You could argue that the Philippines loves the pickup truck.
Perhaps it's the image of go 'anywhere, do anything' (as they're marketed), coupled with creature comforts previously reserved for luxury cars, you could say pickups have become an attractive prospect for the modern car buyer. Now, these vehicles are more appealing thanks to the revised excise taxes with lower tarrifs on pickup trucks.
However, despite the segment's popularity across most brands, there's one pickup that appears to be a rare sight on our roads. Ask someone to name a pickup at the top of their head and you're unlikely to hear the Mazda BT-50.
Essentially the cousin to the Ford Ranger, it practically has the same running gear and drivetrain components as the Ford. On paper, differences are largely down to cosmetics and the equipment list. There isn't much separating the two when browsing the spec sheet and one could safely say that it is overshadowed by its Blue Oval relative. And with that, we take a closer look at what the refreshed BT-50 to see if it's more than just a badge job.
Yes, both the Mazda BT-50 and Ford Ranger are technically the same in almost every way. But the Japanese automaker was able to give the pickup its own 'Kodo' look for the 2018 model year update. The pre-facelift version already had a daring look, but the 2018 refresh gave the pickup a more angular, bolder look. Gone is the mesh front grill as it has been replaced with a bolder-looking design reminescent of the Mazda2's. The headlights have been tweaked as well and now come with clear corner lights instead of amber. Besides getting a fresh face, the 2018 BT-50 also gets new 17-inch diamond-cut alloy wheels.
Minor these changes may be, I liked what Mazda did to make the BT-50 resemble its stable mates. The wheels themselves may not be to everyone's liking, but personally they complete the BT-50's 'Kodo' refresh. All in all, the 2018 BT-50 now looks more assertive and more purposeful.
Pop the doors and you are greeted by a gray and black interior which, surprisingly, gets a different design from the Ford Ranger. Despite its utilitarian roots, the pickup comes with a sloping dashboard that gives it a more stylish appearance. Black leather covers all of the seats, as is the multi-function steering wheel and door trim. Acres of hard plastic can also be found inside the BT-50. While not exactly the softest of materials, it is the best kind that can stand up to every day use (or abuse).
Both front seats offered plenty of side, lumbar and shoulder support; great for long drives or when you're stuck in gridlock traffic. Passengers at the back will also feel comfortable thanks to the soft seat cushions and generous cabin space. The rear backrests is still too upright but that is to to be expected from a pickup truck.
No touchscreen displays here as the 2018 BT-50 uses a 2-DIN sound system that supports AM/FM radio, CD, USB, Aux and Bluetooth. Awash with buttons, some may become overwhelmed with the amount of controls placed on the center dash. It would have been nicer if Mazda was able to integrate the MZD infotainment system for the 2018 BT-50. Archaic the system may be, it still delivered good audio quality through its six-speaker system.
But what I really liked about the audio system is the clever placement of the USB and Aux ports. To keep the center console tidy (and safe from prying eyes), Mazda installed the ports inside the glovebox. Not exactly groundbreaking but it is a thoughtful add-on to say the least.
Under the hood is a 3.2-liter, diesel-fed, five-cylinder engine with variable geomertry turbo. It generates 200 PS at 3000 rpm along with 470 Nm of torque available between 1500 – 2750 rpm. Power is then sent through a six-speed automatic transmission.
The five-cylinder turbo-diesel delivered plenty of pep and torque was readily available at low rpms. From a standstill, initial acceleration felt a bit sluggish. But once the turbo kicks in, the BT-50 does pick up the pace (pun not intended). Put your foot to the floor and the BT-50 will easily reach highway speeds. Overtaking other cars was not a problem for the BT-50 thanks to the engine's spot-on acceleration and healthy pulling power. Quite the performer it may be, the 3.2-liter engine is not exactly the most refined turbo-diesel. Compared to the relatively quiet 2.2-liter engine, the bigger five-cylinder motor is noisier and can be a bit rough at times.
Also, the engine was rather thirsty for a diesel. On the highway it was only able to average around 13.0 – 13.5 km/l at best. Drive around the city and the pickup will only average at around 7.0 – 8.0 km/l. Engage the 4WD system and expect the BT-50 to consume a lot more fuel.
The slight dip in fuel economy could be traced to the BT-50's six-speed automatic transmission. It performed stellarly on the highway as it shifted through the gears seamlessly. But when you're in stop-and-go traffic, the transmission suddenly felt clunky. It's also quite reluctant to upshift and has a tendency to hunt for gears when slowing down. All in all, I'm still impressed with the BT-50's power delivery but I wished Mazda (or Ford) made it run smoother and that it had better fuel mileage.
As for ride quality, the BT-50 felt stiffer than the Ranger. Even though both trucks are technically the same, it looks like Mazda tweaked the BT-50 to have better road-holding capability. Combined with the slightly heavy steering, the BT-50 felt more engaging to drive. The drawback, however, is that it has a less than favorable ride comfort compared to its contemporaries. If you're looking for a pickup with a more forgiving ride, I'd suggest you go for its Blue Oval brethren.
If you're looking for a pickup choc-full of features and safety kit, the BT-50 in 4x4 guise will not disappoint. It comes with anti-lock brakes (ABS), electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD) with brake assist (BA), dynamic stability control (DSC), dual SRS airbags, engine immobilizer, parking sensors, reverse camera and hill-descent control.
Priced competitively at Php 1,550,000, this top-of-the-range BT-50 is Php 78,000 less than the equivalent Ranger Wildtrak 3.2 4x4 A/T. That price difference may not be enough for buyers to sway them into the Mazda, but perhaps the Yojin3 Total Care System, can. That means free parts and labor for three years (or 60,000 km, whichever comes first), free 3-year roadside assistance / concierge service and a free 3-year limited warranty (or 100,000 km, whichever comes first). When you factor that in, it makes for an enticing ownership experience.
Sure it may be missing a few features here and there, but at its current price point (plus Yojin3), I'd say the BT-50 in 4x4 trim is a sound bargain in its segment. The 2018 BT-50 may have only received a minor nip and tuck, but the mere fact that it's priced just over Php 1.5 million means it's certainly a pickup worth looking into.