We were suitably impressed by the Isuzu-Mazda BT-50 collab when we drove it at the Mazda Philippines HQ. But driving a truck around an empty lot and actually living with it for a few days are two totally different things. Recognizing this, Mazda lent us one for two whole weeks. Long enough to get a good feel for how it will perform over the course of ownership. Better yet, it’s a base 4x2 MT variant. With more focus on hauling duties and fewer toys than the top dog 4x4, can this truck still win us over?
Let’s find out.
Compared with its Ford-based predecessor, the new BT-50 is lower, wider, and more neatly packaged. The hood and the fenders flow gracefully from the familiar Mazda headlight-and-grille combo into a swept-back roofline capping a slim greenhouse. The side profile lacks the delicate play of light and shadow—or utsuroi—of other Mazdas, being largely identical to the D-Max.
The rear styling is unique, though I do wish it had a chrome rear bumper rather than body-colored plastic. Middling 17-inch alloy wheels remind you that this is a base variant, but standard LED headlamps and foglights, as well as body-colored mirrors and bumpers, signal that Mazda’s ‘base’ isn’t necessarily ‘basic.’
The businesslike black-and-gray cabin here isn’t as eye-catching as the plush earth-tone interior of the 4x4. Black leatherette strips adorn the dash and the console, but only tiny patches of it are found on the gray fabric seats. The winged seats aren’t quite as supportive without leather bolsters, but the generous range of adjustment and the tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel make finding a proper driving position dead easy. The wheel itself is urethane rather than leather, but features comprehensive infotainment controls.
Storage is generous, with twin gloveboxes, a large center bin, hidden under-bench boxes, and a gadget shelf big enough for seven-inch phones. There is a lot of legroom in the rear, but the seats are a bit too upright for snoozing. On the bright side, rear A/C vents and a USB charging port help keep passengers cool and connected on long trips.
The Isuzu-sourced 3.0-liter 4JJ3-TCX four-cylinder engine is a long-distance champ. It makes 187hp and 450Nm of torque. While that’s significantly less on-paper power versus the old 3.2-liter Ford five-cylinder, the new BT-50 does 0-100kph in 9.6sec. That’s over a second and a half faster than before.
Power feeds in gradually at first, then ramps up dramatically past 2,000rpm on the way to the rev limiter. The six-speed manual transmission is a pleasure to use, with a precise, nicely weighted shift and minimal notchiness. The medium-weight clutch has a predictable biting point, and is mostly painless in traffic. For most Manila folk, however, paying an extra P40,000 pesos for the automatic transmission will be a no-brainer.
But for those who want maximum economy, the MT’s dual overdrives gives it a wide range of optimum cruising speeds. On the highway, 21km/L+ is realistically attainable in either fifth or sixth gear. In-city fuel economy hovers around 8-10km/L. Respectable for a big truck. Even after a few hours in heavy traffic around the port area and NAIA, our mixed economy stood around 11.6km/L. If we’d stuck to our normal routine, that would have been between 12-14km/L.
Ride and handling
The 255/65 R17 Bridgestone Dueler HT tires fitted to this 4x2 bear the scuffs and knocks of cargo duty use well, but aren’t the most sophisticated tires out there. The stiff sidewalls tend to krumpf-klompf-klumpf over repetitive bumps, which can get annoying. And uncomfortable. There’s also some wind noise around the pillars at triple-digit speeds, but you shouldn’t be driving that fast on HT tires, anyway.
Despite the footwear, the BT-50 is still a pleasure to drive. The brakes are strong and chassis rigidity is excellent. While the handling balance tends toward understeer, the truck feels lighter and less ponderous than the old one. The hydraulic steering provides good feedback, and tracks razor-steady at highway speeds. A bonus over new roads with extra narrow lanes! With some wider wheels and better tires, this should be a pretty fun weekend warrior.
In more mundane daily tasks, the BT-50 acquits itself well. The sharp corners of the hood are easy to sight when threading through traffic, and three-point turns in parking lots are easy. Big side mirrors give good coverage when parking against a wall or the curb, and a rear parking camera and sensor package allows you to back into tight spaces with no fuss.
Beyond that parking camera, you get ABS, stability control, hill-hold assist, and blind-spot warnings. Don’t expect the more sophisticated active safety features of the top-dog 4x4, though. You still get power windows and centralized locking, but locking the car remotely can sometimes be finicky, as there’s no audible alert to accompany the locks.
The infotainment center features a seven-inch screen surrounded by gigantic black bezels. The six-speaker setup sounds okay, but is nothing to write home about. On the connectivity side, you get Bluetooth, Android Auto, wireless Apple CarPlay, and Miracast. Wireless streaming via Miracast is surprisingly smooth, but video is only available while parked, and the display tends to wash out in direct sunlight. Less trouble to watch movies directly on your phone instead.
Android Auto and CarPlay are a breeze to set up, and a surprisingly sensitive in-cabin mic allows Google and Siri voice commands without shouting or over-enunciating, making on-the-road communication and navigation mostly painless.
‘Mostly painless’ is a good description of our test drive. The BT-50 did over 700km of mixed city, highway, and provincial commuting without a sweat. Handling and braking were secure, even with a full load of cargo, and several trips with a stuffed bed went by without a hitch, though you will want a roller cover or a tarp for weather protection.
As for the ‘life’ part of work-life balance, it does a commendable job, but might be a bit too rugged for some. Those who want a family-oriented truck should consider the more comfortable and more expensive 4x4, which comes with all the bells and safety whistles to boot. But for the value-minded, the 4x2 MT is one of the cheapest big motor pickups on the market. Yes, you can get its Isuzu twin for a bit less, but that doesn’t come with LED headlamps or Mazda’s five-year free service guarantee.
Which, if you drive the truck as much as I did over the past two weeks, is equivalent to an P80,000 to P100,000 discount in servicing costs. Quite a significant saving over other trucks on the market, and a good reason to give the BT-50 a look if you’re in the market for a personal hauler.
SPECS: 2022 Mazda BT-50 4x2 MT
Engine: 3.0-liter turbodiesel I4
Power: 187hp @ 3,600rpm
Torque: 450Nm @ 1,600-2,600rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
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