Jude Morte / Jude Morte | February 02, 2009 00:00
A study in pickup contradictionThe late-1980s-to-early-1990s Mazda B-Series double cab pickups were always considered as pure workhorses, with a spartan cabin and the ability to tow and haul anything. So when the Mazda BT-50 was unveiled late last year, Mazda Philippines felt that it had to pay homage to its ancestor by retaining the "B" lineage, but moving away from its utility-only approach and bumping up its everyday liveability.
Based on its exterior, it seems like it's meant to attract attention in urbanity or in rural areas. The Lagoon Blue paint on the test unit (a P 949,000 4x2 M/T) is a head turner wherever it goes, and accentuating it further are the round-edged headlights and triple-color taillights. But it is a workhorse through and through, as seen in the side step boards, two-tone side mirror housings, the rim designs and the meaty 16-inch 70-series rubber.
Inside is what makes this writer scratch his head with regard to its billeting. It's branded as a lifestyle vehicle, but its amenities are very basic. The aircon provides decent cooling only at the second blower speed and above. The gauge cluster and head unit are similar to the current Ford Ranger's (not surprising since both share the same platform), but have red backlighting instead of green. The head unit has decent sound and has an auxiliary input outlet, but given its labeling an iPod outlet/iPod jack would be a lot better as standard equipment. Interior lighting is not exactly bright, making it hard to look for lost items in the front floor area. At least the cabin can fit four average-sized Filipinos (plus two kids), the driver's side window has one-touch up-down power-assist, and rear occupants have an unobstructed side view.
No doubt, storage is one of the BT-50's strong points. The bed and tailgate have bedliners, rollbars and four tie-down points to hold down and move large cargo in and out of the bed easily. In fact the bed itself can fit a two to three meter long sofa (provided it can be separated into two sections) and a one meter-long mirror. There's a storage tray above the glovebox, and a bevy of storage bins within the front doors and in front of the center console. The two-tier center console and the glovebox can fit all sorts of bric-a-brac, and the cupholders can handle a large McDonalds softdrink cup. However, rear passengers only get two cupholders (both at the base of the center console), no storage, and only the shotgun (front) passenger backrest has a storage pocket.
The BT50 can move itself (with an 1,830 kg curb weight), people and cargo with ease, and quickly too. The inline four diesel has early powerband entry (1,250-1,500 rpm), thus allowing the turbo to wake up at around 2,000-2,250 rpm. By 2,750-3,250 rpm you get full boost, and it's evident in its 182 kph top speed. Not even a short second gear, a tall third gear and positive but tall throws (but not as tall as that of the Nissan Navara or the current Toyota Hilux) deter the BT-50 from getting its top speed, or even its 9.14 km/l consumption rate on four days mixed driving).
Just when you thought that the BT-50's engine and the loading positives would outshine the interior amenities negative, its suspension and braking give you food for thought. There's little body roll (with traction from the Bridgestone Dueler H/T 840 245/70R16s breaking at 70-85 kph) but the ride is bouncy, even with a heavy load at the bed. It's enough to make kids dizzy at the rear row. Steering feel is light, but the feedback leaves something to be desired. Ditto for the brakes, as you have to lean on the brake pedal a bit just to get decent stopping power, but it's not as bad as that of the aforementioned Hilux. There's also no brake light at the middle of the tailgate, nor within the rear glass. The good news is that handbrake grip from the umbrella-type parking brake (similar to that on the early 1990s Toyota Tamaraw FXs) is decent, the foglights can take over for the headlights anytime, and the rear glass is wide and tall (making it easy to see what's happening at the bed area and beyond).
It's obvious that the Mazda BT-50 has the cargo hauling and forward movement ability. But Mazda claims that its first pickup under the auspices of the Ford banner is more of a boulevard cruiser, and given its sparse amenities, contradicts its branding. It's a curious study as to the contrast between marketing and the real deal, but for would-be buyers it's a potential turn-off.