When the Mazda BT-50 was introduced late last year, the consensus among motoring journalists and the motoring public was that it was more of a rebadged Ford Ranger. An autoindustriya.com recent test drive of its 4x2 variant proved so, as the test drive showed that the pickup was a hauler and nothing else, contradicting its lifestyle pickup branding.
And when the good folk over at Mazda Philippines read the review, they called up this writer and told him to try out their 3.0L 4x4 m/t variant, in the hopes that the aforementioned perception of Mazda's pickup as a Ford Ranger with a Mazda grille and emblems will change.
Well, after spending a week with the unit, it's a range topping risk. Yes, the engine is strong, the handling is decent, the ride is bouncy and the interior is basic. But so is its Ford Ranger platform twin. Can it distinguish itself from its Blue Oval brother, and the rest of the segment as well?
The additional 500 cc of displacement bumps up the power and torque figures to 156 (hp) and 380 (NM), respectively. It also makes powerband entry early (1,600 rpm), thus making the turbo wake up at 2,000 rpm and get full boost by 3,000-3,100 rpm, impressive considering that the 3.0L is pulling 1,851 kg of curb weight. Clutch pedal effort is relatively light, requiring not much effort on your left foot. There are a few quirks - gearing is uneven, with a short second gear and a tall third gear. As a result fuel consumption is thrown out the window (7.74 km/l, seven days mixed driving). The m/t stick's throws are tall and feel like they're long (in terms of reach), as the m/t stick's location relative to the driver's seating position makes rowing the gears - especially third gear - tougher than the other pickups with m/t variants. This writer swears that there were numerous occasions where getting third gear within its intended slot was more of an effort than the rest of the ratios.
The high performance figures are an immense help to the pickup's off road ability, with the wide powerband providing much aid to the drivetrain. You're never bogged down nor out of the rpm band on all sorts of surfaces, including waterlogged areas and muddy/sandy surfaces. Another plus - ground clearance and angles of departure/arrival are high, and the engine has reinforced skidplates that prevent the engine or the driveshaft components from being damaged. However, engaging/disengaging four wheel drive requires you to stop the unit, put the tranny in neutral and/or engage the handbrake, though.
Much like its 4x2 sibling, the BT-50 4x4's handling is a love hate matter. There's little body roll, and the unit breaks traction at 70-85 kph. However, 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. If feels sloppy, requiring a little more effort than other pickups in terms of turning the wheel through 90-degree and hairpin turns. The brakes also aren't something to write home about, as you have to lean on the brake pedal a bit just to get decent stopping power. There's also no brake light at the middle of the tailgate, nor within the rear glass; there's a third rear brake light, but it's actually mounted within the crossbar of the demo unit's rollbar.
The exterior shows that it's definitely the range topper, with a bevy of features unique to the 3.0L variant and meant to attract attention anywhere. The Copper Red Mica paint on the P 1.329 million test unit makes the pickup a head turner wherever it goes, and highlighting it further are the round-edged headlights, the foglights and triple-color taillights (all with silver cover accents), and the front underguard cladding (that accentuates the lower front grille and the front mount intercooler). Although it is labeled as a lifestyle pickup, its very nature as a workhorse still reminds you of its intention through and through, as seen in the side step boards, two-tone side mirror housings, the rim designs and the meaty Bridgestone Dueler H/T 245/70R16s.
The interior is basically the same as its 4x2 brethren, which is a bit ironic considering that the unit lent for this test drive is the top-of-the-line model. 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.
Also like its 4x2 sibling, storage is one of its 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. 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 Mazda BT-50 3.0L 4x4 m/t is definitely a hauler by nature, and makes no bones about it. Problem is, what is has to offer is also found in a locally available, Blue Oval badged platform twin, thus making it prone to itself going head to head with its Ford Ranger brother.