The all-new Mazda BT-50 puts the B back in business

The Japanese carmaker has rediscovered its truck game
by Niky Tamayo | Nov 17, 2021

“The design aesthetic is all Mazda”

Once upon a time, trucks made up a big part of Mazda’s business portfolio. The brand’s first product was the 1931 DA cargo trike, which spawned a successful line of cargo trucks that culminated in the gigantic 1971-1974 T-2000.

But in the ’60s, Mazda started branching out into the realm of four-wheeled trucks, with the B1500. By 1965, the carmaker was co-producing its B-series trucks with Ford—a successful venture that would last until 2006, when it was replaced by the BT-50. While technically still a B-series, this marked a turning point in the Ford-Mazda truck partnership, with Ford taking control over the Ranger/B-series truck line. By 2011, the BT-50 was nothing but a Ford Ranger wrapped in Mazda sheet metal.

While this was going on, however, Mazda was rolling out its revolutionary new Skyactiv chassis and engine technology that, among other things, allowed for a more modular production system. A system that allowed them to build any Mazda product on any Mazda production line.

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PHOTO: Igor Maminta

Any product except the BT-50, that is. And with the termination of the Ford-Mazda partnership in 2015, Mazda no longer had access to Thai production for its next truck, and no longer had a partner to produce it with. But it quickly found a willing partner in Isuzu, whose own long-term relationship with General Motors/Chevrolet was also winding down. In 2016, a deal was inked between the two Japanese carmakers, and development began on a shared next-generation truck platform.

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And here, finally, is the result of that partnership: the all-new BT-50.

Initial impressions are—wow—this is pretty. Unlike Mazda’s Nagare design language, whose embossed curves never sat particularly comfortably on the BT-50, the new Kodo look fits like a glove. There’s a bit of Isuzu in the tailgate and roof shape, and the door handles and windows look just about identical, but the two brands do more than enough to differentiate themselves from each other.

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While the flat gray and dark blue finishes shown here are familiar Mazda finishes, the bodywork features sharper accents and more dramatic panel cutaways than Mazda’s SUV lineup—a necessity, in order to shrink the visual bulk of the truck. Along with a tighter headlight-grille package, this helps make the BT-50 look sleeker and sportier than most. It’s a vibe reinforced by the spindly five-spoke 18-inch alloy wheels, which look more like crossover wheels than truck wheels.

From the driver’s seat, there’s not much to tie the BT-50 to the D-Max. Everything is roughly in the same place—the double glovebox, the shifter column, the cupholders—but the design aesthetic is all Mazda. The leather-wrapped steering wheel has that familiar Mazda feel, even if it is basically the D-Max wheel with a different boss. The eight-way adjustable winged-back driver’s seat is roughly the same shape as the one on the Isuzu, but the leather here feels more supple.

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Or is it? It seems like the partnership with Isuzu goes both ways. Mazda may be reliant on Isuzu’s truck-building expertise, but Isuzu also benefits from Mazda’s newfound reputation for high-quality interiors. With both trucks built at the same plant with components from the same suppliers, the interior quality of both of these new trucks is beyond reproach. Particularly in the case of Isuzu, which no longer suffers from gray lowest-bidder plastic interiors. Maybe the BT-50 hasn’t achieved full Mazda-level Nappa-leather and brushed-steel quality, but it feels like a new class benchmark, anyway.

PHOTO: Igor Maminta

One niggle is that, despite different haptics and display screens, the nine-inch touchscreen lacks the familiar Mazda Connect control puck and navigation. You do get Android Auto and Wireless Apple CarPlay, however. And the sound from the eight-speaker system is impressively clear when you crank it up, but there is room for a Bose upgrade here in the future.

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The view out over the hood feels less imposing than in the old car. Without a big Ford five-cylinder under there, the new BT-50 has neater proportions than the old one. There aren’t any major surprises in the way the truck drives. Handling is secure, with the truck changing directions on an even keel, even in quick left-right-left transitions. The 265/60 R18 Dunlop Grandtrek tires prove grippy and relatively quiet. The ride is relatively compliant on these big tires, at least on Mazda’s smooth warehouse parking lot, but any final word on ride comfort will have to wait for a full-on road test. Either way, this feels like a huge step up over the previous truck, which failed to receive any major upgrades from Ford for the better part of a decade.

PHOTO: Igor Maminta

The biggest upgrade here, however, is the Isuzu-sourced 3.0-liter engine. It starts up with a little bark, but settles into an impressively quiet idle. While it started life as a commercial truck engine, this new 4JJ3 variant makes a good whack of power. But beyond the 187hp headline figure, what’s more impressive is the smooth power delivery. Unlike the old 3.2-liter, which made a lot of torque down low but felt rather soft up top, this new motor pulls well up until its 3,600rpm power peak, then softly falls off on the way to 4,000rpm. The six-speed shifts smartly and quickly, and we expect fuel economy to be good. With the 3.0-liter standard across the model range, the BT-50 sits near the head of the class in terms of pulling power and performance.

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Mazda doesn’t quote numbers, but expect a one-ton payload and a 3.5-ton braked towing capacity. Along with an 800mm wading depth and a locking rear differential, this makes the BT-50 a serious choice for work-truck use and abuse.

Beyond this, the top-end BT-50 also gets the full safety suite, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure assist, rear cross-traffic alert, and a full set of seven airbags. While the Isuzu-sourced systems aren’t as transparent as Mazda’s own lane-departure and emergency-assist technology, they all but guarantee a five-star safety rating on the stringent Euro NCAP tests.

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Beyond that, you also get a roller cover on both 4x4 and 4x2 automatic variants. There’s no poverty-spec variant here. The closest the BT-50 comes is the 4x2 manual—still with the same 3.0-liter diesel, connectivity features, and parking assists, but without the active safety suite, leather, or exterior accessories. Suffice to say, Mazda is not aiming for fleet buyers here. Instead, the BT-50 is aiming for buyers who expect Mazda style, luxury, and ease of ownership, but who just happen to need a pickup truck.

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As such, the BT-50 certainly fits the bill. Maybe it lacks that last iota of material quality that Mazda’s SUV lineup has, but it comes much closer than any pickup truck does, and sets a new bar for the class in terms of style and design. Whether it moves that bar in terms of performance, whether on-road or off it, doesn’t really matter.

With a prices starting at P1,390,000 and capping off at P1,790,000, this is a genuinely good pickup truck, and finally one worthy of a spot on the showroom floor alongside Mazda’s next-generation products. Platform sharing is often a risky business, but the new BT-50 shows that it is possible for two companies to complement each others’ strengths, and to produce a car that represents the best of both worlds.

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PHOTO: Igor Maminta
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