Not another pickup in the market, you say? Actually, the Mazda BT-50 is quite a good pickup, if you ask me. Really. You see, Mazda's B-Series pickup has a rather faithful following among pickup fans. Never mind that small, niggling problems would always arise, or that the old B2500 was cramped, noisy, uncouth and totally unsophisticated even for its time. It simply refused to die. And that is always a good thing for people who are on a budget and are always going off to some faraway, God-forsaken place.
The BT-50's ride height is what you notice first upon viewing the vehicle from the side. This pickup is quite low by its segment's standards, and has smallish 16-inch wheels with 245/70 Bridgestone Dueler HT tires that lack that butch, bad and burly presence. Okay, what we have here is the base 4x2 manual variant, powered by a direct-injection, turbocharged and intercooled twin-cam, 16-valve, 2.5-liter four-banger that also powers its Ford Ranger twin.
In fact, the BT-50 is more than a twin--it is a clone of the Ranger, which is no bad thing in itself. Step inside and the dash is pretty much the same as the Ranger's, down to the annoyingly narrow air-conditioning vents that barely cooled my sweaty, lard-based body. And since we're on the subject of annoying things, the sound system is just so, well, Eighties-sounding! The bass has a rather soft, fart-like punch. I've driven vehicles far cheaper and older than the BT-50, and with sound systems that were much better. It's a disservice to U2, Coldplay and especially Flo Rida. I don't remember the current Ranger's audio system having such a weak bass thump.
Enough whining--let's get down to the business end of things. The BT-50 is an absolute hoot to drive. Outside, the diesel engine is really noisy, but inside, Mazda seems to have placed a magical insulation. I own a D-4D Hilux and love it to pieces, but the Mazda is significantly quieter than my Toyota. I took a few friends for a short drive and they also quickly commented on the Mazda's very silent (for a diesel) operation. A number of female friends asked if the Mazda was in fact petrol-powered and not diesel. Highly impressive then. I guess the arse-shaking that one gets from riding a vehicle with a ladder-frame chassis is the last giveaway to the Mazda's turbocharged, oil-burning powertrain.
Of course, the fuel consumption of roughly 11 kilometers to a liter is pretty good, although I did put in a lot of highway miles. It seems the 2.5-liter turbodiesel is the perfect size compromise for power and efficiency.
Speaking of the powertrain, it's also something that doesn't feel very diesel-like. Diesels normally don't like very high engine revs. Not the Mazda. It loves to rev! So much so that on highway drives, I found myself touching 140kph to 150kph if I just let my size-11 EE's hang loose lightly on the loud pedal. Power delivery is so linear and throttle modulation so precise, it's so much fun to haul big, bulky objects across long distances.
Ultimately, the Mazda BT-50 is something of a hidden gem--a rare find. But the one glaring, almost unforgivable weakness the Mazda has is its cramped backseat. The Mitsubishi Strada, the Toyota Hilux, the Nissan Navara and the Isuzu D-Max all offer far more interior space and sophistication than the "newer" BT-50.
Source: Top Gear Philippines, January-February 2009