Style + Substance
In my opinion, the BT-50 has always been an underrated pick-up truck.
For decades the BT-50 has been regarded as the other Ranger; the truck you get if the design of the Ford wasn't your thing. For decades, Mazda had been a part of Ford, and that meant they were producing the Ranger and BT-50 together at the Auto Alliance plant in Thailand.
Now Mazda is its own automaker again, even though they still share the plant in Thailand. But the new generation BT-50 isn't from there anymore. No, they're not producing it on their own; as is common in the industry, they needed a partner for it. And that's where Isuzu came in, just fresh from their split with General Motors for the Colorado/D-Max.
So we come into this BT-50 4x4 review with a sense of familiarity already. But as we would find out, Mazda does like to throw a few surprises our way, and this BT-50 definitely falls into that category.
Before the first photos of the BT-50 emerged online, I was honestly unsure about how it would be. The Mazda face that we've become familiar with in their entire model range is one that is all about smooth curves, but Isuzu is about being very angular, very chiseled with the D-Max. And when the photos were released, I felt it may be a bit of a mismatch.
But walking up to the Mazda BT-50 for the first time at the company's facility in Laguna a few months ago, those notions were dispatched. The face that would have been normal on a CX series crossover appears to be at home on a B series truck. Even the way the curves integrate with the character lines of the D-Max appear to be well done. And compared to the previous generation, the Kodo style is a leap ahead.
I've always liked how Mazda has an eye for the details. The snouty grille is nice and blends well with the headlamps. There are even touches here that are rather unique, like the way Mazda concealed the lug nuts on the 18-inch wheels with a neat little cover. It just looks cleaner.
Upon closer examination, you'll notice things that are very Isuzu. Don't be surprised if the frame is the same 8-cross member unit structure we saw in the D-Max. The suspension looks the same. The brakes look the same. Heck, we wouldn't even be surprised if the doors are interchangeable.
That was to be expected of course. This is a product of the collaboration between Mazda and Isuzu; two automakers that are known for two very distinct types of automobiles. But while Mazda does have extensive experience with trucks, Isuzu specializes in trucks. So it makes sense that clearly they took the lead with the structural and mechanical bits. The challenge for Mazda was to find ways to be a little different.
If you look at the back, the rear bumper is different. It's not an integrated unit like the one in the D-Max; instead, it appears to be a bolt-on piece, and it's color-keyed. Unusually, the bumper doesn't appear to be metal or at least the painted bit. The bed/deck/cargo box has the same dimensions as the D-Max, but it does come with a really nice bedliner.
And here's the kicker: for the first batch of customers, Mazda is offering the BT-50 with a roller lid. That's always a very nice bonus because -from the showroom- it instantly makes the back usable for stuff you don't want to be exposed to the elements. Neither Mazda nor Isuzu mentioned what the payload capacity is, but given the GVW of 2600 kg, we won't be surprised if this is easily rated for just over 1 metric ton.
The engine bay is unmistakably Isuzu. It may have the Mazda logo on the engine cover, but without even looking at the paperwork, this is definitely the 4JJ engine given the shape of the cover. That is not a complaint though: I think Isuzu has one of the best engines in the class.
The power may not be class-leading at 190 PS and neither is the torque at 450 Nm. However, what the BT-50 and D-Max have is low specific output. Since this is a 3-liter engine, they're not making it pump out too much power where we would think it may be stretched to its limits. Other pick-ups have more power and torque but with less displacement, but I would argue that it's better to have a similar output with larger displacement because of a potential for better reliability. They tuned the engine to jog, not sprint.
The only transmission option for this grade is a six-speed automatic. This being the 4x4 version means it has a selectable system with 2WD high range, 4WD high range, and 4WD low range. But the BT-50 4x4 has one very important advantage over the D-Max 4x4 LS-E: Mazda chose to fit the locking rear differential, but Isuzu didn't. Given that all things are pretty much equal (including the choice of the somewhat all-terrain tires) the locking rear diff will give a driver much more confidence when the trail really gets tricky.
I've spent a considerable amount of time in the current D-Max already, and I really like it. That wasn't always the case though; the previous generation D-Max just didn't feel great if you're someone who enjoys driving far, or around corners, or even sitting in one in traffic. The reason is the ergonomics of the seat, steering wheel, and how the interior was. But with the new generation model, they really stepped it up.
