SEE ALSO: Mazda Buyer's Guide
It has been a while since pickup trucks were simply tools for work. Many are bought for personal use these days. Personal pickups are used for regular passenger car activities like commuting, pleasure driving, and running errands. As a bonus, they can be used for hauling, towing, or camping. Because of the variety of buyers and uses, modern pickups are versatile and comfortable.
A good example of the modern pickup in compact size is the Edison, New Jersey-built Mazda B-Series. It's still styled like a truck on the outside, and has all of the comforts and conveniences of a car inside. The 1996 Mazda trucks are available in the usual myriad pickup configurations, so that there should be one available for any need. Engine size gives the truck its name and there are three available engines: a 2.3-liter 4-cylinder in the B2300, a 3.0-liter V6 in the B3000, and a 4.0-liter V6 in the B4000. Two- or four-wheel drive drivetrains, regular or extended cabs (called Cab Plus by Mazda), and three trim levels are offered.
Top of the line is this week's test truck, the B4000 LE in Cab Plus, 4-wheel drive form. It exemplifies the contemporary personal- use pickup. It is carlike in ride and interior appointments without the loss of any pickup character. The extended-cab design adds convenient interior space, and the good-sized cargo bed and 4-wheel drive give it usefulness and versatility.
APPEARANCE: Mazda has resisted the styling trends that have made some pickups look less than traditional. Although the edges and corners are slightly rounded, the Cab Plus 4-wheel drive B4000 is more functional than stylish. The chrome-around-black treatment of the side of the cab is the only real concession to style, and it gives the truck a distinctive appearance. A dark plastic grille with prominent Mazda logo, chromed bumper, and squarish headlights at the front and large chrome bumper at the rear provide the B4000 with all of the traditional pickup styling cues. The LE model's Firestone Wilderness AT tires on polished alloy wheels and mud flaps show 4x4 off-road intent.
COMFORT: Some compact trucks have grown over the years. The Mazda is one such, and the size increase really helps inside. The B4000 LE has all of the modern civilized appointments. A contoured "split bench" front seat combines the comfort of individually-adjustable buckets with the 3-passenger ability of a bench. A folding center console can be used when there is no center passenger. The front floor area is foot-friendly, with the shift lever for the automatic transmission on the steering column. Four-wheel drive is engaged by a knob on the contemporarily-styled instrument panel. Instruments and controls are easy to see and reach. The extended-cab configuration adds space and comfort. Although there are two folding jump seats in the rear portion of the cab for short- term use, that rear part of the cab is best thought of as inside storage space. It is wide and deep enough to be truly useful. The LE option package includes power windows, door locks and mirrors, a leather-wrapped tilt-adjustable steering wheel, cruise control, a good AM/FM/cassette sound system, keyless remote entry, and additional features.
SAFETY: All Mazda B-Series trucks have a driver's-side airbag. A passenger side airbag is standard on LE models and available on others. It can be deactivated for use of child safety seats. ROADABILITY: Because of the many uses that pickups have, suspension design can be tricky. Load carrying ability must now be balanced with comfort and handling. No problems here. The Mazda B4000 is one of the best-riding pickups around. Even unloaded, there is no harshness or jarring in the ride. It is stable and tracks well on pavement, without the wandering tendency that some four- wheel drive machines have. In off-road use, good ground clearance and short overhangs keep it out if trouble. The B4000 is perfect for going to the store for supplies, even if the store is at the end of 20 miles of rutted Conestoga wagon trail and the supplies weigh a thousand pounds.
PERFORMANCE: The 4.0-liter pushrod V6 in the B4000 is your basic torquey truck engine. The B4000 is a well-balanced truck with no power deficiency. Acceleration and passing abilities are plenty good enough for the real world, although not quite in the "hot rod" class. The 4-speed automatic transmission shifts quickly and smoothly. This is a working truck that just happens to be as comfortable as most passenger cars. Depending on axle ratios, payload ranges from 1250 to 1450 lbs. and towing capacity from 3600 to 5600 lbs.
CONCLUSIONS: For an increasing number of people, "car" really means pickup truck. With a good combination of comfort and utility, the Mazda B4000 LE 4x4 shows why.
SPECIFICATIONS 1996 Mazda B4000 4X4 LE Pickup Truck Base Price $ 20,715 Price As Tested $ 23,975 Engine Type ohv V6, 12 valves Engine Size 4.0 liters / 244 cu. in. Horsepower 160 @ 4200 Torque (lb-ft) 120 @ 3000 Transmission 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 125.4 in. / 202.7 in. Curb Weight 3884 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 24.3 Fuel Capacity 20.5 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded regular Tires P265/75 R15 Firestone Wilderness AT Brakes, front/rear disc / drum Suspension, front/rear independent forged twin traction beam / semi-floating solid axle Ground Clearance 9.7 in. Drivetrain Front engine, on-demand 4-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 16/21/18 0 to 60 mph 10.7 sec 1/4 mile (E.T.) 17.9 sec Towing Capacity 3600 to 5600 lbs. Payload 1250 to 1450 lbs.