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The Mazda BT-50 is a workhorse that loves to zoom zoom

Whenever I test a Mazda vehicle, expectations are always high with its impeccable driving dynamics, peerless build quality, a driver-centric cockpit, and style that is just unmatched by its competitors. If there ever was one brand wanting to break-free from its mass-market origins and land into the premium segment, it would be today’s Mazda.

So imagine my worry when I was to test the latest 2022 Mazda BT-50. It’s essentially a rebadge of the latest Isuzu D-Max. Both are essentially the same vehicle minus exterior styling and some features. But the chassis, powertrain and suspension are exactly the same. Would it feel like a proper Mazda?

Let me digress for a bit: there is absolutely nothing wrong with Isuzu. I am a big fan of their fleet, solid workhorses that are just as reliable as death and taxes. But Isuzus bring with it a different set of expectations versus a Mazda, and the BT-50 is supposed to feel like all other Mazdas. And Mazdas are supposed to be very emotional, even sensual products. How far removed can a pick-up be from that?

Starting with the styling, you at least know Mazda got it right. The soft, feminine curves, the subtle creases, the prominent grill and those unique headlights all give an organic / futuristic theme, not dissimilar to the stylish Mazda 3, the stately Mazda 6 or even the futuristic CX-30. You know it belongs to the Mazda family based on its looks.

But a pick-up with any kind of styling still needs to be able to perform, and the BT-50 delivers in spades. The 3.0 liter CRDi diesel pumps out a respectable 190hp and 450 Newton-Meters of torque, but it feels more powerful, thanks to peak torque arriving at a low 1,600RPM. Mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with four-wheel drive, acceleration is brisk. For serious off-road work, there’s a 240mm ground clearance, 800mm of flood fording depth and a locking rear-differential, something its Isuzu twin doesn’t come with in our market. The engine is smooth enough as diesels go, but lacks the turbine-like hum and refinement of Mazda’s own 2.2 diesel engines.

The interior is also unmistakably Mazda: the stylish dashboard houses the large 9-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It works seamlessly with a wired connection to your mobile phone, starting up instantly. There is an option for wireless connectivity but it is a bit fussy and tedious to enable so going wired is the painless way to go. The dashboard itself is very futuristic, very fashionable and eschews the straightforward, stoic, pragmatic and workhorse look Isuzus project. You know it’s a chic environment inside. The steering wheel is an equally handsome 3-spoke design with controls for the multimedia system and cruise control. The steering feel, however, is where the BT-50’s lineage falls into question. Mazda has arguably the best steering feel among the Japanese brands as it makes driving a pleasurable endeavor being so light, effortless, intuitive and accurate as well as brimming with just the right amount of feel and feedback. Unfortunately, the BT-50’s hydraulic setup feels heavy. It’s par for the course as pick-ups go, but not exactly Mazda-like. The brakes also felt over-assisted and grabby, though a simple brake fluid flush and bleed should fix that.

The rest of the inside is spacious and airy: 60:40 split folding rear seats to haul precious cargo inside the cabin, six-way adjustable power driver’s seat, reach and rake adjustable steering wheel and oodles of head and shoulder room. It would be a perfect weekend getaway to drive off into an unknown adventure. Just be mindful of its size: the BT-50 hides its girth very well. Thankfully an array of sensors and a reverse camera help keep you out of trouble. The BT-50 also has blind spot detection, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, high-beam assist during night driving and intelligent cruise control. Seven airbags, ABS-EBD brakes and traction/stability control round out the safety package.

City driving netted a decent 8.7 km/liter on traffic free roads whenever I’d head out, and a better 12 km/liter out on the highway though given more time, I’m sure fuel efficiency would have improved.

The suspension, typically another Mazda strong point, is actually the same as per the Isuzu D-Max: firm, but composed, with just enough compliance for our pock-marked national highways bearable. It could do with a bit more refinement and fluidity, but again, that’s something the aftermarket can fix. At speed, on smooth roads, the BT-50 feels good and the heft in its steering melts away as you pick-up the pace and the brakes become intuitive to use.

So, is the BT-50 a proper Mazda? It definitely is. Styling is spot-on, build-quality is just as peerless as any other Mazda and the driving dynamics is still good. You just need to find its proper pace. And like all Mazdas, the BT-50 doesn’t like trundling about. It loves to zoom zoom.

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