Now we've gone on and on about how the BT-50 is Isuzu this, Isuzu that. But when you step into the D-Max, it's hard to not feel the reverse and say the interior of the D-Max is Mazda this, Mazda that. So now that it's Mazda's turn, we're seeing how major their contribution was to the project.
A natural driving position is easy to find; that's a Mazda hallmark. The controls are perfectly placed. The dashboard looks uncluttered. Everything just feels well sorted out and natural. The seats feel great. Nissan touts their Zero-G seats in the Navara, but I have a feeling the one on the BT-50/D-Max is a very close match for it.
The features package is also very attractive on the BT-50. Dual-zone climate control, a power-adjustable driver's seat, the auto-dimming rearview mirror, a large touchscreen audio system with 8-speakers (2 are on the ceiling), Android Auto, wireless Apple Carplay, as well as remote engine start via the key. The resolution of the main screen isn't as great as other Mazda units from Japan, but it's close enough. And it comes with a rearview camera, though the guidelines don't move with the steering. Still, such features make parking easy for a vehicle that's almost 5.3 meters long.
Like the D-Max, the rear seat is a very nice place to be in. Getting in and out is easy given the extra toe room with the B-pillar. There are rear A/C vents and rear charging ports, but what we like is the cushioning in the back; clearly, they paid attention to the comfort of the passengers there. And if there are no passengers, the rear seat cushions can flip up 60/40 style to allow for more cargo you don't want to be exposed outside.
A couple of things are apparent if you're familiar with other Mazda models. For starters: the interior plastics. Mazda did set the standard for upscale interior materials in many of their models, and this one -while good- is not as good. The other bit revolves around some decisions made to be different from the D-Max inside. The dashboard is different, but it lacks three features we kind of like in the D-Max: the dashtop compartment and the dual cupholders in front of the A/C vents.
They could have retained those features at little cost (probably) to achieve better commonality, and we do like the extra functionality out of our trucks. As such, you only have the rather deep cupholders in the middle for your hot coffee. It's not a problem if you order “venti” all the time, but if you're just having a regular cup of drive-thru coffee it could be a problem as the cap could pop off. I found that out the hard -and hassle- way.
Really though, any misgivings I may have are put on the backburner after spending a few days with the truck. The ride comfort isn't as great as a Navara, but it's close enough. The noise coming into the cabin is kept to a minimum at a cruising speed of 60 km/h, which is unusual given the tires with slightly wider gaps. The torque is readily available down low, and thus the transmission is able to keep the revs low (like 1250 rpm at 40 km/h) for reduced noise and enhanced efficiency. The result is a truck that can easily do 9.9 km/l even in traffic, and much more on the highway.
The BT-50 feels light to drive for a 4x4, especially the steering. But what I find reassuring is the safety package. Front and rear sensors make parking easy (coupled with the camera). If something goes wrong, there are 7 airbags to aid in reducing injuries, but hopefully, it won't get to that point with the big brakes, ABS, and stability control.
Even before that, there are advanced safety features to give an even wider net with a variety of warning systems for oncoming traffic as you back out of a slot, for when you veer onto the lane markings, for when there's another vehicle in your blind spot, or even if you fail to recognize the vehicle ahead slowed down. If all else fails, the BT-50 4x4 even has an autonomous emergency braking system. For highway driving, what we really like is the cruise control system. Actually, all models of the BT-50 have cruise control, but the 4x4 has the adaptive kind. That means it will manage the speed you set, but the priority will be maintaining a safe distance to the vehicle in front.
When we had scheduled to get the BT-50, we were under more relaxed quarantine conditions in the NCR. But when we got the truck, places we would normally go to for a bit of 4x4 fun were becoming more strict with requirements and paperwork. But given the experiences we have with the D-Max, we don't expect much of a difference. If anything, this will be more confidence-inspiring given that it has diff lock, but we'll have to put it to the test at a later time. Maybe we'll even go camping with it when the time is right.
We may have had doubts about the BT-50, but what Mazda clearly has is a convincing package for the 4x4 variant. But what really surprised us what the pricing. At PHP 1,790,000, this BT-50 4x4 undercuts many of its rivals, including the D-Max LS-E 4x4 at PHP 1,825,000. And the Mazda has a diff lock, a roller lid, and 5 years of free maintenance.
If you're after a truck that has the capability, the ruggedness, the features, the efficiency, the value, and with a style that isn't so truck-ish, then the BT-50 has to be on your shortlist.