New Car/Review

1999 Mazda B4000 SE Cab Plus 4-door 4x4 Pickup

by Carey Russ

Mazda has been selling compact pickups in the U.S. since 1971. Innovation is no stranger to the line; Wankel rotary power was used during the mid-1970s. Although they have been more mainstream in ensuing years, innovation has not been forgotten. Mazda pickups sold in North America since 1993 have been built by Ford in Edison, New Jersey, a reversal of the situation in the early 1970s, when small Ford trucks were built by Mazda. This has given Mazda a very complete line of small pickups admirably suited for American personal and business uses. And the current B-Series pickups have some innovative features.

The newest generation of the Mazda B-Series truck was introduced last year. In mid-year, a very unusual feature became available - the four-door Cab Plus 4 body style. Doors have been proliferating on full-sized extended-cab trucks, with three or even four- door body styles available from all manufacturers. Extra doors are rarer on compact trucks, and the Mazda (and its Ford Ranger cousin) are the among the few four-door models currently available. For added safety and ease of interior access, the extra doors are hinged at the rear, and may be opened only after the appropriate front door has been opened. There is no central pillar to get in the way.

The 1999 Mazda pickup line offers three engine choices that cover the range of small pickup needs from frugal economy to serious power. These include a 2.5-liter four-cylinder and 3.0-liter and 4.0-liter vee-sixes. All are available in two-wheel drive (4x2) form, with V6 models also offered in four-wheel drive (4x4) trim. The Cab Plus 4 body style is available with all three B-Series engines in 4x2 trim, and both V6s as a 4x4.

I spent a recent week with a top-of-the-line 1999 B4000 Cab Plus 4 4x4. I found it to be a versatile truck, just the ticket for anyone with a need for a small truck with power, space, and comfort. The interior space and access, healthy 1200 to 1500 lb. carrying capacity, and 5600-lb towing ability give it many possible uses.

APPEARANCE: The Mazda B4000 Cab Plus is unashamedly a truck. That is not to say that it lacks style, for it is a handsome small truck. It just looks like a small pickup truck and doesn't try to imitate a car or eighteen-wheeler. The edges and corners are rounded, and the hood, passenger cabin, and cargo box go together well. The massive-looking chromed Mazda-trademark grille gives character and identity. Large, potentially flat surfaces on the hood and sides are controlled by subtle lines and curves. A central bulge in the hood proclaims power, as do fender blisters. Chrome trim around the side windows adds a touch of elegance. The rear doors are hidden. Mudflaps, large tires on alloy wheels, and plenty of ground clearance make the 4x4 version look ready for anything.

COMFORT: The B-Series trucks are among the larger compact trucks, and the Cab Plus is the largest of the family. In 4x4 trim, it's a step to get in. Once inside, it is much like a medium-sized family sedan in front, with plenty of room for two. The comfortable, high- backed, contoured "split bench" seat is basically two bucket seats with short-term room for one more small person in the middle. A modern, flowingly-styled instrument panel places instruments and controls usefully. A steering column-mounted shift lever and dash-mounted pushbutton four-wheel drive control keep the front floor area clear. Ford ancestry is apparent in the heater - on a cold day the cabin is warm before the engine. The B4000's compact truck status is apparent in the rear of the cabin. Although access is wonderfully easy thanks to the four doors, accommodation for humans in the side-facing flip- down jump seats makes coach class on the airlines look roomy. Two people in front have plenty of room; if filled to its five-passenger capacity the Cab Plus 4 will be a little cozy. But, with the rear seats up there is plenty of space for cargo, and access doors on both sides help immensely in loading and unloading.

SAFETY: All 1999 Mazda B-Series trucks have dual de-powered front airbags with a passenger-side deactivation switch.

ROADABILITY: Mazda's biggest truck definitely feels like a very good modern truck on the road. It's almost as quiet as a family sedan, with minimal mechanical noise. Despite the high stance of the 4x4 version, and the great difference between loaded and empty weight that a pickup must handle (up to 1500 lbs in this case), the ride quality is comfortable, with no harshness or uncontrolled bounciness. Light, power-assisted steering makes low-speed maneuvering easy. Nearly ten inches of clearance and short overhangs aid off-road ability, and make road construction zones, poor pavement, potholes, and other common city hazards no worry at all. The electronically-controlled shift-on-the-fly 4-wheel drive system is simple to use.

PERFORMANCE: The 4.0-liter V6 that tops the Mazda B-Series lineup packs quite a punch. Its 160 horsepower is only ten more than the 3.0-liter V6, but its 225 lb-ft of torque has the smaller engine beat by a healthy 40 lb-ft. The B4000 has no problem keeping up with traffic. It can tow 5600 lbs or haul up to 1500 lbs in the nearly six- foot-long bed. Those abilities, plus the interior area, make it a versatile, useful vehicle.

CONCLUSIONS: The 1999 Mazda B4000 Cab Plus 4 is a small truck with an accessible interior and plenty of power.

SPECIFICATIONS

Base Price               $ 22,290
Price As Tested          $ 23,930
Engine Type              pushrod overhead valve V6, 12 valves
Engine Size              4.0 liters / 245 cu. in.
Horsepower               160 @ 4200
Torque (lb-ft)           225 @ 3000
Transmission             5-speed electronically-controlled
                         automatic
Wheelbase / Length       125.9 in. / 201.7 in.
Curb Weight              approx. 3700 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower    23
Fuel Capacity            19.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement         unleaded regular, 87 octane
Tires                    P265/75 R15 Firestone Wilderness AT
Brakes, front/rear       vented disc / drum
                         rear-wheel antilock standard,
                         4-wheel antilock optional
Suspension, front/rear   independent double wishbone with
                         torsion bars / 
                         semi-floating live axle with multileaf
                         springs
Ground clearance         9.9 in.
Drivetrain               front engine, on-demand four-wheel
                          drive

PERFORMANCE

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed      16 / 20 / 16
0 to 60 mph                        10.0 sec
1/4 mile (E.T.)                    17.7 sec
Towing capacity                    5640 lbs.
Payload capacity                   1260 lbs. standard,
                                   1500 with optional
                                   Towing/Payload package

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

5-speed automatic transmission     $ 1,130
Destination charge                 $   510

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