Picture a scrawny, middle-aged Chinese man with an NBA addiction, a constant hankering for Dr. Pepper, and a weird habit of asking “Know what I’m sayin’?” after he explains something to you. That’s my dad. Having spent most of his teenage years and early-twenties in the US, he has a lot of odd American idiosyncrasies.
He eats sweets for breakfast, too, mainly pancakes and more memorably, PB&J (peanut butter and jelly) sandwiches. I remember the first time my dad made me a PB&J like it was yesterday. I had a derisive look on my face as he smeared chunky peanut butter on one slice, purple grape jelly on another, and slapped them together. I refused to take this crazy concoction from him, leaving him no choice but to shove it down my throat.
It just didn’t make sense to me then. How could creamy, savory peanut butter combined with sweet, tangy grape jelly possibly create a sandwich that would even be remotely palatable?
Knowing the Mazda BT-50 is an Isuzu D-Max underneath, I had a similar question in mind when I was told I’d have it for a few days. How can Mazda’s signature blend of sportiness and modern elegance combine with Isuzu—a brand that, to this day, remains more strongly associated with utilitarian delivery trucks and public-transport vehicles than anything else?
Looking at the exterior of the BT-50, things seem to be off to a good start. The D-Max’s sheet metal has been thrown out the window in favor of Mazda’s Kodo-design front end. Approaching the truck head-on where the bed is obscured from sight would legitimately have you fooled into thinking this is a large CX model you haven’t seen before.
The cab as well as the bed’s flank remain unchanged, but they do blend in well with the front’s aesthetic. Finally, minor tweaks have been made to the taillights and the tailgate to unify the look.
With its rounded edges and car-like body lines, the BT-50 is an elegant albeit unorthodox approach to styling a truck. Every other pickup in the market today is exploding with testosterone-fueled pomp. But the BT-50 opts for a distinguished and gentlemanly appearance—something that is also reflected in the name of this particular variant.
While such names as Conquest or Raptor paint a picture of domination and brute force, Mazda chose to name its range-topping variant after the gentle and timid pangolin, an insect-eating mammal whose instinct is to curl up into a ball at the sight of danger.
Unique to the Pangolin Edition II are the 18-inch aftermarket wheels, the slim fender flares, the fashion bar, and the roller lid. Otherwise, it is completely identical to the BT-50 3.0 AT 4×4.
I personally think that the black rally-dish wheels and the pudgy Dunlop Grandtrek tires look like tiny shopping cart wheels on this otherwise handsome truck. I reckon the same wheels in gunmetal with silver Mazda decals wrapped in a conservatively styled all-terrain tire such as the Goodyear Wrangler AT SilentTrac would have been a more tasteful choice.
As is though, the Rota D154s combined with the slim fender flares square off the stance quite nicely. They also do wonders for reducing steering and unsprung weight.
The roller lid and the tailgate assist are the most useful additions to this variant, adding practical (and lockable) cargo space to the truck and one-handed operation of the tailgate possible. Sadly, however, it is not watertight and the fashion bar does get in the way of fully retracing the lid.
Stepping inside reveals the biggest flaw in this package. The interior looks modern but doesn’t feel like it. To be perfectly blunt, it doesn’t have the quality normally associated with the Mazda brand.
The tinny ratcheting of the handbrake, the uneven reflections on the piano-black trims, the murky feel of the shifter, the clangy hard plastics across the dashboard, and even the sharp, mechanical tick-tack of the turn signals all add up to make the cabin feel at least a decade older than it actually is.
And this carries over to the electronics, too. Today, we are spoiled by three-dimensional gauge clusters with sophisticated LCD panels. The BT-50’s cluster is a lot simpler, and the diminutive LCD feels antiquated in both form and function.
There’s a slew of electronic driver aids onboard such as adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, forward-collision warning, blindspot monitors, and lane-departure warnings. And while they are not the most intuitive systems available, they do work okay. However, turning them on and off requires you to go through mounds of menu pages within the tiny LCD screen on the dash.
Despite all that, there are redeeming qualities inside. The seats are intricately stitched and well-bolstered. They’re also draped in luscious brown leather, which brings an air of class into the cabin. There is an abundance of headroom and legroom with the second row being perfectly comfortable for both adults and children.
The BT-50 rides superbly well for a leaf-sprung truck, and the steering is reasonably light for a pickup. With 187hp and 450Nm, the Isuzu 4JJ3-TCX engine is slightly down on power compared to other 4×4 variants in the segment. But even then, there is a generous amount of grunt to pull a fully laden cabin, and the six-speed automatic transmission does its job without ever calling any attention to itself.
And while this powerplant is not the smoothest of its kind, refinement is notably leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor, the chattery 4JJ1-TCX. It narrowly beats the Navara’s 2.5-liter turbodiesel, but sits below the Ranger and the Hilux in terms of vibration and engine noise.
Furthermore, the 3.0-liter turbodiesel engine produces outstanding fuel consumption figures, managing just a smidge less than 10km/L during my time with it. Also noteworthy is the transfer case’s shift-on-the-fly capability, allowing the driver to switch between 2H and 4H on the go, similar to the Mitsubishi Pajero’s Super Select system.
Much like my Chinese-blooded, American-minded dad and his peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, the BT-50 is an unlikely yet surprisingly endearing pairing between Mazda and Isuzu.
Mazda provides style and flair, and Isuzu backs it up with tried-and-tested performance and reliability. And while I do wish that Mazda had put just a bit more effort into engineering the electronics and improving the interior, much of my misgivings fade in light of the value this truck offers. At P1.858 million for this Pangolin Edition II trim, Mazda created a stylish yet solid pickup for the more discerning buyer.
MAZDA BT-50 PANGOLIN EDITION II
|Engine||3.0-liter four-cylinder turbodiesel|
|Power||187hp @ 3,600rpm|
|Torque||450Nm @ 1,600-2,600rpm|
|Dimensions||5,280mm x 1,870mm x 1,810mm|
|Upside||Elegant aesthetics, plush ride, and great fuel economy make this an excellent lifestyle truck.|
|Downside||Mazda’s contribution is superficial, at best. We wish it were a bit more.|