The BT-50 (model code J97M) is a compact/mid-size pick-up truck produced by Mazda since 2006, and brought into Malaysia a year later.
It is a larger version of the predecessor B-Series pick-up, and is not sold in the Japanese and North American market.
The first version of the BT-50 in 2006 shared its Duratorq/MZR-CD 2.5L and 3L diesel inline-four engines with the Ford Ranger during the Mazda-Ford partnership that started from 1979 and largely ended by 2010.
Mazda fans rejoiced again when the totally updated BT-50 was launched here recently.
At first glance, these CBU units from Thailand look rather handsome.
It is not difficult to understand why this is the case, as the designers wanted to make the truck as car-like as possible.
Words like the Zoom-Zoom philosophy are bandied about, and it means the driving experience is one that is ensconced in comfort.
The new BT-50 gives all the ruggedness of a workhorse, while insulating its occupants from the harshness of the road.
According to Mazda, significant improvements have been introduced in the powertrain, steering system and frame to deliver “driving pleasure and better environmental performance”.
The attractive-looking front uses familiar Mazda design elements.
While not quite the Kodo design philosophy, the exterior aesthetics are still stylish.
At the rear, the horizontally-aligned combination lamps give a hint of sportiness, without overdoing it.
The real pleasure starts when one enters the cabin, which is where the BT-50’s car-like design is really evident, even before the engine is started.
There is a CD player and an integrated multi-function display, as well as dual zone air-conditioning.
Storage space and cupholders in the cabin are aplenty.
The front door pockets can fit one-litre water bottles, and there is a storage box beneath the rear seats.
Billed as the “Active Lifestyle Vehicle”, the BT-50 does not disappoint on the performance front, and delivers the moment one floors the accelerator, thanks to its variable geometry turbocharger mated to the inline-4, 16-valve MZ-CD 2.2-litre common-rail direct-injection power plant.
This turbodiesel delivers 150PS at 3,700rpm, while the maximum torque of 375Nm comes in a rather early 1,500 – 2,500rpm range, giving the BT-50 very respectable performance figures when stacked against rivals sporting larger 2.5-litre engines.
And so, this diesel-powered pick-up feels like a powerful petrol-engined car when it comes to acceleration, with good feel across all gears.
The rack-and-pinion steering that adjusts its power assistance according to engine speed is also a welcome refinement.
The six-speed manual shifts smoothly, and clicks into the right slots without any difficulty, again lending to driving pleasure.
Its large platform provides stability, and the BT-50 felt well planted when driven fast along the KL-Karak Expressway.
Mazda engineers had done extensive simulation and testing, resulting in an aerodynamically efficient shape that also contributes to high-speed stability.
Insulation against engine and wind noise is good.
Switching from two-wheel mode to four-wheel mode is a cinch, with the control dial conveniently located.
According to Mazda, the BT-50 has multiple, high-tensile steel reinforcements, with the frame being optimised to absorb and disperse collision energy.
A six-airbag system has been adopted, and there are ISOFIX child-seat anchors in the rear seats.
While there is no such thing as a perfect pick-up truck, this one comes pretty close with its great handling and solid feel.