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With the launch of the BT-50, Mazda now has a contender that does not fall short of the market’s expectations

Mazda Philippines unveiled the much-awaited all-new Mazda BT-50 last week.

And when we say it’s much-awaited, we really mean it is much-awaited. You see, the outgoing BT-50 has been long in the tooth. Built on a shared platform, and with the same 2.2 and 3.2-liter CRDi engines as same generation Ford Rangers, the old BT-50 was introduced locally back in 2012 amidst the transition between old Mazda distributor Ford Group Philippines and current brand custodians, Bermaz Auto Philippines.

At that time, the Mazda BT-50 was actually awarded the 2012-2013 Truck of the Year-Philippines plum. With its un-masculine styling, it bucked the trend that pickup trucks should be brute and rugged in order to withstand whatever was thrown its way. Despite having the Ranger underpin the BT-50 then, Mazda was allowed to tune its dynamics to the way Mazdas ought to drive without sacrificing the tough persona its cousin was known for. And in its early iterations, it held well against other pickups at that time.

But as soon as Mazda and Ford decided to split ways, so did the evolution of the BT-50. Despite coming from the same Auto Alliance Thailand manufacturing plant, the old BT-50 hardly received any updates to its design, interiors or even its drive and powertrain in the last nine years.

Even as Mazda Australia took the initiative to upgrade the old BT-50, the rest of the markets around the world have apparently moved on with cushier, more luxuriously finished, and more powerful renditions of its pickup offerings.

Whether it was due to freeing up manufacturing capacity in the AAT plant, or just Mazda plainly moving on from a relationship gone sour with Ford, the Hiroshima company was dead set as early as 2016 that it would divert its resources to something more akin to how it sees things in this world. Enter Isuzu.

Now to share design, technology, manufacturing capacity or even outright vehicles, albeit with deliberate changes in skin, is not new in the automotive industry. Toyota is basically selling the Mazda2 under the Yaris badge in other markets, with the next generation Mazda2 spotted as a rebadged current generation Yaris at that.

Isuzu itself even sold the Gemini as a rebadged late-’90s Honda Civic at one point. And even way back in 2003, it started to produce the N-Series/ Elf as a rebadged Mazda truck for the Japanese market. And the list goes on. What is important though is how this collaboration makes it a win-win scenario not only for the companies, but also for their target markets.

The new Isuzu D-Max features a more rugged and masculine look, which is typical for the pickup market here. Mazda on the other hand, is keeping with its premium positioning by changing the looks of the new BT-50 to show off a more sophisticated, SUV-like finish.

The all-new Mazda BT-50 gets the signature Kodo: Soul of Motion treatment, similar to the other cars and crossovers in its lineup today. The wide classy grille, the slim LED headlights and Daytime Running Lights, elegant body creases, even a more stately bumper design, all these were finally integrated successfully into a truck platform by Mazda designers. So, seeing a BT-50 now next to a CX-9 or an MX-5 in the showroom is not as off-putting as it once was.

The same styling makeover goes for the interiors. In line with its luxury leanings, Mazda designers opted to create their own dashboard design that does not stray far from its crossover offerings. Instead of the diagonals and wedges found almost everywhere inside the D-Max, the BT-50 gets rounded shapes and smoother lines and curves on the dashboard, steering wheel and air conditioning bezels. The BT-50’s finish looks softer to the eyes and that is because there is more soft to touch synthetic brown leather all around.

Even the area at the center console where the driver’s and front passenger’s knees would normally lean on to, gets leather padding to prevent hard impacts when off-roading. All these premium touches were baked in without losing any of the technology, creature comforts and modern amenities Isuzu introduced in the D-Max. And the shared hardware extends even to the engine and drivetrain.

Underneath, the BT-50 and the D-Max share most mechanical bits. The 3.0-liter CRDi turbocharged diesel engine, while down on power from the outgoing BT-50, is touted to be tuned for more reliability this time around.

Now, Isuzu is world-renowned for its pickups, trucks and commercial vehicles. Its diesel engines are arguably second to none. So Mazda was wise in tapping a fellow Japanese brand with this expertise to continue the legacy of its B-series line, albeit in a much more refined package.

Mazda Philippines did however, insist on including an electronic rear differential lock into the 4×4 AT BT-50, something the top-end D-MAX in the Philippines does not have at this time. Granted that the Mazda fanbase is more driving-centric, so the serious off-roader in this niche will surely appreciate the get-me-out-of-trouble traction this feature provides.

Perhaps we can thank Mazda Philippines president Steven Tan for that? The self-confessed truck guy was deeply involved in the Ford Ranger-Mazda BT-50 collaboration project, so he kinda knows his trucks.

Mazda also won big in this collaboration with Isuzu on the safety front. Radar-based Adaptive Cruise Control, Autonomous Emergency Braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, Lade Departure Warning System, Forward Collision Warning, Blind Spot Monitoring, even Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, Auto High Beam Control, and 7 airbags are included in the top-ranging 4×4 AT trim. All features contributing to the all-new BT-50’s five-star Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) score.

So, like the rest of its stablemates, the BT-50 also puts a premium on safety. It stands along proudly with the CX and car lineups with the highest safety ratings available tucked under their belts.

To say that Mazda customers have waited long enough for the all-new Mazda BT-50 to be launched is an understatement. Surely, even the dealer network has been clamoring for years for a product that can keep abreast with what the competition has been offering for half a decade.

Finally, Mazda now has a contender that does not fall short of the market’s expectations. And that is not just of the product in its category, but more importantly, of Mazda as a premium-leaning brand. And with a pricing structure that undercuts its Isuzu cousin, a long shopping list of included accessories for the first 200 customers, and that five-year free PMS included in the deal, the outlook is unraveling quite well for the brand.

Now it is time for Mazda Philippines and its dealers to start selling its pickup proudly, confidently and with renewed passion. As they say, second chances are hard to come by.

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