Last year, when Mazda gave me the BT-50 Pangolin to test drive, I was totally excited. A truck!!! Something my inner cowboy always wanted a truck! “Git along, little doggie, git along!” Needless to say, based on my write-up, I enjoyed the truck tremendously. It was a truck that felt more like everyday city driving than a country workhorse. Sure, it was a little “matagtag” and bouncy, but it was a smooth and comfortable ride. So, when Mazda started introducing their NEW BT-50, Kodo-style, I thought, let’s go… rock and roll.
The BT-50 is a gorgeous-looking pickup. We all know by now it is based on the Izusu D-Max rather than the Ford Ranger. I liked the older Ford-based truck because it did look a bit more macho. This new Kodo design makes this BT-50, dare I say it, too feminine. It’s a pretty truck. Exteriorly, they both look very much alike with the wheels being the most visible difference. I do like the 4×2 wheels better than the 4×4. But, hey, that’s my opinion. Also, I like the older model’s rear-end treatment, which looked more distinct. This version looks like every other pickup.
Entering a Mazda interior is never a disappointment. In the 4×4, one immediately gets a feeling of luxury. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not Mazda CX-9 luxury but for a truck, it’s not bad at all. Soft leather abounds on the dash, leather seats, plus the truck IS loaded with anything you’ll need in a vehicle: adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, autonomous emergency braking (which took getting used to), forward collision warning, plus standard lockable roller-type bed cover and fender flares. As for the entry-level BASE unit of the BT-50 TRUCK, well, it still looks relatively expensive. Even though it is not leather, even though it’s got a manual tranny, even though it has a key(??), the closing of the doors sounds less solid. Well, it feels and looks expensive. Mazda really does spartan better than any car manufacturer. It’s got cruise control, a killer sound system, telescopic, up-and-down steering wheel, park-assist, rearview monitor, a complete infotainment system, air-con duct for rear passengers, USBs, etc. WOW! What more do you want? Sure, I was looking for a keyless, push-button start/stop system, power seats, auto power windows all around, leather, 4X4 (be it on demand or full-time), etc., but this is the entry-level BT-50. For both units, even if you are over 6 feet, the rear seats give adequate legroom. On the minus side, aesthetically, well, I’m not a big fan of the infotainment unit. It doesn’t seem like it’s integrated into the original design. It looks like an after-thought, a head unit from Banawe that was placed to fit between the front air-conditioning ducts. Mazda does better interiors than this. It just seems off.
I’ve always thought that Isuzu made the very best diesel engines. The 3.0-liter diesel engine has a lot of power, with an immediate response when you step on the gas. Slightly loud, especially when you floor it, but the truck insulates it well: foam fillers throughout the cabin, sound-deadening carpets, and tighter seals. Hydraulic steering is a little heavy in parking lots but lightens up on the road. Ride quality is trucklike and bouncy, especially when lightly loaded, yet never tiring. Fuel economy is good at about 10.2 km/L in the city and roughly 15 km/L on the highway, considering I drive it aggressively. Acceleration is very adequate and doesn’t disappoint. Passing vehicles don’t require too much thought. 0-100 km times averaged 8 secs. Automatic shifts can be rather chunky but precise.
It is not a serious off-roader but, seriously, who buys a 4×2 pickup for serious off-roading? One of the most fascinating things about driving this 4×4 for longer trips, one does come out of it less tired than most trucks. Our Manila-Baguio-Isabela-Manila trip, though long, actually proved to be less exhausting.
Taking the BT-50 4X4 off-roading, on the other hand, the body feels very flexible and sure. Low-end gearing is very good, the torque of 450Nm is very adequate in pulling the car, and with the 4X4 engaged, handling slippery, soft, muddy roads are well controlled. I am positive that this truck can deal with most off-road requirements. However, side steps reduce ground clearance if you’re doing serious off-roading. As for the 4X2, well, as long as the roads are not muddy and slippery, it handled most off-road situations quite well, with no uncomfortable moments. I attribute this to Mazda’s stiff body and rugged suspension set up with decent ground clearance.
On the other hand, driving the manual version has its perks. For one thing, you can really appreciate the engine with a manual. Coming off curves, downshifting to the proper gear, really allows you to go through its paces. Because it is the same engine as the 4X4, you are not wanting for power. It’s there and it arrives when you need it. I also like the fact that the gear you’re in, even though it is not necessary, is numerically displayed lower left of the speedometer with recommended gear shifting. The truck keeps telling me to shift up! Cute! I prove to all this Mazda IS a SPORTS truck. Haha!
(Note: Its been a long while since I’ve been past Tagaytay to go to Calatagan. I was so impressed with the widening of the roads now starting from Batulao all the way down to the Balayan Rotunda. Driving the BT-50 4×2 was very enjoyable with paved asphalt/concrete combination roads and very little road works, that this truck left a huge smile on my face.)
The bottom line is this – both Mazda BT-50 trucks are better in every which way than their predecessor, except for a more macho look of the Ford twin. It’s more comfortable, it pulls better, it feels stronger, albeit less linear, feels more stable, is easier to drive, has a luxurious feel, etc. It is a definite improvement, reiteration of the previous model. Isuzu’s partnership seems to fit better than Ford’s.
So, it boils down to which I would prefer in my (or your) garage: the 4×2 manual or the fully loaded 4×4 automatic? Well, it’s a real tough decision. On one hand, I totally enjoyed driving the 4X2 manual. Shifting was responsive and precise and I prefer the way it matches with the 3.0 turbo engine. Yes, driving a manual in stop-and-go city driving can be a real pain, but take it out of the city, then it really shines. The 4X4, on the other hand, is as comfortable as you be in a mid-sized truck. So, which unit would I prefer… which should you buy? I think it’ll boil down to one’s needs. If you’ll have only one truck for your lifestyle, then it really is a no brainer – get the Mazda 4X4. [And mind you, this Mazda BT-50 4X4 IS a lifestyle choice.] It has all the bells and whistles – it’s comfortable, luxurious in a truck kind of way, gets decent fuel mileage, even if you drive aggressively like me (although I am NOT advocating it), and is capable of doing off-roading (serious or casual) if needed. Now, if you have a spare car or two and you have a business that requires some hauling, then the 4X2 manual is the perfect truck for you. Personally, I am partial to the 4X2 manual, simply because I still am a 18-year-old by heart and I miss shifting the old-fashioned way. But the best thing about it is that no matter which model you choose, it’ll be the right choice and you’ll look great coming out of either one.