utes are so popular and work as many a family man’s vehicle. They are practical, sturdy and built for adventure. The BT-50 Boss is a worth considering, or at least test driving, if you’re in the market for a high-end dual cab 4WD ute.
You can find out more about the Boss here.