If there was one pickup truck that most people tend to forget, it would definitely be the Mazda BT-50. It’s been almost seven years since Mazda introduced this midsize pickup to the Philippine market, and it has remained relatively unchanged, save for a few quiet updates here and there. A Japanese cousin of the Ford Ranger, much of the platform, along with engine and transmission options, are shared among the two companies.
I was handed the keys to the current model Mazda BT-50 3.2L 4x4 AT for almost a week, and, with a better appreciation for pickups thanks to some competitors I’ve driven before, I decided to put it through as many driving opportunities as possible, using it as a daily driver and weekend vehicle of choice. Does this aging platform and brand struggle to remain relevant in today’s market of lifestyle trucks? Or does it serve as an alternative to the macho image, where size and burly good looks prevail?
The Mazda BT-50 has kept its early Mazda design since the start of its second generation facelift almost seven years ago. If you remember the CX 7 and the more rounded Mazda 3 pre-2009, then chances are you can pick out some design cues from that era. This was definitely before the Kodo design language of the Japanese manufacturer, and that could be a good or bad thing for some people. If anything, it’s definitely softer on the eyes than current generation pickups. Larger headlights and more rounded shapes for the fenders show a more traditional and conservative style, going against the chiseled and wide stance of its competitors.
The differences are more immediate if you put it right next to, let’s say a current model Ford Ranger, and the fact that Mazda has decided to not grace their pickup with any new visual changes since its introduction shows that its starting to get a little dated. The standard proportions for any pickup are still here, however, and the addition of a step board and Mazda branded rollbar add to the look somewhat.
The similarities with some Ford products start to show themselves the moment you step into the cabin. Right away, the steering wheel controls are from previous generations of Fords, and the dashboard layout also hints at that partnership. The cabin of the BT-50 conveys a sort of simplicity that leans towards being utilitarian, what with the black plastics and black leather seats. You have some bits of aluminum plastic trim pieces surrounding the aircon vents, door handles, and shifter, but that’s about it for contrasting color. The plastic used in the cabin is also kind of glossy and hard; it definitely doesn’t want you to think that what you’re riding in is not a pickup. It’s a material choice that will definitely stand the test of time, however, and you won’t feel as bad if you start scratching up the interior throughout your ownership experience. The buttons and switches are also generally laid out nicely, and Mazda quietly threw out the older Ford Sync infotainment system for a JVC unit. More on that later.
Thankfully, the seating position is good and upright, the driver getting a wide range of manual adjustment for the seat. The steering wheel is only tilting, however, but the overall visibility and comfort when you settle in is nice. There are also a good number of storage compartments and cupholders. The rear passengers also get treated to great headroom and legroom, making the idea of fitting three adults an acceptable one. Every seat in the cabin gets the leathertreatment, too, so there’s an added feeling of comfort where it counts the most. That stepboard, despite being a bit narrow, still aids in getting out and into the BT-50, but there might be times when you end up dirtying the back of your pants when alighting.
Remember that older Ford Sync unit we were talking about? Mazda has decided to clean up the dashboard by adopting a touchscreen head unit courtesy of JVC. Bluetooth pairing and other media functions are easy to use, and the added modernity of a touchscreen interface is very welcome. The six speaker sound system also happens to be very good, and when paired with the JVC head unit with a lot of configurability for the soundscape, makes it one of the best sound systems we’ve tested in the pickup market. Additional features such as Apple Carplay or Android Auto are included here, however, and the USB ports for playback and charging are awkwardly placed at the top of the dashboard, almost seeming like an afterthought. You also have an additional AUX and USB port in the glovebox, so you can charge and store a gadget at the same time. You also have two 12V sockets up front and a single one for the rear passengers.
Additional niceties come in the form of automatic headlights, automatic dual-zone climate control, rain sensing wipers, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, cruise control, rear parking sensors, and, on the top trim 4x4, a reverse camera. The video output for the camera is weirdly placed in the top left corner of the rearview mirror, however. You also have single touch three blink indicators, the usual 4x4 high, low, and 4x2 high modes, hill descent control, and an information driving display nestled in between the instrument cluster.
I wish the BT-50 did come with a keyless entry option or a push-to-start button, further adding to the already decent feature set. Speed-sensing door locks are also nonexistent, but that’s a minor thing. Overall, the BT-50 comes pretty loaded with technology, and the best part is, most of these features are standard across the range, except for the 4x4 modes and reverse camera which are found on the top trim.
The 2018 Mazda BT-50 also comes with a decent number of safety features to keep it up to par within its segment. You have two airbags for the front passengers, ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD), stability control, traction control, towing assist, roll mitigation, and hill start assist. An emergency stop signal activates when emergency braking from high speed occurs, and you have a brake override system that prevents the vehicle from accelerating if both the brake and gas pedal are pressed. Unfortunately, there are no ISOFIX mounts or tethers to be found in the rear seats, and the 3-point seatbelts are for all passengers except for the one seated at the center of the rear row.
The Mazda BT-50 in 4x4 trim utilizes the tried and true 3.2L five cylinder turbocharged diesel engine lifted straight from the Ford stable. Even the transmission, a six-speed automatic, is retained. This is a good thing, as the engine is capable of 197 hp and 470 Nm of torque, making it a powerful all-arounder. While other manufacturers are moving to smaller displacement and higher boost, the BT-50 sticks to an older and thoroughly capable mill. Engine noise is minimal in the cabin at all but the highest RPMs. There’s no shortage of power as reaching high speeds or accelerating to overtake vehicles is not a problem, as the engine gladly provides the torque at any gear. We did notice some odd low speed gear hunting, as the transmission programming seemed to be geared more for highway use and felt more comfortable at higher speeds. In traffic, the accelerator gets a touch too sensitive for our tastes, and it tends to lurch the pickup forward with too much enthusiasm. Brakes are progressive and pedal feel is good, but lacks initial bite.
Steering is a bit on the heavy side, which can make low speed maneuvers a little fiddly, but it stays straight and true on the highway. There’s a definite weightiness and sensation of stability in the BT-50, and the steering communicates that well. Ride comfort is slightly stiffer than the competition, and can be a bit bouncy especially when the rear isn’t loaded up with cargo or passengers. There’s no floatiness in the way the pickup conducts its on road manners, but it does feel slightly too centered at times, refusing to change direction unless very positive input is applied to the steering wheel. Those looking for a stable and secure feeling truck will find that here. Those looking for a softer or more refined ride will have to look elsewhere.
The Mazda BT-50 slightly suffers in the fuel efficiency category, and all that power, combined with slightly aging engine technology, returned a slightly disappointing 13-14 kilometers per liter on the highway at a steady 80-90 km/h. In combined driving, I was able to get 9-10 kilometers per liter, with heavy traffic resulting in a poor 7-8 kilometers per liter. It seems that longer drives and more steady high speed driving is the only way to maximize fuel consumption.
In a segment that has continuously been one of the most competitive in the country, the Mazda BT-50 tries its best to stay relevant. Unfortunately, with so many options and much more enticing combinations of technology, safety, and performance out there, we believe that a refresh or significant upgrade is needed for the BT-50 to stay in the running. Those looking for a reasonably priced top trim 4x4 pickup will find the price of P1,550,000 enticing, but that puts it dangerously close to other competitors with newer engines and platforms.
If you must have a Mazda or want a pickup that’s capable with as little fuss as possible, this could be a good option as your daily workhorse. There’s a decent amount of stuff to like here, and we feel that the BT-50 does deserve a second look, it’s just a shame that it feels like this pickup has been bumped off the priority list, overshadowed by the latest Mazda models.